Penn State - Miami Preview

This Saturday Penn State will take on the Miami Hurricanes to open the 2001 college football season for both teams. The game will be played in Beaver Stadium and it promises to be played against a backdrop of high emotions and much drama for Penn State fans.

Beaver Stadium will have a new look after it's most recent expansion and will hold close to 110,000 fans for this game. Miami is ranked #2 in the Associated Press, but many believe the Canes may actually be the best team in the country this year. The Canes have a big chip on their collective shoulders as the result of being snubbed by a less than perfect BCS system in place last year.

Adam Taliaferro will make a triumphant return to Beaver Stadium as he leads the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel and onto the field. Adam has made a miraculous recovery from a spinal chord injury suffered at Ohio State last year. His entrance into the stadium should bring a tear or two to the eyes of even the Miami fans who were lucky enough to get a hotel room and ticket for the game.

Penn State's team is eager to prove all the critics wrong, critics who say they are a washed up out of synch team heading nowhere fast.

Then there is the record. Joe Paterno can tie the legendary Bear Bryant's record for all time wins in Division 1 football with a win against Miami.

If there isn't enough drama for you as this game nears then you better go see a doctor to get your pulse checked out.

The emotions will be sky high for this game. The players want redemption. Some say the players need redemption too. But emotions alone can't beat a Miami team loaded to the gills with good football players. Penn State is going to need to execute some plays too, and that's the $64,000 question.

Can a Penn State team that couldn't do much right last year come out and execute enough plays to hang with a very talented Miami team? If you ask this question around the tropical environs of South Florida you'll probably get a chuckle. Canes fans think this game is already in the win column. They can't imagine anything this Penn State team could do to beat them.

Maybe those Miami fans are right? Maybe Clinton Portis, the talented Miami tailback who has predicted the Canes might score 70 points in this game, is right too. Maybe they are all right. Maybe Penn State just can't hang with the big boys any more.

Then again, maybe they will be proven dead wrong. Maybe this past year has produced enough change for Penn State to come out and play with that old Penn State swagger of years gone by. We may have to wait all day Saturday to find out if Penn State can hold up in this game, but by the time the clock strikes midnight we'll know. By then we'll all have a good idea of what is in store for this 2001 season.

Coaching staff changes at Miami and Penn State

Miami head coach Larry Coker is entering his first season as a head coach. Coker has had a long career as an assistant coach and will take over the reigns as head man for the first time.

Coker has hired former Miami LB Randy Shannon as his defensive coordinator to replace the departed Greg Schiano.

Joe Paterno has replaced former coaches Kenny Jackson, Bob White, and Al Golden. Kenny Carter comes over from the University of Pittsburgh to replace Jackson as wide receivers coach, Brian Norwood left Texas Tech to come work with the Penn State secondary, and Ron Vanderlinden will work with the Penn State LB's after leaving the head coaching position at Maryland.

When Miami has the ball

When you listen to the media talk about Miami's offense you typically get a very heavy dose of "Ken Dorsey for Heisman" talk, but for my money Miami's national title fortunes begin and end with their imposing offensive line. They would field a good offense with a lesser O Line, but to be great this unit will have to mow the opposition down.

Miami returns four starters on their O Line in 6' 9‘ 335lb. senior Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, 6' 3" 293 lb. junior center Brett Romberg, 6' 4" 300lb. senior right guard Martin Bibla, and 6' 5" 292lb. senior right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez. The newcomer this year is 6' 6" 325lb. junior right guard Sherko HajI-Rasouli. Center Brett Romberg missed the final scrimmage for Miami due to the flu, and back up center Scott Puckett proved Miami and Penn had something in common when he tore his mcl earlier this August. He's out for the year. Redshirt freshman Joel Rodriguez is now the 2nd center for Miami.

