PART II: Why OSU will beat Penn State

PUNDITS, EXPERTS, GURUS as well as the entertaining but irrationally exuberant portion of the blue and white fans aside, we continue with an early mid-summer look at the Penn State game -- and why Oregon State will leave Happy Valley smiling.

Banker told The Oregonian this past weekend Greg Laybourn had beaten out Payton this spring for the starting free safety job. Al Afalava is among the top strong safeties in the Pac-10, CB Brandon Hughes one of the best cover corners in the league and Keenan Lewis has 34 starts under his belt.

Behind the starters, while Payton's departure is undeniably a loss, there is still plenty in the cupboard, not the least of whom is rising Tim Clark. The Beaver defense has the edge here against the Penn State aerial attack.

But spread-schmed. The Penn State offense, and Penn State's fortunes, will once again turn on the running game. Evan Royster figures to be your workhorse there.

RB Rodney Kinlaw and his 1,329 yards are gone. Royster, however, is a very smart back, one who makes full use of his blocks. But he doesn't have top end speed, and he isn't a guy who can take it to the house on any given play. Stephfon Green, however, might.

But Green is still learning and this spring, along with highlight reel moments, also made the mistakes you expect of a redshirt freshman. He's scary fast, but all that speed might not be ready to translate into quite as much production as the Penn State fans hope.

UP FRONT for Penn State, all five starters return though sophomore Stefen Wisniewski beat out senior guard Mike Lucian this spring. And center A.Q. Shipley is simply a heck of a player. But the question still remains...

If Penn State, with all their returnees on offense, were really ready to roll, if they were as solid as some are projecting with all those returning starters, then why are they considering such sweeping changes to the offense?

ON DEFENSE, and on paper, Penn State looks quite good -- the Beavs would figure to have their hands full.

But a closer look also reveals some fissures.

The PSU secondary was often beaten last year. While they return three starters in the defensive backfield, their best player and arguably the best cover corner in the Big 10 last year, Justin King, left early.

Oregon State's deepest position on offense? The wide receivers. And tight end is not far behind.

The Beavers are in good hands with Sammie Stroughter at split end, James Rodgers in the slot and Darrell Catchings at flanker. Add in Shane Morales and Chris Johnson and that "gives us five guys we feel good about, and (sophomore) Casey Kjos could be the sixth if he can stay healthy," Riley says.

At tight end, any one of the group of Howard Croom, John Reese, Gabe Miller and Brady Camp could make a difference against Penn State. Joe Halahuni was also having a very good spring according to Riley before he was injured.

AT LINEBACKER, all-everything Penn Stater Dan Connor has graduated. The next great 'backer was Sean Lee and he was unquestionably the headliner on the entire team. But he is lost for the season to a knee injury.

The defensive line, the strength of the Nittany Lion defense, is stout. DE Maurice Evans is a beast who had 12.5 sacks last season, and Josh Gaines is solid on the other end. But Penn State did at times have trouble stopping teams on third down last year. And they tired, on occasion, when the offense couldn't hold the ball long enough.

THERE HAVE BEEN considerable off-field distractions for Penn State. Questions linger on Joe Paterno's contract situation. Stories on suspended players and trouble with the law have been prominent this offseason. Both of those could potentially become a factor but if they do, the guess here is they're probably likely to do so later in the season, after Week 2.

Instead, Penn State will again be solid defensively, but they figure to slip ever so slightly from 2007 when they were No. 11 in total defense. (Oregon State was No. 8 in total defense last year). How might it play out? Oregon State pounds away with Ryan McCants all day long and then Jeremy Francis, Stroughter, Rodgers -- James or Jacquizz -- or any one of a number of other Beavers turns in a big scoring play in the game's late stages.

Penn State on offense figures to be average, and they might even slip from last year. Here, Oregon State holds Penn State in check for most of the game, gives up yards late, but do enough at the end to hold Penn State to less points.

On special teams, Penn State has an excellent punter and they return their kicker. But they also ranked 116th out of 119th on kickoff returns.

And the game's key momentum change could well hinge on a Stroughter return.

It figures to be a classic battle. Add it all up, and the Beavs win.

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