Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ready to Send Joe to the Grave? Think Again (Part 1- Offense)

As a Penn State fan, the past five years have been frustrating and disappointing. From 1966-1999, Penn State was one of the nation's premier programs, none of us ever believed that in the span of five years, the world would come crashing down on the Nittany Lion football program. Legendary head coach Joe Paterno has obviously shouldered the blame. However, things are beginning to change in Happy Valley. Two solid recruiting classes have helped to re-stock Penn State's roster with Big Ten talent, Joe has admitted that he slacked off in recruiting efforts and the Lions' two freshmen playmakers- Derrick Williams and Justin King- have been allowed to talk to the media. A priviledge absolutely unheard of under Paterno. Now all that needs to change is the team's on the field performance.

The Penn State offense was simply abysmal last season. After a tremendous showing against Akron in the season opener, Joe dumbed down the offense and made it almost impossible for the offense to score. The receiving corps was made up of mostly seniors who had been riding the bench for 3-4 years with little to no game experience. The only receivers who were playing well were either in Joe's doghouse (Terrell Golden) or didn't get a chance to start until it was too late (Mark Rubin). The offensive line didn't live up to its potential and opposing defenses put eight (sometimes more) men in the box to counter the running game. Tony Hunt really isn't a bad tailback, he just played in an offense that couldn't open up holes for him. If the line improves even marginally and the new found speed at wideout opens up the offense, I think Hunt can easily top 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He managed about 800 yards and 7 touchdowns last season. Highly touted freshman Derrick Williams, Terrell Golden and Mark Rubin are expected to see the most playing time at wide receiver. Another highly touted freshman, cornerback Justin King, is expected to play as the slot receiver occasionally. Tony Hunt will start at tailback but the Lions have a plethora of other options including a trim Austin Scott, speedy Rodney Kinlaw, Matt Hahn and freshman Lydell Sargeant. I expect terrific production from the stable of tailbacks and an improved wideout corps. Williams is a very polished freshman and both Rubin and Golden have some experience.

A lot of people have doubts about Michael Robinson at quarterback. Robinson very athetlic, having seen playing time at QB, RB and WR during his first three seasons. At times during the 2003 season, he showed signs of brilliance but would then fall back to earth the following week. Last season he struggled in all of his starts. However, there is one big difference between the past three seasons an 2005- Robinson is finally spending all of his time focued on being a quarterback. In the past, he would have perhaps a week, at best, to prepare to step in against some of the best defenses in the nation. Now with a spring and summer soon to be under his belt, Robinson is very confident that he can prove his skeptics wrong and go out on a good note. Robinson will also have an advantage that Zack Mills didn't have in his senior season- a group of wideouts with speed and some experience. I fully expect Robinson to step up and play well enough for the offense to improve. The piece of the Penn State offense's puzzle will be improvement along the offensive line. It is made up of mostly seniors (assuming Lance Antolick starts at center) who will be looking to get a shot in the NFL after thus far failing to live up to their hype coming out of high school. The line got pushed around a lot last season and didn't open enough holes for the running backs and Tyler Reed seemed to be on the ground an awful lot last season. Improvement among the offensive line is a must for Penn State's offense to succeed. The speed at wideout should help by making defenses respect the passing game but the line will have to improve within itself. The good news? 2006's offensive line should be better with only tackle Levi Brown returning and some tremendous athletes such as Gerald Cadogen filling the vacated positions.

Check back tomorrow for my preview of the defense and special teams.


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