Miami will put Ken Dorsey at QB behind this massive line and they will run a multiple set offense that features 6' 2" 245lb. senior Najeh Davenport at fullback, 5' 11" 195lb. junior tailback Clint Portis, 5' 10" 184lb. two time Big East 100 meter champion senior Daryl Jones at flanker, 6' 3" 220lb. sophomore wideout Andre Johnson, and 6' 6" 236lb. junior tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Dorsey threw for 3007 yards while completing 58% of his passes last year to go along with 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Dorsey is a very accurate passer, and these kinds of numbers are going to get you a lot of Heisman talk when you play for a team that went 11-1 a year ago. Dorsey is certainly generating a lot of buzz this year already.

If anything happens to Ken Dorsey you can expect 6' 1" 202lb. red shirt freshman Derrick Crudup to take over at QB. If he sees any action he'll remind you of a sophomore year Rashard Casey.

I know Miami fans don't believe this will amount to anything to be concerned about, but more than 2100 of those yards and 19 of those touchdowns that Dorsey threw for last year went to departed players like James Jackson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, and Ivan Mercer. In case you didn't notice, those guys are all in the NFL this year and most of them were drafted pretty highly in the most recent NFL draft. No matter how you look at it, that's a ton of production to replace.

Clint Portis may be able to fill James Jackson's running shoes pretty well, after all, he led Miami in rushing two years ago. But how will the new wide receivers replace a pair of all American talents like Moss and Wayne? During the Miami spring football game their new wide receivers caught a grand total of four passes between them, and this August the word out of Miami is that their defense has really had the upper hand against their offense. Maybe Dorsey will light Penn State up like a Roman candle, but maybe he won't. That's why they play the games.

Portis is not the only option for Miami's running game. Talented freshman Willis Magahee looked great in the Miami spring game and I'm certain Penn State will get an eyeful of him in this game.

Miami might have other questions on offense though. Last year the Canes averaged two full turnovers a game. Mistakes can be deadly in football, and Miami will have to keep theirs to a minimum if they are to blow thru Penn State like a cool tropical breeze.

One other player to keep an eye on in this game is the Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey. Jeremy is getting plenty of all American publicity this summer, but last fall he was primarily a pass catching tight end who was replaced in blocking situations by Ivan Mercer. Mercer is now graduated and the word out of Miami camp is that Shockey is still having some trouble in run blocking situations. If Miami starts to platoon Shockey out on running plays then Penn State should take note of this situation and react accordingly.

Miami runs a basic multiple set offense where the play calls are not all that much different from what Penn State has run for the past ten years. The one major difference that I have seen over the past few years with the way Miami runs their plays is that they have some creative things in their pass routes. Watch for Miami to purposely under throw some long passes and ask their receivers allow the d back to run by while they try to come back and get the ball.

I don't believe Penn State will do much in the way of stunting their defensive linemen in this game. Tom Bradley might use the ends to crash down inside while the tackles shoot a little wide and one gap wider than normal, but I don't think we'd see much more than this in the way of stunts and not too much of this as it is. I think Penn State is going to use their strong defensive front four to go mano o' mano against Miami. Play them straight up. That is what I think you'll see out of Penn State. If it's good enough then the Lions will be fine, and if not they‘ll learn from the experience.

The one thing I think you should look for is that I believe Penn State will try to use Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams in ways where they change up their inside assignments from a gap technique to a man technique and back again on a routine basis to try and force Miami into some missed blocks. They may also just simply try and clog up the middle to try and keep Miami's offensive lineman off the linebackers.

Tim Falls and Tyler Valoczki will probably both see game action at defensive tackle against Miami. All four PSU defensive tackles are juniors.

Michael Haynes and Bob Jones are expected to start at defensive end for Penn State. Haynes has worked very hard during the off season and is a much stronger version of the player we saw last year. Haynes is up to 265lbs. And he is just as cat quick as he has ever been. I'm expecting him to help make Miami earn every yard they get in this game. Jones played at under 250lbs. Last year but he has reportedly added weight and is up to 264lbs. himself.

