TYM: Grades for the Offense

Brennan and Harrington offer their midterm report cards for the Nittany Lions. See who made the grade and who has to pick it up in the second half of the season.

Welcome to Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Brennan and Mark Harrington discuss and debate topics related to the Penn State football program. In this installment, they offer their midseason grades for the Nittany Lions.


Brennan: When true freshman Rob Bolden was named starting quarterback, everyone expected him to endure growing pains. And he has. He has struggled in the red zone and his touchdown-to-interception ration (4/7) is poor. Among starting QBs, he is last in the Big Ten in efficiency rating. But I'm not down on the kid at all. He showed plenty of heart on the road at then-No. 1 Alabama and while taking a physical beating at Iowa. If the Lions had any semblance of a running game to take a bit of pressure off him, Bolden would be squarely in the mix for Freshman of the Year honors in the Big Ten.
Grade: C

Harrington: It's exciting to see Penn State make an investment in its future by going with a true freshman who was the dark horse in the race given that he arrived on campus mere weeks before making his first start. Bolden has had a rough go of it, which is not all on him. And while he has had flashes of brilliance with some passes and runs, he's also regularly revealed that he is a freshman with some poor decisions (there's no shame in sliding rather than taking a big hit). I do think the deterioration of offensive line's play and drop issues with the receivers have done him no favors, either. But Bolden has shown heart and could have a very bright future.
Grade: C


Harrington: I think the concern related to Evan Royster's off-season weight was misplaced. To me, the issue was not with the weight itself, but the underlying related issue of Royster's attitude and approach. He's not a vocal guy, but I think he also hurt the reputation he had with teammates; he was a guy players looked to and saw had a solid work-ethic and determination, but that respect seems to have diminished. The offensive line has not done the running backs any favors, either. Of a positive note to me are the flashes Silas Redd has shown.
Grade: C

Brennan: Yes, Royster made a mistake by bulking up over the summer and reporting to camp heavier than the staff would have liked. But I hardly think he is the problem with the running game. As bad as this offensive line has been, he is still averaging 5.0 yards per carry, which is down from his career average coming into the season (6.1) but still right in line with what Curt Warner (5.2), Tony Hunt (5.1) and Blair Thomas (5.4) averaged as seniors. The poor play of the offensive line and the staff's reluctance to try to establish any sort of a rhythm with the ground attack (remember the ridiculous second quarter against Kent State?) have been the real issues.
Grade: C+


Brennan: This unit was supposed to be a strength of the offense, especially when it came to helping the young quarterback(s) develop. Instead, it has delivered more drops than great catches. Overall, the wideouts have excelled only at the routine, which is not good enough this season. Individually, Brett Brackett has clearly overachieved from preseason expectations, and sophomores Justin Brown and Devon Smith have been what most expected. But Derek Moye has not elevated his game (one TD through six games) and Graham Zug has regressed.
Grade: C-

Harrington: You said it, the receivers have underachieved as a unit through the first half of the season. As you said, Brackett deserves a pat on the back, but the regression of Zug has off-set that. I also don't think the staff has provided enough opportunities to Brown and Smith, who have both illustrated they can be reliable targets for Bolden.
Grade: C-


Harrington: This position has been decimated. First, Andrew Szczerba has been coping with a chronic back injury since the spring. Throw into that the loss of starter Garry Gilliam with an ACL tear and the unit is now relying on true freshman Kevin Haplea, who has the foundation, but is being thrown into the proverbial fire as a rookie. The lack of depth overall has been a big blow to the offense, particularly coming off a season where Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler were so instrumental to the offensive attack.
Grade: D

Brennan: Given the injuries, it is difficult to present a valid grade here. I will, however, give the coaching staff credit for using Brackett in many of the same formations Quarless handled so well last year. But Brackett is a wideout. Two catches for the bona fide tight ends through six games is a real problem.
Grade: Incomplete


Brennan: Let's get this straight: Penn State lost exactly two starters from the first-team offensive line in the Cap One Bowl -- Dennis Landolt, who went on to become an undrafted free agent signee with the New York Giants, and Ako Poti, who did not get any NFL tryouts. So PSU wasn't exactly replacing Farrell and Munchak or Hartings and Rivera. Yet even before Lou Eliades sustained a season-ending ACL injury, the line was struggling against the likes of FCS Youngstown State. As a group, this unit has not produced. The only thing that prevents a failing grade is the fact that it has only allowed five sacks.
Grade: D-

Harrington: This is the familiar storyline for Penn State - it has an adequate offensive line every few years with little depth. This line has been disappointing on run blocking, although they it had played better than expected on pass protection. Overall, though, the success of the offense starts and ends with the offensive line. The fact that Penn State's staff does not give the unit the attention it deserves in terms of personnel or preparation is disheartening and a major factor in the issues the team is facing.
Grade: D-


Harrington: The biggest frustration for me is the lack of logical play-calling. The coaches are not putting these players in a position to be successful. How many times did we see a third-and-10 situation against Illinois only to see Bolden hit a receiver on a two- or three-yard route? It defies logic, but seems to summarize the state of the union. I agree that you can't ignore the rash of injuries this team has sustained, but there certainly is a lack of depth in several areas that could have countered the losses. I give the staff credit for investing in Rob Bolden, though.
Grade: D

Brennan: The most troubling part is that the offense has shown no improvement as the season has progressed. It is one thing to look awful in a Week Two loss at No. 1 Alabama, but quite another to look even worse in a Week Six home loss to unranked Illinois. There are some valid excuses for the overall struggles -- a true freshman QB, the loss of a key offensive lineman, an injury disaster at tight end -- and that is all that prevents a failing grade here.
Grade: D-


Brennan: Penn State ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense and red-zone offense. The Nittany Lions rank 108th in the nation in scoring offense. PSU scored a total of six points in its two biggest games. As a whole, the unit has not made the grade so far this season. This is an instance where the sum total is actually worse than the quality of the individual parts.
Grade: F

Harrington: It's hard to argue there. The staff doesn't seem to be leveraging the talent it has. The coaches consistently put Bolden under center when he could be in shotgun and put him in shotgun when he should be under center. Toss in the play-calling issues and anemic red-zone execution and this offense is simply an under-achiever which lacks any identity at this stage.

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