Get an update from the practice field as Penn State prepares for this week's home tilt with the Illini. We touch on the mood of the team, key injuries and some young players and more.
At 7-1 "dare I say the squad is picking up some confidence and momentum?" one observer said. However, the coaches and captains are "are pushing to pull back on any irrational excitement. But they want to use the confidence."
All in all the squad's mood is "good" and "there's a lot satisfaction that the coaches selected a quarterback." But more on that later.
The squad is carrying on its "one-game-at-a-time" and "every-game's-a-playoff" approach to the season. This week the defense put in time reviewing film on Nathan Scheelhaase, who leads the Big Ten in total offense with 293.8 yards per game. To prepare, the Penn State defense has taken a similar plan that it used for Northwestern's Dan Persa and Kain Colter.
"The difference is that Persa and Colter each really had a single strength, but this Illinois quarterback is a genuine dual threat." To prepare the defensive unit has continued working on scrambling and containment drills with the front seven.
The feeling is that the last two games have "allowed [the team] to prepare for Illinois pretty well," however there's also a feeling that "Scheelhaase is the most complete quarterback they have faced in the conference."
On offense the unit has put in a lot of time on run blocking and the ground game. Although there is little doubt that Silas Redd will serve as the primary back against Illinois, the staff has "pulled back on him" in practice this week, even though he saw his fewest carries yet in Big Ten play (18) this past weekend with his highest total yards this season (164).
The staff has also rotated in Stephfon Green, Curtis Dukes and Brandon Beachum. As for who they use to complement Redd, "it depends, but they liked what Green's burst could do against the Northwestern 'backers."
Here are some notes from the practice sessions this week:
Despite Matt McGloin starting and playing the entire game this past weekend, the offensive coaches have still practiced both McGloin and Rob Bolden with the first-team this week. However, McGloin "has seemed to get the edge in total (reps)."
With McGloin they have continued working on breakdowns as "they're expecting the Illini front to blitz." Many feel that the Northwestern game served McGloin well in terms of "helping him develop a rhythm with the offense."
There are indications Bolden may be frustrated with the situation, but "he's been pretty quiet about it. You can read it, though."
Not everyone is sold that McGloin has been anointed the primary quarterback. "If that is the case, why would they keep Bolden in the first-team mix? I mean we're two-thirds through the season."
The scout team has also seen Paul Jones and Bill Belton in at quarterback to test the defense. Belton is getting a lot of credit for helping to ready the front seven for Persa and Colter.
The defense is continuing to get a good amount of nickel work in as well given the spread Illinois likes to run and the "mobility of their QB."
The primary linebackers continue to be Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson, Nate Stupar and Khairi Fortt. "Gerald has been such a weapon and really come into his own." Stupar has also received a good amount of praise for his general play.
The defense has also put in some blitz work this week, although that has been tempered with the comment, "they have been working that in since they started conference prep. The question is whether Tom Bradley dials it up, which he could with Illinois' scheme, but the spread is dangerous."
Devon Smith has also been used as a "go-to target" in practice with Justin Brown. The coaches have been pleased with his performance considering he has 165 yards in the last three games. "He's got to keep it up and push himself."
As for Derek Moye, he has been out of the walking boot much of this week and seems to be on track with his recovery. The feeling seems to be that he could play this week, but the staff (per its track record with injuries) want to give him through the bye week to give him added time to fully recover. Moye is lobbying to get back on the field, but foot injuries of this nature can be nagging/chronic and that is what concerns the staff.
There have been questions with Joe Suhey's health. He's been dealing with a shoulder stinger and he suiting up for practice but wearing a green cross. With Michael Zordich playing well, "there is no real need to push him, but he adds a lot — he's a nice target out of the backfield."
As for Joe Paterno, "there's no doubt he's been hurting and it's frustrated him." He's been at practice, but "limited in his direct participation." As one observer said, "He's been pushing to get on the sideline, but he's also been pressured to stay in the [press] box. Given how he's feeling it seems like he's accepted that."
Having said that there is a "buzz" about getting Paterno win No. 409 to "put him alone on top of Division I." Also, there is excitement among the players about this weekend's game. "Oh yeah, everyone loves these Halloween games. Hopefully the crowd is crazy."