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Has Penn State Finally Hit the Sanctions Wall?

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Has Penn State Finally Hit the Sanctions Wall?
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few weeks ago, the Penn State coaching staff and players received some great news from the NCAA, as the scholarship limits were going to be partially changed for the 2014 year and fully restored the following year. 

Last season the sanctions weren't completely in place and Penn State had a full compliment of scholarship players on hand (even if they couldn't dress the same amount of players on game day). The Nittany Lions didn't fold and instead surprised everyone with an 8-4 record at the end of the year.

That doesn't help this year, however, and after losing to Indiana this past weekend and UCF earlier in the year one has to wonder if the sanctions have finally got to Penn State. 

After all, Penn State traveled with just 61 players to Bloomington last weekend. It has to be the NCAA sanctions hurting this program and its ability to compete on the same level as last year, right?

But could it instead be that the players themselves just aren't playing that well?

Last weekend all 22 players that started against the Hoosiers were expected starters at the beginning of the season, and 17 projected starters at the beginning of the season were upperclassmen—you know, players that were at Penn State long before sanctions ever were a thing to worry about.

So, blaming sanctions for what took place in Bloomington is a bit of a stretch for me. 

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

While it may be easy to point the finger at the sanctions for issues on the recruiting trail (limiting a team to 10 fewer recruits every year will eventually take its toll), I would submit to you that it has very little to do with what is happening on the field. 

Allen Robinson, one of the best wide receivers in the country, has been out there all year. 

The offensive line is loaded with experienced upperclassmen and the running back position is loaded with experience and youthful talent as well. 

Penn State is so loaded at tight end that five-star recruit Adam Breneman has seen little more than special teams action this season. 

Perhaps the biggest difference for this team is the fact that Michael Mauti, Matt McGloin, Gerald Hodges, Matt Stankiewich and Jordan Hill are all gone. 

Instead of blaming sanctions for a lack of performance, it appears that Penn State is suffering from what a lot of teams suffer from when they lose major parts from one season to another—those replacing the departed have been inconsistent at best. 

Sure, freshman Christian Hackenberg looks like he will be a star at quarterback, but he is still a freshman and it shows at times. He isn't playing at the level McGloin did a season ago, where McGloin went off for 3,271 yards and 24 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. 

Hackenberg is close on completion percentage (59.9 percent to McGloin's 60.5 percent), but has just 8 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. 

Defensively there are issues in the secondary, a group that features three players who were starters last year and are all upperclassmen this season. 

Linebacker is perhaps the least experienced group, yet Glenn Carson (a senior) is having one of his better seasons and the group is stable enough to be a difference maker. The depth there is a concern, however.

Up front this team boasts the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Deion Barnes, as well as senior DaQuan Jones—both players are playing well. 

In its two losses Penn State struggled with big offensive passing plays and stopping the run. Against UCF the PSU defense gave up a 25-yard passing touchdown and a 58-yard rushing touchdown. 

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Against Indiana last weekend they gave up a 36-yard touchdown pass and a 44-yard rushing touchdown. 

Can you really say sanctions are to blame for a bunch of experienced defensive players giving up big plays?

Maybe it is the fact that they don't have enough bodies to practice with or aren't practicing with tackling enough and there is where sanctions come in to play? 

While Penn State uses "thud" (a method of not tackling in practice) to help protect its 62 scholarship players from injuries in practice time, it is still no excuse for giving up the yardage and the big plays it gives up. 

At the end of the day, blaming the sanctions for what has transpired in two losses so far this season is too simplistic a view. There are plenty of experienced and talented players out there on Saturdays to say that sanctions are the problem hurting this team on the field this year.

 

*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.

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