Three wins into the 2009 season, outscoring opponents 90-20 and maintaining an early AP No. 5 ranking, Penn State would seem to be off to a normal hot start.
Let's get this out of the way: Penn State is, and will always be, a dominant defensive team.
For this year, even with safety Anthony Scirrotto leaving school and a sub-par secondary filling in, the Lions still have managed to make it tough on opposing quarterbacks to find open receivers. The only problem area right now is the middle of the field, just beyond the linebacking crew where 10-yard square-ins and post patterns are wreaking some havoc and causing the defense to tire quickly. For the most part, that should be taken care of before the first big test at Michigan come late October.
Rush defense will never be bad at Linebacker U. Penn State is first in the Big Ten and tenth in the nation with only 139 rushing yards allowed in the first three games combined.
The main issue in this young 2009 season is the offense.
Considering the out of conference foes the Nittany Lions have faced thus far, merely adequate production and sloppy play have many fans wondering what happened to the "high-powered" offense of past years. The obvious preseason question involved the departure of receivers Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood. Without veteran wideouts to throw to, critics wanted to know how quarterback Daryll Clark was going to make the big plays when he needed to.
Coming in to the first couple weeks of action, offensive coordinator Galen Hall wanted to silence those critics. Clark had over 300 yards passing each game and six total touchdowns through the air. But what the coaches weren't realizing was that they were blindly abandoning what makes the Spread HD offense work properly.
Penn State football has always been associated with a power running game. The Spread HD accompanied that with quarterback reads, receiver motion, and a mobile quarterback outside the pocket. We haven't seen that. Against all three opponents this year, Galen Hall has focused on short routes and simple pass plays to get short chunks of yardage with rookie receivers.
For now, that's been enough. But come conference play next week, Hall is going to have to open up the offense through the air. Clark looks to be a little agitated in the pocket, refusing to step up or scramble during blitzes, and as a result has taken a number of shots in the backfield. That can't happen against Iowa. Or any other Big Ten team. He needs to move out of the pocket and find some open receivers to fire to on the run. That's what has made him so dangerous in the past. The threat of his running ability causes coverage to open up.
That is a priority right now.
The offensive line seems to be holding its own for the most part, given the competition, but they also will need to step up big next week. There was simply no push the first two weeks to provide running back Evan Royster room to maneuver. The third week brought a focus on the rushing game, and as a result, the pass protection broke down.
This leaves Lion fans shaking their head. With the Hawkeyes coming in next week and Penn State looking for sweet redemption, there leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Getting in gear these next couple weeks will be huge, given the tough road games at Illinois and Michigan coming up.
The fact is, Penn State is not a No. 5 team.
A disappointing second half of the season is what awaits the Nittany Lions if things don't change, and fast. They have the talent and the coaching staff to do it. The only thing to do for now is wait and see what practice brings to a young team.