Penn State and Notre Dame meet for the first time since 1992 when the Irish edged the Nittany Lions 17-16 in South Bend. Both programs have struggled over the last several years, but each team has rebounded at the same time with strong 2005 campaigns.
Out with the old in with the new. Penn State and Notre Dame have had a long tradition of relying on the ground game to punish opponents, but that will change when the teams meet on Saturday. Neither team appears to have the physical mentality necessary to consistently move the opposition off the ball. Notre Dame struggled to establish the running game in the first half against Georgia Tech, while Penn State never really got into a groove against Akron.
Joe Paterno lost a lot of veterans from the 2005 team and he will need to really on a lot of inexperienced players to repeat their 11-1 season of a year ago. Quarterback Anthony Morelli takes over for the departed Michael Robinson and Morelli is a large part of the shift in offensive identity for the Nittany Loins. Morelli has a strong, accurate arm, but first-time starter won't be expected to carry the team as PSU has loads of talent at the wide receiver position.
Penn State will still need to run the ball in order to be successful. They didn't show that ability in their opener against Akron. Akron is a solid MAC team, but PSU should have done better than the 76 rushing yards. More troubling is that they averaged 2.8 yards per carry. A major concern for Paterno throughout the season will be the development of the offensive line. PSU has four new starters across the front and all of the have limited experience. Levi Brown is the lone returning starter, and he's as good as Notre Dame will see all year.
Tony Hunt returns in the backfield for PSU. In 2005, Hunt was the leading rusher for PSU. He gained 1,047 yards on 174 attempts with six touchdowns. He won' duplicate that if the offensive line doesn't gel quickly. After Hunt, Penn State has options, but they are limited if Austin Scott isn't healthy by game-time.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.
Anthony Morelli has a very strong arm and he looks as good as he was advertised coming out of high school. He can make all the throws and he is able to put the ball up for grabs because he has the playmakers that can go get the ball. Morelli did challenge the Akron secondary deep, but he appeared patient enough to work the underneath routes. He didn't have a lot of pressure last weekend, so it is difficult to gauge how he performs with more people in his face. If Notre Dame doesn't get pressure on him, he has the talent to pick Notre Dame apart. Morelli had a solid game against Akron, but Notre Dame isn't Akron.
Morelli doesn't have much experience, but his back-ups have even less. Needless to say Morelli is as important to the Nittany Loins as Brady Quinn is to the Irish.
Tony Hunt is a power back that can churn yardage when he gets his 230-pound frame moving. He isn't going kill you with his speed, and most of his work will be done between the tackles. He is a very good receiver and they will use him in the passing game. PSU showed some screens. He also provides PSU with a solid blocker in the backfield.
Austin Scott has experience, but he didn't play against Akron due top an injury suffered during spring practice. It is possible that he could be ready for the Irish, but it is likely that he will be held out.
can not go, Rodney Kinlaw will spell Hunt. Kinlaw has been a special teams
player thus far in his career and he's seen only handful of carries.
Brandon Snow is one of the best
fullbacks in the nation. He's a big, physical fullback that spends most of his
time opening holes for Hunt. He won't get many carries but PSU will leak him out
of the backfield in the passing.
The strength of the Penn State offense is the quality and depth they have a wide receiver. Morelli appears to have found a groove with Norwood. Norwood isn't a dominating, big-play wide out, but he'll wear a defense out underneath. Norwood was second on the team in receptions (32) and yardage (422) last season.
Derrick Williams is "Mr. Everything". Don't be surprised to see him at quarterback or running back. PSU will line him up anywhere on the field and they will look to get him the ball. He has very good speed and he oozes athleticism. Like Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, Williams will get his catches, Notre Dame just needs to limit the damage.
Deon Butler was the top receiver for the Nittany Lions in 2005 where he hauled in 37 pass for 691 yards and nine touchdowns. He's another small guy, but he is very productive.
Chris Bell is a
true freshman that has a wealth of talent. The Irish will get a chance to see
him on the field, but if it's crunch time PSU will go with the top three
players. Terrell Golden is a playmaker but he may be limited due to an injury.
Irish fans will also want to keep an eye out for James McDonald. McDonald was a
player Notre Dame recruited and he played with Arrelious Benn at Dunbar high
Penn State is inexperienced at tight end and they are also thin. Kevin Darling got the start last week, but he didn't stand out. Pat Hall would likely be the starter, but he was held out of the Akron game. He has limited experience and a handful of catches. He won't scare many defensive coordinators as a receiver, but he is an effective blocker.
Jordan Lyons played quarterback in high school. He has good size, but he isn't a physical player. He isn't going to catch many balls down field.