Penn State is very deep at DE and I expect that redshirt freshmen John Bronson and Jeremiah Davis, along with sophomore Sam Ruhe, will see action in this game. I believe they showed enough in the spring game to warrant Penn State attempting to rotate them in and out of the game to keep everyone fresh for the fourth quarter on Saturday night.

Word out of Miami is that they ran a lot of short passes in their August camp, more so than in prior years. After seeing the way their wide receivers played in their spring game I believe these reports to be accurate. I just don't see the new receivers as being able to immediately replace guys like Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne.

If they do indeed throw short passes more than one might normally expect, then you have to make certain you are in a position to tackle well and not allow the receivers to make easy yards after the catch. This is where you have to be good with your linebackers and d backs.

Penn State fielded a good set of d backs last year, but their linebackers had a very rough time as a unit last season. This year we will see Shamar Finney and Gino Capone at MLB, Derek Wake and Deryck Toles at wsOLB and Dave Benfatti and Ron Graham at the ssOLB spot. Penn State got a bad break when much anticipated Tim Johnson suffered a hamstring injury this August. Johnson had been slated to start at one of the linebacker spots but will have to wait before he gets his season underway.

Penn State will play senior Bruce Branch and junior Bryan Scott at corner, and sophomore Yaacov Yisreal and senior Sam Crenshaw at safety. Shawn Mayer is finally healthy again after tearing his knee last August, and he is very strong in run support. Redshirt freshman Mike Guman and sophomore Jimi Mitchell could see time at safety while true freshman Chris Harrell and junior James Gardner are the back ups for this game at the corner spots.

Penn State's starting secondary looks good, but with so many young players in key reserve roles depth must be a major concern.

Keys when Miami has the ball

Ken Dorsey had 28 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions last year. He's very accurate, but he'll also throw into coverage and take some chances. I honestly believe that he's good, but I also believe that Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne made him look a little better than he may actually be.

Our secondary needs to battle for every ball and be aware that Dorsey may throw into coverage. Be prepared to out battle the Miami wideouts for the ball.

Miami also had 16 fumbles last year. When you add in the interceptions you get a total of 23 turnovers last year or two a game. Penn State needs to hit hard and try to force the ball loose. Penn State needs to get those two turnovers against Miami.

Don't allow the big play. Miami converted a ton of big plays last year with Moss and Wayne at wide receiver and with James Jackson at tailback. Don't allow the new wideouts any big plays and keep Clint Portis and Willis Magahee in front of you. To keep the tailbacks from making the big play Penn State will need to get excellent play from their linebackers. Watch early to see if the Penn State linebackers are getting hung up in traffic or are being taken out by the Miami offensive linemen, or, on the other hand, if they are able to react quickly enough and aggressively enough to fight their way through to make the tackles.

Miami may have the talent to convert 15+ play drives, but make them prove it. Don't give up any free points on broken plays. If Penn State can force Miami to have to grind out big drives then maybe Miami will make some mistakes. Mistakes may get them rattled at some point. Hit hard and make sure the Canes know they have been tackled every time you take them to the turf.

When Penn State has the ball

Miami will feature one returning starter at defensive tackle in 6' 5" 297lb. William Joseph and one new starter opposite him in 6' 5" 263lb. junior Matt Walters. Sophomore Santonio Thomas and 6' 2" 340lb. redshirt freshman Vince Wilfork will be the back up tackles.

Miami has seen some significant medical issues crop up with their defensive ends this August. Starter Jamaal Green has had a lingering knee injury while the starter on the other side, Cornelius Green, has a serious turf toe injury that hasn't allowed him to practice this August.

Miami will go with two JUCO transfers in 6' 4" and 270lb. Jerome McDougal and 6' 4" 260lb. Andrew Williams. McDougal himself had a fainting spell which required hospitalization on August 14th. Depth could be an issue for Miami at this spot in the PSU game.

