NITTANY NOTES: Final Touches

Get an exclusive review of what Penn State football did to prepare for its showdown with No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Nittany Lions head South Friday.

It's been a week of practice that has been described as "tough," "intense" and "challenging" for the Penn State players. The coaches worked the players hard early on and tried to "ratchet back" the pace as the week progressed. However, "most everyone was full-go this week, even when they were only in tops."

There's been a "buzz around Lasch" with "everyone talking about Bama Week." That started with Joe Paterno telling the players early on to forget about the history of the game and focus on making some history in this one.

Interestingly enough, the coaches -- including Paterno -- told the players a few times they liked the pace they were taking and the focus they were showing. "Joe seemed really pleased with how the week went," one practice observer shared.

Passing Judgment

Rob Bolden got a lot of work under center and in the shotgun this week. "They were getting in pressure reads and check-downs to help him anticipate pressure." Observers feel he did well, but stress that the staff and veterans are telling Bolden he has a big supporting cast out there and "doesn't have the game on his shoulders alone."

Bolden is getting a lot of advice beyond the offensive coaches. The veteran receivers and offensive linemen like Brett Brackett, Graham Zug and Stefen Wisniewski have been spending added time with Bolden, reviewing how he can better manage situations. "The best thing Rob brings is that he's open to that; he wants to hear the feedback," an observer said. "So many guys come in with egos and think they got it. He knows he can learn from everyone around him."

In terms of his preparation, observers say there is one aspect that Bolden has had enough of. "I think he is sick of people telling him to 'relax' or 'take it easy' - he's been pretty relaxed all week," an observer said. "But he was saying how any player or coach is going to be somewhat tense heading into this game, even Joe."

What About Rob?

How down to earth is Bolden? When the media began asking what to call him, Bolden was asked — indirectly, of course, since he has not be made available to the media — and he said, "Rob."

According to one observer, when a member of Penn State's sports marketing staff suggested "Robert" had more an adult ring to it, Bolden said, "That's OK. Rob's fine with me."

Incidentally, some teammates have been trying to get "Bobby" to stick as his name, however Bolden is not a fan. "He's been trying to kill that, but keep an ear out since I am not sure (the players) are going to let it go," one observer said.

Running Hot

Evan Royster has had "a solid week of running," and the coaches feel "he's dug deep and run hard." The staff has worked in added reps for Stephfon Green, Curtis Dukes and Silas Redd. How they are used depends on how the running game performs and the offensive line manages Alabama's rush.

"Bama has strong defensive front; the film showed they had issues collapsing the pocket, but so did our (defensive) line, so I chalk that up first game kinks that they'll work out," an observer said. Even with Marcell Dareus out, few observers feel that Alabama will lose a step.

"They'll attack the weak side, I bet," one observer said. "The size of the wideouts is an advantage, but they'll still have to create separation, which has been stressed (all week) in practice."

Alabama runs a 3-4 and relies on its linebackers to provide pressure.

Line Up

The offensive line has been "playing meaner" this week, and has seen extra blitzing and pressure sets. "The group is coming together, but (the coaches) will have to compensate if the (Alabama) gets consistent pressure with extra backs or tight ends," and observer said.

The only real question from a personnel standpoint is at left guard. The coaches split reps between De'OnTae Pannell and Johnnie Troutman. As one observer said, "When Johnnie's on, he brings a lot to the line, but he's got to be consistent. I don't think they are ready to give the all-out nod yet."

The line has been working on its collective speed off the ball and its footwork, as well as "just engaging assignments quickly and cleanly." The linemen have been working on their communication and adjustments to prepare to face the Tide's base 3-4 scheme.

Cold Front

The defensive front seven has had an "impressive set of practices." Tackle Devon Still has "shown awesome power" this week as a "one-man wrecking crew at times." Ollie Ogbu has also been "strong on bull rushes." The coaches have had ends Eric Lattimore and Jack Crawford watching extra film and "working to get sharper rip and wipe techniques to make the corner."

The biggest challenge is the heady play of Alabama QB Greg McElroy. "They have watched his tendencies a lot and he's good a getting out of jams," an observer said. "They know it will be a full day's work to get to him."

Back In Action

Penn State will tap into its linebacker depth against the Tide. Look for Chris Colasanti to start in the middle and Nate Stupar to get the nod on the strong side. Mike Mauti will rotate in at both positions. In practice, all three have been seeing about the same number of reps.

On the weak side, sophomore Gerald Hodges has had an outstanding week of practice and is pushing Bani Gbadyu for the starting job. Hodges sustained a minor thigh injury vs. Youngstown State but is full go for the Tide.

Closing Notes

Thursday marked the close of Alabama practice preparations this week. Stay tuned to for unmatched coverage of the squad as they travel down to Tuscaloosa and take on Alabama under the lights on Bryant-Denny Stadium.


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