Rust and nerves are expected in any season opener, even versus a lowly FCS school such as Youngstown State.
What's not expected is a 7-3 deficit after the first quarter. (Or a 48-47 loss vs an FCS school *ahem* Ole Miss.... OMG SEC)
Obviously things got off to a slow start in Happy Valley but the Nittany Lions eventually got cooking and ended the game with a 44-14 victory.
Here are the pros and cons of that win.
The kid looked good.
20/29 for 239 yards and two touchdowns from a true freshman in his first start is not shabby at all.
He showed the poise that coaches raved about, the arm strength scouts projected, and secured his starting role for the near future.
He bounced back from an early interception, which was not his fault, and lead multiple scoring drives.
His final five third downs? Five for five with five first downs.
The pressure will be turned up ten fold next week but nonetheless a very good debut for the youngster.
It's never easy to accurately judge an offensive line. Let's just say that today was not a great effort for the big nasties up front.
The Nits gained 132 yards on the ground with a 4.5 average. Not horrible, but this is against a team that gave up an average of 138 ypg last year vs FCS competition.
Should have been a huge day for Evan Royster but he ended the day with 40 yards on 11 carries.... more on that later.
Multiple screen plays, the bread and butter of Penn State's offense, went for minimal yardage because DeOntae Panelle was either out of position or blew the block.
A performance like that vs Alabama next week will prove to be disastrous.
Wow. Honestly it's hard to believe that special teams could be considered a Pro after they were such a disaster all year last year.
Collin Wagner was the hero of the first half, hitting field goals of 44, 48, and 49 after being completely inconsistent from 40+ last year.
Redshirt freshman punter Anthony Fera looked fantastic, although slightly inconsistent, on kickoffs. Three touchbacks, one of which split the uprights.
Only one punt on the day, but Penn State unveiled a new formation (for them at least) with a three man wall in front of the punter. Hey at least they changed something, we'll see how well it works.
Chaz Powell returned the second half kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, absolutely torching three defenders who all had the angle on him.
Punt returns were improved, although the tag team returners are still in place.
A huge improvement from last year, only time will tell if they can keep it up.
Ouch. Never thought I would list that as a Con.
But the fact is that the front seven, as deep and as talented as they are, missed countless tackles in the backfield and in open space.
Maybe it was rust, maybe lack of respect for the opponent, but regardless it lead to YSU's early 80 yard touchdown as Michael Mauti and Bani Gbadyu were out of position and whiffed on Dominique Barnes.
Aside from that, many one or two yard losses were turned into four or five yard gains due to poor tackling.
Not a good omen, especially vs Youngstown State.
Needless to say, it needs to be fixed and fast. Trent Richardson is licking his chops.
One thing is very apparent with this Penn State team. They have depth at skill positions.
Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Devon Smith, Evan Royster, Stephon Green, Curtis Dukes, Silas Redd, Justin Brown, Curtis Drake, and captain Brett Brackett will all get minutes and have an impact on games at one point or another.
Specifically for this game, Powell and Brackett deserve kudos for their performances. Powell, as mentioned before, had a game changing 101 yard kickoff return.
Brackett, a career backup who last year caught three passes, exploded for eight catches, 98 yards, and two touchdowns.
It's apparent the 6'6" wideout/hybrid tight end/slot receiver is a favorite target for Robert Bolden and will create matchup problems for opponents down the road.
WHAT? The O-line is one thing, the front seven another, but how could Royster possibly be considered a Con?
Sadly it's true. And don't get me wrong, Royster is a great running back but he does have flaws. Flaws which are exaggerated by an offensive line that can't seem to give him room.
Problem #1- He couldn't stay on his feet. This can be considered a minor, temporary setback. But on three separate occasions he was tackled by the turf monster.
Problem #2- He doesn't hit the hole fast enough. This is a major problem and becoming more and more apparent.
Both Stephon Green and true freshman Silas Redd were able to hit the holes faster and accumulate higher ypc averages.
I don't know if it's the weight he put on in the offseason to become more NFL ready or if he's just not as quick as his backups but this cannot continue to be an issue vs the stout run defenses PSU will face this year.
Youngstown State had a completely new coaching staff and offensive system coming into this game.
They also had 30 new players on the roster.
These two factors meant you could pretty much throw out the tape on the Penguins and had to prepare for anything.
YSU had success in the first half on offense and defense partly because Penn State wasn't sure what was coming.
After seeing what the Penguins were trying to do, the coaching staff made some great adjustments on both sides of the ball and went for the kill in the second half.
Example = YSU ran the same screen play that went for an 80 yard TD in the first quarter two more times in the game. The second time, PSU stopped it for 5 yards. The third time resulted in a four yard loss.
There's no sugarcoating that first quarter. It was sloppy, tentative, and frustrating.
There is no doubt, however, that there is reason for optimism this fall in Happy Valley despite a brutal schedule.
The Nits fixed some offseason problems and now have some new ones to answer.
How quickly they can do that is the key to the 2010 season.