DJ Williams is a 6' 2" 244lb sophomore wsOLB who played at fullback last year. Williams is big and fast and had a very good spring game for the Hurricanes. Jonathon Vilma is a 6' 2" 211lb. middle linebacker and Chris Campbell is a 6' 2" 225lb. ssOLB. Incredibly, none of these three were starting linebackers at Miami last year. Howard Clark was a starting linebacker last year but he lost his job to Williams, and he now backs up both Williams and Vilma.

Vilma has the biggest shoes to fill in replacing all American Dan Morgan. Jonathon had 38 tackles in a reserve role last year. But not only does he have to replace an all American, Vilma missed the final two weeks of the spring season when he suffered a torn meniscus while riding a wave runner of all things. He has required two surgical procedures this summer to fully repair it and he's been cleared to go by the doctors.

6' 2" 215lb. Darrell McClover backs up Williams on the weak side and 6' 3" 203lb. Jerrell Weaver backs up Campbell on the strong side.

As you can see by now, other than DJ Williams, Miami likes to play lighter swifter players at linebacker. Because of this they have incredible team speed in the middle of their defense. So when you hear that Penn State can't outrun their defense you are probably hearing the truth. There might not be a team in the country that will outrun these guys.

I think you have to run the ball right at Miami. Make these smaller guys have to hit all night long. Don't allow them the luxury of running you down from behind because that would be fairly easy for them to do. Make them take you head on when you run the ball.

At free safety Miami will line up with 6' 198lb. all American candidate Edwin Reed. The last time Penn State saw Reed he was falling down as Chafie Fields was running into the end zone with the winning score in the 1999 game at the Orange Bowl. I'm sure Reed recalls this play, and I know he wants to get his pound of flesh this time around.

At strong safety Miami will use 5' 11" 196lb. senior James Lewis. Lewis replaces departed all Big East player Al Blades.

The two corners are 6' 2" 190lb. senior Mike Rumph and 5' 11" 182lb. junior Phillip Buchanon. Rumph is a preseason all American.

Penn State will attack this unit with Matt Senneca getting his first start at QB behind an offensive line consisting of 325lb. Gus Felder and 300lb. Matt Schmitt at tackle, 290lb. Greg Ransom and 285lb. Tyler Lenda at guard, and 299lb. Joe Iorio at center.

Senneca has thrown only 40 passes in his Penn State career, but he'll have plenty of talented skill people around him. Larry Johnson, Jr., Omar Easy, and Eric McCoo give Penn State three very talented tailback options to go to. Expect to see a lot of situations where one of these three is lined up in a slot position while another is in the backfield behind Senneca.

I actually expect to see a lot of Omar Easy in this game. Easy is both a 4.4 runner and he has 240lbs. of pure muscle on him. For the first time in his career he enters a season after having proven in the spring that he can run over some people, and I think we will need that kind of runner in this game.

Eric McCoo is great in space, but his effectiveness against a defense like Miami's might be somewhat muted because of their incredible team speed. Larry Johnson is finally back at practice this week, but he missed most of camp so I am unsure how much he'd play in this game.

Mick Blosser, Sean McHugh and Paul Jefferson are the fullbacks. I'm not sure how much Penn State will be using their fullbacks in this game, or during the year for that matter, but I do know that the official depth chart has Blosser as the number one fullback.

John Gilmore and R.J. Luke figure to get the key snaps at tight end this year. Gilmore is a big tight end who is very powerful and has good hands while R.J. is a gifted pass catcher who can get you some yards after the catch.

The wide receiver corps will be led by Bryant Johnson, Tony Johnson, Eddie Drummond, and Ryan Scott. If there is a 5th wide receiver getting reps in this game it could be any of Matt Kranchik, Steve Delich, or Gerald Smith.

