Penn State Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Nittany Lions' W vs. the Owls
Penn State earned an impressive victory for the second straight week with a 24-13 win over rival Temple. Although Temple came in looking to run all over the Penn State defense, that defense shut down Temple all day until a touchdown in garbage time.
Meanwhile, the offense put together a solid effort and nearly 500 yards on a defense that is likely comparable in quality to many of the Big Ten defenses. After all, Temple finished third in the country last year in defense behind only LSU and Alabama.
Plus, this win adds another team to the list of Big Ten teams with wins over BCS conference opponents because Temple is in the Big East again. Bill O'Brien has his team headed in the right direction coming into conference play, so let's look at 10 things we learned in today's victory.
1. Penn State Has More at Receiver Than Allen Robinson
Through the first three weeks, the headlines were stolen by WR Allen Robinson, who had racked up over 300 receiving yards and led the Big Ten conference by nearly a 100-yard margin. However, Matt McGloin spread the ball around to lots of different receivers and had a lot of success on Saturday.
In sum, nine players caught at least one pass, with six of them having two or more receptions. Only Robinson got into the end zone on this day, but that does not mean the other players did not carry their weight and then some.
With Kyle Carter and Alex Kenney stretching defenses, it may not be reliable to double-team Robinson and hope for the best. Especially if the offensive line continues to give McGloin all this time to find the open man.
2. Michael Zordich Could Be a FB Star
Bill O'Brien indicated that with Bill Belton and Derek Day both dinged up with injuries, more carries might come to the fullback Michael Zordich. It also looked like the Nittany Lions would need a tough runner against a solid Temple defensive front.
Then Zordich hit the field and looked better than anything the coaches could have hoped for. Perhaps it was seeing his parents in the stands (his father was one of the 1982 Penn State players honored for the 30-year anniversary of the national championship on Saturday), but he played out of his mind for three quarters before spraining his knee.
He had four receptions for 39 yards and led the team for most of the game with 75 yards rushing on 15 carries. Temple really had trouble bringing Zordich down and lost him multiple times in coverage. If this continues in Big Ten play, he might be the second most critical weapon the offense has behind only Allen Robinson.
3. Offensive Line Is Playing Well, but Right Tackle Remains a Concern
Temple brought a lot of blitz packages at Matt McGloin early, and they were effective at times. However, when the Owls did not blitz, the offensive line generally gave McGloin all of the time he needed to find an open receiver and hit him with a pass.
If grading this game, the offensive line would get at least a B+ and probably better. The only thing bringing the line play down is the lack of a true right tackle. On the rare times when Temple got pressure with the front four, it came from dominating the right side of the Penn State line.
Thus, someone will need to step up at that position and quickly. Getting Donovan Smith healthy could be the answer, but that might take a couple of weeks. Penn State could have one of the best lines in the conference if that happens.
4. Apparently, There Is Plenty of Depth at Defensive End
Although Sean Stanley was listed on the depth chart as holding the starting position at defensive end heading into Saturday, the coaches decided to hold him out before the game to let him rest that back injury some more. This brought up one of the last options at defensive end, C.J. Olaniyan.
The production did not drop off with Stanley gone, however. Temple was not able to establish the run, even trying to get through on Olaniyan's side. In addition, both defensive ends forced a lot of pressure on Temple QB Chris Coyer all afternoon.
It may still be true to say there's not much depth behind the guys playing now, but the lack of depth issues apparent in the first game appear to be overblown. Penn State will likely be just fine, even if Olaniyan has to go again next week.
5. Matt McGloin Can Pick Apart Good Defensive Secondaries When Given Time
As noted in the first thing noticed, McGloin threw to nine different players on Saturday. He was not just throwing to different players, he was spreading the ball all over the field. Long passes, short passes, left, right, center...all were covered on the throwing spray chart.
With a career-high 318 passing yards and another touchdown, McGloin is proving he can be trusted with more responsibility behind this offensive line. Perhaps that was his problem the past three years. Well that and not being able to find a groove before getting pulled from the game.
