Casey departed the University Park campus and for most of the Lions fans they were delighted to see him leave. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Rashard. Truth is, Casey acted just over the age of 18 during his senior year. He hadn't grown as a player or a person during his five years at Penn State. Now, redshirt junior Matt Senneca assumes the reins of the Penn State offense. Before 1999, he started the season as the fourth-string quarterback. He quickly moved to third. In 2000, he moved up to second behind Casey. Senneca seized his opportunities to play during all 12 football games last year. The sophomore threw a 50-yard dart to Bryant Johnson for a score against Michigan. Without the athletic Casey, the Lions are a better team! No one seems to know what Paterno plans for the offense this season. Will the shotgun remain?
The staple of any Penn State football team is as strong as ever this season. Three excellent tailbacks fill the backfield. First senior Eric McCoo rushes for the honor of being the first Nittany Lion to lead State in rushing yards four straight years since D.J. Dozier. McCoo rushed for nearly 700 yards last season and five touchdowns. Dozier led the program four times first, leading the Lions to a 14-10 victory over the Hurricanes his senior campaign in the Fiesta Bowl in 1987. McCoo sits 10th on the all-time rushing list, easily within the grasp of the top five runners in Penn State football history. Lining up behind the stellar "choo choo" McCoo, senior Omar Easy makes long runs look like a walk in the park. Easy is finding his niche after a junior season of 176 yards on 44 carries. Larry Johnson Jr., son of defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., can terrorize defenses with his scintillating speed, and take hits like the former great Penn State tailbacks. Johnson has emerged as an offensive star from the very first time he touched the football. In the opener against Arizona in 1999, Johnson took a simple screen pass from quarterback Kevin Thompson and raced 50-yards for a touchdown. It makes no difference what defensive schemes Miami chooses in this football game. You can't tackle what you can't catch.
Leading the way for this trio, hardworking senior Mick Blosser opens the holes. Unlike some southern schools, Penn State's fullbacks aren't afraid to get their heads in the fight and blast a linebacker out of the way. Blosser doesn't want the carries, he prefers to hit people. Who better to tattoo than a group of Hurricanes? Behind Blosser stands his mirrored opposite and perfect compliment. Sophomore Paul Jefferson carries a load and does it effectively. With a three-man backfield on short yardage, Paterno dares the defense to stop Jefferson. Everyone knows in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania who will carry the pigskin. Yet, Jefferson earns the tough yards and keeps the chains moving.
One thing is a guarantee on Saturday, Larry Coker won't allow the Nittany Lions to start a running game. It would be a fatal error on the rookie's part. Give the green coach enough credit to know better than that. At the same time, give the old codger to the north, the warhorse of Penn State football, Joepa, the respect he deserves. The Lions need a passing attack and crave it badly. Senneca said in the preseason that it didn't matter if he threw the ball on the money each down if no one caught it on the other end. Those problems plagued Casey a year ago. Senneca has worked day and night with the wide receiver corps to avoid the same embarrassment. Expect this group to knock your socks off.
The fastest player on the Nittany Lions, lines up at split end. After a season of injury, Eddie Drummond will make an impact early, often, and whenever he sees fit. Burners Johnson and Johnson will split time at flanker. Bryant Johnson had the most problems holding onto the football, but caught passes like he had glue on his hands during the Blue-White game. Sophomore Tony Johnson, younger brother of Larry, has the hands and the speed. Tight end John Gilmore resembles the likeness of former Nittany Lion All-American Kyle Brady combing his ability to block and make big plays in the passing game. Gilmore will certainly help Senneca settle into his position in the first month of the season.
No offense moves the chains without a solid offensive line. The Lions can't boast they have two potential All-Americans like Miami. It probably won't even have the same starting line-up from one week to the next. Two potential starters, Eric Rickenbach and Joe Hartings hit the showers early, leaving the offensive line exposed and hurting already. Returning starter Joe Iorio returns to man center. Matt Schmitt will likely handle right tackle, while the colossal Gus Felder starts at left tackle. Tyler Lenda will start at left guard and Eric Ransom at right guard, although the Lions will shuffle players in out of the huddle during the game's entirety, waiting for the right group to click as a unit. The line is the biggest question marks of this football team and most likely the reason the Lions have no respect by the public. Schmitt and company has backed into a corner and patiently waits until Saturday to run out scratching and clawing for every potential yard.
And when the Lions score their first touchdown in the first quarter, State College native David Kimball will trot onto the field to kick the extra point. If the duty calls, Kimball can boot a field goal more than 50-yards, boasting the strongest leg Beaver Stadium spectators have witnessed since former NFL player Brett Conway kicked the Lions to an undefeated season in 1994.
Brian K. Hall is a sports editor for "The Collegian" – Penn State's official newspaper – as well as a full time PSU student. Check out the latest news on the Nittany Lions at http://www.collegian.psu.edu or send all comments and correspondence to Brian at email@example.com