Friday, November 11, 2005

Penn State's Season Grades- Offense

With only one regular season game and the bowl game left and really feeling the bye week blues, I figured I would do my season grades for the Nittany Lions.

Michael Robinson has had a tremendous senior season. After some tough growing pains during the first four games, Robinson emerged during the second half of the fourth game at Northwestern. His "coming of age" came on the 4th and 15 pass to Isaac Smolko that eventually led to the game winning TD catch by Derrick Williams. Robinson has been on a tear ever since both running and passing. Outside of Vince Young, there may not be a better dual threat QB in the country. Yes, M-Rob is a better QB than Marcus Vick. Also consider that Robinson played well in Penn State's toughest games this season against Michigan and Ohio State. Vick folded up like a cheap suit against Miami. It really is too bad that Robinson doesn't have another season or two at PSU. He could have really developed into a great QB. Instead he play his final two games at QB before switching positions in the NFL. Robinson deserves to be the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Penn State's other QB's haven't seen the field very much. Anthony Morelli looks like a star in the making in the limited opportunities that he has had. He's very unpolished but a spring as the starter should fix that. Paul Cianciolo has hardly seen the field. Grade- A-

Running Backs:
To be blunt, Tony Hunt is the most underrated tailback in the country. Hunt blows through blockers and picks up extra yards on many plays where most backs would be flat on their back. Hunt needs only 42 yards against Michigan State to become Penn State's first 1,000-yard rusher since Larry Johnson's 2,000-yard season in 2002. Hunt is a blue collar player who does all of the little things right. He blocks well, runs well and catches well. I'm glad that he will be back next season. He will really have a chance to make a name for himself and perhaps finally garner some recognition. I doubt that he will be named to the All-Big Ten team but he is certainly deserving. Rodney Kinlaw has emerged as a change of pace back and stellar return man. His stats aren't flashy but he has made some nice contributions. He is also only a redshirt sophomore, so he still has two more years to improve. Austin Scott has been a big disappointment. He looks like he is a step slower than when he arrived and looks to round out the final group of disappointments to arrive in Happy Valley. Redshirting him next season and working on regaining his speed would be a good idea. BranDon Snow has stepped up as one of the best blocking fullbacks in the country and true goal line threat. His production will be hard to replace and it may spell the end of the I-formation at Penn State as we know it. With all of the depth at receiver, three receiver formations will probably be the norm. Grade- A-

Wide Receivers:
Amazing. The difference between the receiving corps of 2004 and 2005 is just astounding. Terrence Phillips, Gerald Smith, Kinta Palmer, Brendan Perretta, Michael Robinson and Mark Rubin made up the corps of wide outs last season. They helped to produce what was the worst Penn State offense under Joe Paterno. No one made the clutch catch, or any catch for that matter. But that all changed during the offseason when Derrick Williams commited to Penn State. And so began the revolution of Penn State's offense into the 20th century. Derrick Williams was brought in to be a playmaker and spark the offense. He did what was expected. It is the other guys, Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Terrell Golden, who have been the big surprises. When Mark Rubin went down with a season-ending knee injury in August, many felt that it would cripple the passing game to some degree. Instead, Butler and Norwood got the chance to emerge. Both have done an outstanding job. Butler has become a tremendous playmaker with break-neck speed and Norwood is a sure-handed possesion receiver. Even with Williams out, the Penn State offense has thrived. Golden has only had a couple of catches but he has been used more in recent weeks. I look for him to be a big factor next season. Penn State is stacked at wide receiver for years to come, especially when you consider Mark Rubin will be back next season, perhaps as a tight end, and the addition of top recruit Chris Bell. The Nittany Lions have gone from being desperate at wide receiver to having a plethora of options to choose from. Grade- A

Offensive Line:
The offensie line, much maligned in 2004, has bounced back to have a solid season that has helped to open up the entire offense. Levi Brown is emerging as a future NFL player at left tackle. He is an absolute beast. Tyler Reed and Charles Rush have both improved at the guard positions. Reed should be an NFL draft pick. With the revolving door at center between Lance Antolick and E.Z. Smith, this line has performed well. Granted, having a tremendous running QB is a big help but this unit has a whole has been greatly improved. They have opened large holes for both Hunt and Robinson and have done a very good job at protecting Robinson. With four of the five starters graduating, only Brown will likely be back, this unit will be missed. Breaking in a new offensive line and pocket passer at QB will be a challenge. But if Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney have prepared the back ups as well as they have the starters this season, PSU will be in good shape. Isaac Smolko has had one moment of glory this season, the 4th and 15 catch against Northwestern. Otherwise, he will hardly be missed next season. Jordan Lyons or Pat Hall will make a fine replacement. Grade- B+

I will unveil the overall team grade in the "Defense" section, as well as the special teams grades.


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