This was no weak Big East- or MAC-level defense either. The strength of Temple on defense was the secondary, and it made some good plays in coverage. Still, McGloin ends up completing 67 percent of his passes. This is a great sign for Big Ten play, where the secondaries are not as good as Temple in many circumstances.
6. McGloin Overthrows the Deep Route Too Much
If there is one part of McGloin's passing game that still needs a bit of improving, it is the deep ball. He tends to overthrow it and has done so consistently every week this season. That may not actually change since his habits are so ingrained at this point.
However, smart defensive coaches in the Big Ten are recognizing this and will instruct their safeties to play for the overthrow. Worst case scenario, the play stays in front of them and they get a chance to hit a receiver hard to jostle the ball loose.
Best case scenario for these defenses: The safeties will be in the best position to grab these balls on deep passes. With the offense still slanting heavily towards and effective passing attack, this one weakness needs to be addressed soon to avoid more interceptions.
7. Mauti and Hodges Could Both Compete for All-Conference Honors
Everyone knew Gerald Hodges was good after he won all-conference honors in 2011. In fact, he convinced the new coaching staff he was so good that they wanted him to return kicks and punts!
While that experiment failed miserably, he has brought the same solid play to the middle of the defense after being dinged up a bit in the first two weeks. With his resurgence has come even better play out of the other outside linebacker Michael Mauti. Both of these players could be seen sniffing out Temple plays and contributing both in pass coverage as well as in stopping the running game.
Mauti may be even better than Hodges this year, which means Penn State could upset Wisconsin and put two players in the all-conference team this time around. When watching Penn State's defense in the next few weeks, pay particular attention to these two. If you do, I promise you will enjoy the experience.
8. Penn State Can Salt Away a Game with the Running Game, After All
Penn State entered the second half of the game against Temple with only 60 yards or so. In the second half, the offense added over 100 more rushing yards and really wore down the Temple defense as the game wore on.
Of course this rushing attack was set up by the solid play of FB Michael Zordich throughout the first three quarters of the game. His tough running of 75 yards on 15 attempts made Temple move up and open up passing lanes for Matt McGloin.
Then in the second half, fourth-string RB Zach Zwinak added 94 rushing yards on 18 attempts as Bill O'Brien let his young running back get some experience and put the game away. While Penn State did not drive down the field with a ton of consistency in the second half, Temple did have trouble getting the Nittany Lions off the field as time kept ticking away.
As a result, it looks like Penn State will be able to salt games away late with the running game, especially when Bill Belton comes back.
9. The Defensive Line Could Become Dominant
Just like the offensive line, the defensive line was plenty impressive today against Temple. Chris Coyer was able to break through on some small runs, but he usually had to run because he could find nobody to throw to and was being pressured by the Nittany Lions' line.
Penn State was able to generate enough pass rush without resorting to blitzes, which allowed the linebackers to sit back in pass coverage when needed. That led to Temple only putting up 124 yards passing to go with 113 yards rushing.
This defensive line may not be up to the level of the linebackers, but the coaches have to be confident heading into Big Ten play that the breakdowns against Ohio University will likely not happen again in the second halves of games. If the defensive line continues to improve, Penn State will hold a lot of teams below 21 points in conference play.
10. There's Still Hope for This Special Teams Unit
After starting the season 1-of-5 on field-goal attempts, it appeared that Sam Ficken was not ready for the job. And Bill O'Brien is still hesitant to kick field goals in tough situations. However, Ficken was solid on kickoffs and hit his only field-goal attempt of the day in the fourth quarter. Adding that to three extra points may allow Ficken to have the confidence to hit the more important kicks coming in conference play.
Alex Butterworth also had four solid punts on the day. However, his average was shot by a fifth punt that was a 15 yard rugby-style punt, setting up Temple with good field position when the game was still somewhat in doubt. With that one notable exception, the special teams did everything asked of it on this Saturday.
As a result, the special teams may no longer be a serious liability. That would certainly help Penn State in the effort to end with a winning record this season.
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