The obvious go to guys here the Johnson boys and Drummond. All have made big plays in game action in the past and they bring the most experience to the table. Bryant Johnson may be the key here. He's big and he's fast, but he has a lot of shake and bake in his game and he can get open on anyone, even the Miami corners. Bryant dropped a lot of passes last year, but he caught everything in sight this spring. He'll need to keep on hauling them in for Penn State to beat Miami.

Tony Johnson is a tremendous route runner who has great hands, and Eddie Drummond is just the fastest player on the team. All of these guys are going to have to step up in this game and make plays. Don't dismiss Ryan Scott either. He had a fairly incredible high school career in Washington and he made a huge catch in the spring game for a long touchdown.

Keys when Penn State has the ball

The key when Penn State has the ball is to not get tempted into thinking they can run around this Miami defense. They can't. They can't get lulled into thinking they can spread them out and just run around them. The key is to take the game right at Miami when you run the ball. Trap plays and counters work well against a team with their kind of speed.

When you pass the ball you have to sell your routes and run them to perfection. You can try and spread the field out when you pass the ball so long as you can throw timing patterns. If Penn State can spread the offense out and make Miami make a lot of reads on defense I think that PSU will give itself the best chance of winning the game. Miami has fast linebackers, but they don't have a lot of experience back there. Make them try and figure out where the ball is going by having to make reads. If they have to guess they'll also be playing back on their heels, and there is no more effective way to slow any player down than to confuse him.

Try and get Bryant Johnson isolated on one of their d backs, even if it is one of their all Americans, and throw the ball out there. Let Bryant show what he can do.

You can also try and spread the field out and then try and run right up the middle off this set. If you don't want to run the ball out of this kind of formation then try and seal off their linebackers with good blocks. If you don't lay a helmet on them you just can't beat their team speed. It's imperative that Penn State block well from every position to be able to be in this game.

One of the huge keys in this entire game, and for the season as well, for Penn State will be the ability to get blockers onto the opposition line backing corps. Penn State was not very efficient in this regard last year, but this year they'll have to be much better if they hope to win games. Against Miami's undersized but super quick linebackers don't be surprised if Penn State tries to use a variety of combinations to try and get to them.

Two players I wouldn't be shocked to see Penn State try to use to block down on the Miami linebackers are R.J. Luke and Sean McHugh. Luke is exceptionally quick and may have a better shot at getting at these linebackers from the H back slot position than anyone else on Penn State side of the field. McHugh could rotate over to that same spot from his fullback position and do the same thing. Either way, someone will have to take these linebackers out or it will be a long night for Penn State.

No turnovers. Keep offensive penalties to a bare minimum.

Special teams

Who Penn State will most likely have David Royer at punter. Royer averaged about 34 yards per punt last year. Part of that was due to extremely poor long snapping, but Royer admits he needed to work on leg strength as well.

Penn State will be using Joe Iorio, Bob Jones, and Eric Dare as long snappers. I have to believe they have worked out the problems they had last year with these snaps. If so, expect Royer to be at least somewhat longer and higher on his punts this year.

David Kimball should handle both kickoffs and place kicking for Penn State. Kimball was an all American in high school, but he has some sort of lower back issue right now. If Kimball is ready to go I expect him to be a weapon with his very high and deep kickoffs, and as an accurate place kicker. If not, he will be pressed hard by Robbie Gould for both duties.

Miami will have juniors Freddie Capshaw at punter and Todd Sievers at kicker. Capshaw averaged 43+ yards per punt last year on 49 attempts which is very good. That said, Miami had all kinds of long snapping problems this spring and their return team blocked two punts in their spring game. I'd be watching the long snap on their first punt to see if it appeared that we might be able to get to Capshaw in this game.

Sievers was 11 for 17 on field goal attempts last year, but he was only 1 of 6 beyond 40 yards.

Keys to special teams play

No turnovers. No fumbled punts and no blocked punts against Penn State. Try to get one takeaway from Miami on special teams OR try to get one big play in special teams on the night.

You can discuss this preview at the PSU Sports forum.

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