Penn State Football: Keys to Improvement in 2011

Josh Sadlock@@JoshSadlockCorrespondent IIIApril 11, 2011

Penn State Football: Keys to Improvement in 2011

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    Joe Paterno and the Lions look to bounce back from a dissappointing 2010 season.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    As the Penn State Nittany Lions prepare for their annual Blue-White Game, there are several key areas the coaching staff should be focusing on if the Lions are to improve on 2010's mediocre 7-6 record. 

    The 2010 team was a young team, the experience by the team's underclassmen should pay dividends this season.

Score Touchdowns in the Red Zone

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The five field goals Penn State kicked in its 22-13 win over Temple last year, including three from closer than 35 yards speak volumes about the 2010 season.  The Lions could not put the ball in the end zone consistently when they got close.  Joe Paterno will need to get more creative around the goal line.  An improvement in offensive line play should allow the Lions to run the ball more effectively within the red zone.

Keep the Quarterback Upright

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    PSU's offensive line struggled in big games last year.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Penn State struggled to move the ball last year in games against ranked opponents due to the offensive line's inability to open holes and keep pressure off the quarterback. 

    The 2010 edition of the offensive line had Stefan Wisniewski, but the other starters did not have much experience.  The line was hurt by injuries and inexperience. 

    Johnnie Troutman, Chima Okoli and Quinn Barham must build on the experience they gained playing last year. 

    As the Lions look to replace Evan Royster, Silas Redd and Stephfon Green will need holes to run through.  Good protection will also aid quarterback Rob Bolden's development.

Choose a Quarterback

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Lions will need better and more consistent quarterback play this season if they are to contend for a Big Ten title. 

    Last season, heralded freshman Rob Bolden suffered behind spotty offensive line play, was injured and replaced by walk-on Matt McGloin.  McGloin rallied the team towards the end of the season and gained the respect of his teammates for his scrappy play. 

    While McGloin exhibited tremendous heart, Bolden is simply the better talent.  There was no better exhibit than McGloin's five interception performance against Florida in the Outback Bowl.  McGloin's arm is simply not strong enough to play quarterback in the Big Ten.

    As mentioned in the previous slide, Bolden will benefit the most from improved play by the offensive line.  His development early in the season was hindered as he constantly faced a heavy rush. 

    It was not a good situation for a freshman quarterback to succeed.  With another year experience, it will become evident that Bolden is too talented to be kept on the bench.

Replace Evan Royster

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The Lions will be hard pressed to replace Evan Royster.  In four years, Royster racked up nearly 4,000 career yards, and was also a capable receiver out of the backfield. 

    Penn State seems to have found a capable replacement in rising sophomore Silas Redd who averaged nearly six yards a carry as a true freshman last year in limited duty.  Rising senior Stephfon Green has also exhibited game breaking potential in his time at PSU. 

    The Lions will probably not be able to replace Royster's production with one back. 

    A combination of Redd's bruising inside running with Green's blazing edge speed should allow Penn State's running game to pick up right where one of the all-time leading rushers in the University's history left off.

Improve the Run Defense

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    The Lions must improve their run defense in 2011.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Linebacker U struggled to stop the run in 2011. 

    The Lions, long known for their stifling defense, allowed over 165 yards a game on the ground last year, and were dominated by Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State's running attacks. 

    They could not stop the run when they needed to.  Everyone knew replacing Sean Lee and Navarro Bowman was going to be tough, but who would have expected the Nittany Lions to give up over 300 yards rushing to Ohio State? 

    The linebacking core will need Nate Stupar to step up if Linebacker U can expect to return to its run stopping roots in 2011.