Penn State is replacing four starters from last years offensive line, so they will go through some growing pains. Last week against Akron they protected Morelli very well, but they just didn't push an inferior line off the ball. To complicate matters, I don't know if PSU is confident in it's starting unit.
Levi Brown is the lone returning veteran and he is considered one of the best offensive lineman in the country. He's big, strong, athletic and nearly impossible to get around. He's adept at both run and pass blocking. If there is a weakness, not many have found it.
Other than Brown, A.Q. Shipley would probably be considered the most experienced linemen, but even his exposure to the field has been extremely limited. Shipley has lot of talent, he is physical, but he lacks the reps.
Fifth-year senior Robert Price (6-0, 299) received the start last week at right guard, but Rich Ohrnberger could get the first chance this weekend.
John Shaw started out as a defensive lineman, and has now converted to the offensive line. Shaw is a gritty player, but again, he lacks experience.
Greg Harrison (6-3, 290 pound, So.) could make his way into the game behind Cadogan.
Penn State On Defense:
Like their uniforms, Penn State has generally run a traditional "4-3" defense with a lot of zone coverage in the secondary. Like the offense, the defense has a new look for 2006. It still appears that PSU is running a "4-3", but they are giving the opposition several different looks and mixing personnel. They will run out three defensive lineman and drop a linebacker down. There are probably several reasons PSU has modified their defense, but a major question this year is depth along the defensive front. PSU has a truckload of talent at linebacker so the need to get the playmakers on the field.
Along the defensive front PSU is replacing three starters. When they do play four across, the talent is there, but the seasoning isn't. They looked solid against Akron, holding the Zips to 33 total rushing yards on 34 attempts. The Akron quarterback spent a lot of time picking himself off the ground, so the defensive front can apply pressure.
To help pressure the passer, Penn State used a lot of blitzes. It didn't appear that they sent the defensive backs, but at least one linebacker seemed to come on every play. Dan Connor, Paul Posluszny, Shean Lee and Tim Shaw are experienced and very productive. PSU has one of the top linebacker units in the country.
The defensive secondary is probably the weak link on defense. PSU lost four starters from a year ago. While this group has some playing experience, they certainly aren't battle tested. The best athlete of the group is sophomore Justin King. While he appears to have unlimited potential, he's still trying to find his feet. Opposite of King is sophomore Tony Davis. The safeties are Donnie Johnson and Anthony Scirrotto. Both players look capable, but they are green and they have not been tested.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +
We're not exactly sure what to expect form the Penn State defensive front, but they are replacing a lot of experience and talent along the line. PSU will use three or four defensive linemen depending on the situation. They don't have a lot of talent up front but this group is solid.
Jay Alford is the best of the bunch, but Ed Johnson is also a good player. Johnson missed last season, but he did start three games in 2003 and 2004. He's a very strong defensive lineman. He's very difficult to push off the blocks, and he does a very good job of taking on blockers, but he won't make a bunch of plays in the backfield.
John Shaw suffered a high ankle sprain against Akron, so he could be limited. Shaw transferred to PSU from Rice, and he has limited experience at PSU, but he did start eight games while at Rice. Solid, but not spectacular.
John Gaines will be out if the defense uses three defensive lineman, otherwise he will man one of the end positions. He's a good player, but he lacks experience.
Chris Baker is a red-shirt freshman that got some minutes against Akron. Baker was active and he is anoher big body PSU can turn to.
This is good of a group as you will find in the country. Paul Posluszny doesn't need any introduction. He's one of the best at his position and I expect him to have a big game against the Irish.
Dan Connor isn't much different than Posluszny in terms of productivity. Connor has played a lot of football in since he arrived, but he might have played his best game against Akron. Connor was all over the place, registering 13 tackles and two sacks. He's a big player and he's a big hitter.
Sean Lee and Tim Shaw won't get the press clippings that the other linebackers do, but they are both very solid, very active linebackers.
This is a solid group of players, but they will have their hands full on Saturday. With four new names in the backfield PSU will need to keep the pressure off of Justin King and Tony Davis. Penn State blitzed Akron a bunch, and I expect they will attempt to get to Brady Quinn the same way. The problem with this is that PSU will place a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks. King and Davis are terrific prospects, but they'll be defending one of the best receiving combinations in college football.
At safety, Donnie Johnson is physical and he'll come lay a hat on you. Johnson is probably has the most experince since he was used as the nickel defensive back in 2005. Anthony Scirrotto is the other safety. Akron really didn't get the ball downfield, so these two were not tested.
Final Thought -
Morelli looked good against Akron, but PSU will need to run the ball against Notre Dame. The PSU offensive line didn't show me anything last week, and I doubt they will do much better against the Irish.
Penn State will challenge Notre Dame, but in the end PSU just has too many holes to fill.
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