Penn State Nittany Lions Loaded As Usual

From the frying pan into the fire. The beleaguered Fighting Illini football team returns home to face Penn State Saturday. The Nittany Lions are on par with Ohio State, who shut out the Illini, despite losing a hard-fought battle against Iowa last week. They have given up only three touchdowns this year, and they will be fired up to reverse last week's performance.

Ageless Joe Paterno is in his 44th season in charge of Penn State. As usual, he fields a talented bunch that follows long-successful offensive and defensive philosophies. They are an intelligent, well coached team that usually makes few mistakes. Their four turnovers to Iowa is an aberration they will not repeat often. And their defense is yearly among the best in the nation.

Statistically, the Nittany Lions defense leads the Big 10 in four categories. They have given up only 75.5 yards per game rushing and 158.2 yards passing for a 233.8 ypg average. And they give up only 10.2 points per game. They are ninth in the nation in sacks, and they average 9.33 tackles for loss per game. This is bad news for an Illinois offense struggling to score points against top teams.

Penn State is known as Linebacker U for good reason. They put out NFL caliber linebackers every year, and this year is no exception. Sean Lee (6-2, 236) and Navarro Bowman (6-1, 230) are superstars at the outside spots, and Josh Hull (6-3, 236) tied his career high with 13 tackles including 2 for loss against Iowa from his middle linebacker spot. Hull leads the team in tackles. Backups Nate Stupar (6-1, 226), Bani Gbadyu (6-1, 231) and Chris Colasanti (6-2, 238) could start for many schools.

Penn State's defensive line is outstanding as well, and they set up their linebackers for numerous tackles when they don't make plays themselves. Jared Odrick (6-5, 296) is considered an All-American candidate at one tackle, and fellow senior Ollie Ogbu (6-1, 285) isn't far behind. The Nittany Lions lost two starting defensive ends to the NFL, but their replacements Eric Latimore (6-6, 270) and Jack Crawford (6-5, 256) have been highly effective. There is plenty of quality depth here also.

PSU appears to have replaced graduated defensive backs with quality replacements. Strong safety Nick Sukay (6-1, 208) and free safety Drew Astorino (5-10, 193) are experienced and savvy. Cornerbacks Knowledge Timmons (5-10, 182) and A. J. Wallace (6-1, 201) are both seniors and share one spot. Sophomore D'Anton Lynn (6-1, 198) starts on the opposite side, with true freshman Stephon Morris (5-8, 182) backing him up.

Senior quarterback Daryll Clark (6-2, 232) and junior running back Evan Royster (6-1, 209) spark the offense. Clark was first team All-Big 10 last year, and he continues to perform at a high level despite an off game last week against Iowa. He leads the conference in touchdown passes with 9 so far this year and is third in both passing yardage and total offense at 243.8 yards per game. He is a strong-armed quarterback who completes 60% of his passes and can also burn you with his running. He is a heady and inspirational team leader.

Royster was a high school All-American and is a threat both running and catching passes. He has now had 7 career 100 yard games and is presently averaging 76.2 yards a game and has three touchdowns rushing. He also has one touchdown receiving. Speedster Stephfon Green (5-10, 192) backs up Royster and is a threat to go all the way on every carry.

The Nittany Lions saw their three starting receivers from the last four years graduate, but experienced squadmen have performed well in their absence. Junior Derek Moye (6-5, 198) is backed by junior Brett Brackett (6-6, 232) on one side. Junior Chaz Powell (6-1, 197) is supported by freshman Devon Smith (5-7, 153) and sophomore A.J. Price (6-4, 177) on the other. Junior Graham Zug (6-2, 178) is playing ahead of senior Patrick Mauti (5-10, 185) and freshman Curtis Drake (5-11, 169) in the slot.

Moye and Powell lead the team with 15 receptions each. Moye averages 63 yards per game compared with 53.2 for Powell. Zug has 12 catches for 51 yards. With that kind of balance, it is impossible to focus on any one receiver.

Senior tight end Andrew Quarless (6-5, 253) seems like he has been there forever. He has 11 catches for 31.8 yards in four games and is equally effective blocking and receiving. Senior Mickey Shuler (6-4, 249) backs him up and joins him in two tight end formations. PSU actually lists five tight ends on their depth chart, so it is a position of strength.

The offensive line has had growing pains as several graduates need replacing. But Penn State always fields well-coached, talented lines, and they will come around this year as well. They all have had experience and just need playing time.

Senior Dennis Landolt (6-4, 306) is the starting left tackle, while sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell (6-5, 304) mans the opposite side. The offensive guards are junior Johnnie Troutman (6-4, 309) and senior Lou Eliades (6-4, 301). The center is junior Stefen Wisniewski (6-3, 303).

Senior Jeremy Boone (5-9, 168) is again the quality punter. Junior Collin Wagner (5-9, 173) is the equally talented place kicker. Royster is the punt returner, and Powell, Devon Smith and Green are the kick returners.

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