Penn State Returns Loaded Team

You have to give credit to Joe Paterno. The ageless coach has created a football program at Penn State University that churns out one winning season after another. Paterno's teams are all molded from the same clay, so it is not surprising they are already 4-0 on the season and hungry for a fifth win against visiting Illinois Saturday evening.

Paterno uses a formula that combines great recruiting with an almost mechanical repetitiveness that relies on consistency and fundamental soundness. He has so much talent, he just plugs the younger ones into the positions vacated by their graduated brethren, and there is no discernable dropoff in most cases.

Even when injuries, suspensions and legal problems depleted the Nittany Lions team this offseason, other outstanding players were ready to go in their stead. For example, first team preseason All-American defensive end Maurice Evans (6'-2", 264) was suspended for three games, but his replacement Aaron Maybin, a 6'-4", 236 pound sophomore, leads the team with seven sacks and is lightning quick.

Evans and defensive tackle teammate Abe Koroma (6'-3", 316) return this week in time for Illinois, but they will merely add to PSU's depth rather than define it. In four games, their defense has accumulated 14 sacks and 7 interceptions. They have given up only 209 yards rushing and 680 yards passing against four outmatched opponents.

As always, linebackers are the heart and soul of the PSU defense. Navorro Bowman (6'-1", 228) leads the team with 35 tackles and 5 tackles for loss including 3 sacks. Right behind him is senior Tyrell Sales (6'-2", 233) with 23 tackles and junior Josh Hull (6'-3", 231) with 14. These figures have been accumulated despite sharing time during blowouts. The major injury loss of star linebacker Sean Lee has barely been noticed.

Anthony Scirrotto (6'-0", 192) returns at safety for what seems like his 10th year in college. He has been a thorn in Illinois' side throughout his career. Scirrotto has 17 tackles so far, and he has returned four punts for a 14.2 yard average. He has no interceptions yet this year, but that will likely change in the near future.

Other top defenders include tackle Jared Odrick (6'-5", 308), cornerback Lydell Sargeant (5'-10", 186), cornerback A. J. Wallace, linebacker Bani Gbadyu (6'-1", 221), linebacker Nathan Stupar (6'-1", 220), and safeties Mark Rubin (6'-3", 216) and freshman Drew Astorino (5'-10", 190).

Opponents of the Nittany Lions must score frequently against this powerful defense to counter the multitude of skill players on offense. Penn State can burn you both running and passing. With an experienced and talented offensive line, junior quarterback Darryl Clark (6'-2", 231) can stand tall in the pocket, peruse his options and fire strikes all day long.

Clark was a backup until this year, primarily because Paterno prefers upperclassmen who make the fewest mistakes. It is now Clark's turn, and he is quickly proving an improvement over graduated senior Anthony Morelli. Of course, he has not yet faced a defense that could pressure him out of his comfort zone.

Clark is both a passer and a powerful runner along the lines of Illinois' Juice Williams, but passing is his top priority. So far on the season, he has completed 48 out of 78 passes for 715 yards and 7 touchdowns with only one interception. He has also rushed 12 times for 81 yards and two more TDs. Planned quarterback draws and scrambles make him doubly dangerous and must be defended.

Senior receivers Justin Norwood (5'-11", 171), Deon Butler (5'-10", 168), and Derrick Williams (6'-0", 194) are all in their fourth year as starters and are among the top five returning career receivers in the Big Ten. Norwood boasts 18 catches for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Butler has accumulated 229 yards and two TDs among his 14 grabs, and Williams has added 8 catches for 113 yards in addition to being his team's star punt and kickoff return man.

The Nittany Lion tight ends are also an important part of their offense and benefit from the pressure their outside receivers place on opposing defenses. Junior Mickey Schuler (6'-4", 251) has four catches and one touchdown. Sophomores Andrew Quarless (6'-5", 252) and Brett Brackett (6'-6", 235) each have five catches on the season. Brackett is actually listed as a wide receiver despite his size.

Penn State is also loaded at running back. Sophomore Evan Royster (6'-1", 212) was a high school All-American and is proving why as a new starter. He is averaging 94.8 yards per game and 8.1 yards per carry while scoring seven touchdowns.

Even faster is freshman backup Stephfon Green (5'-10, 189), who has added four touchdowns and is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 73 yards per game. Youngsters Brent Carter (6'-2", 211) and Brandon Beachum (6'-0", 212) are also making contributions. So is freshman receiver Chaz Powell (6'-1", 194), who has scored two touchdowns on six reverses.

Proving they have no weaknesses, the Nittany Lions also boast top kicking specialists. Place kicker Kevin Kelly is four of five on field goals and perfect on his 25 extra points. Punter Jeremy Boone is among Big Ten leaders with a 42.3 yard average.

Penn State had the number one recruiting class in the country a couple years ago, and they have accumulated several top classes back to back. They will be tough for anyone to conquer this year or any year.

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