TYM: Notre Dame Game Preparation

Welcome to another installment of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate timely issues regarding the Penn State football program. In this edition, they tackle a variety of topics as the Nittany Lions prepare to face Notre Dame this weekend

WHAT WAS UP WITH THE DEFENSE PENN STATE PLAYED AGAINST AKRON AND WILL WE SEE MORE OF IT AGAINST NOTRE DAME?

BRENNAN: Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley moved linebacker Tim Shaw up to a standup end position to add more athleticism to the pass rush. Whether it is a 3-4 or 4-3 is a matter of semantics - do you consider Shaw a standup end or a linebacker at the line of scrimmage? No matter what it is called, it worked, as Shaw had a pair of sacks against the Zips. Will we see it against Notre Dame? This formation was designed to pressure outstanding quarterbacks like Brady Quinn.

HARRINGTON: Tim Shaw considers him a defensive end which makes the scheme a 4-3 in my eyes. But semantics aside, this was a great move by Bradley and his staff to get pressure off the edge with an experienced player who has speed and aggression. Aside from this it allows for more of that heralded 'backer depth to get on the field with Sean Lee. Pocket pressure is essential against Notre Dame and Tim Shaw should help apply some.

BRENNAN AGAIN: The other positive about Shaw is he is fast enough to drop back and provide effective coverage on zone blitzes. Given the number of outstanding QBs Penn State faces this season, this makes a lot of sense. But I wonder if opponents will attempt to exploit Shaw's relative lack of size with the running game.

HARRINGTON FINAL WORD: Shaw does have a relative lack of size at end. However, his size and the fact he is playing out of a two point stance helps him here. If you watch the Akron tape, there were plays where he would step back, let the lineman commit to a double team and then bolt in. The upright position allows him to do this.

BOY, PENN STATE'S OFFENSIVE LINE LOOKED BAD ON RUNNING PLAYS AGAINST AKRON. SHOULD FANS BE CONCERNED WITH THIS AREA FOR THE NOTRE DAME GAME?

HARRINGTON: If you watch Akron's play out of their 3-5-3 scheme, the Zips were rushing three linebackers on most downs, keying on the run and essentially placing seven and sometimes eight in the box. This clogged up the lanes for Tony Hunt and made it incredibly challenging to find any space consistently. However, what it did do for the offense was remove a lot of the secondary support, which resulted in 206 yards and three passing touchdowns for Anthony Morelli. The offense exploited exactly what the Akron defense gave it. Akron showed it was not going to get run on and it didn't, but the Zips certainly opened up some passing lanes.

BRENNAN: The issue here is that Notre Dame has better defensive personnel than Akron, and won't have to commit eight men to stopping the run to get the job done. So yes, Penn State fans should be worried about the offensive line in this game. With that said, your point - that the Lions had no problem relying on the passing game while the running game struggled vs. Akron - bodes well for the season in general. There was a time not so long ago when Joe Paterno and company were loath to adjust to eight-man fronts, in essence attempting to impose their will on opponents. Now they seem to realize there is nothing wrong with counterpunching to a weak area of the defense.

HARRINGTON AGAIN: Notre Dame is better defensively than Akron, however, I do expect the Irish to blitz early and often to try to shake Morelli. That means limited support for the secondary. The offensive line has to be ready to consistently provide a solid pocket for at least a three-step drop. I expect that the crossing routes we saw Saturday will be used more frequently with some slants and check-downs to help Morelli out of the gate.

BRENNAN FINAL WORD: Penn State will also work more screen plays into help the offensive line. Tony Hunt is an outstanding receivers at tailback and versatile Derrick Williams can work screens from the backfield or as a flanker.

LB PAUL POSLUSZNY WAS KIND OF QUIET AGAINST AKRON. WHAT WAS UP THERE?

BRENNAN: Posluszny did about what I expected in his first live game action since tearing knee ligaments in the Orange Bowl: seven tackles, a pass breakup, several good pops but nothing spectacular. He was off on a few pursuit angles, but I chalk that up to a bit of rust and a wet track. This should not be an area of concern for the team as the season goes along.

HARRINGTON: First, Posluszny has a lot to live up to coming off a Butkus/Bednarik/All-American season. Second, he was playing inside 'backer so he was bound to see fewer tackles. Finally, if you watch the Akron game closely (I did three times), the coaches dropped Posluszny back into coverage a majority of the time, seemingly to break up the flat for Luke Getsy and create smaller lanes for his passes. That alone impacted his numbers, but seven tackles is not too shabby or anything to get on the guy for. Dan Connor was the one unleashed in this game and took full advantage of the opportunity.

BRENNAN AGAIN: I only watched the Akron game once. But it was enough to know that the beauty of this linebacker corps is it will force opponents - including Notre Dame - to pick their poison. There are simply not enough blockers to tie up Posluszny, Connor and sophomore Sean Lee, all of whom flow to the ball extremely well. Like Posluszny, Lee took a couple of poor angles against Akron, but he'll get over that with experience.

HARRINGTON FINAL WORD: The 'backers do provide some excellent support for the run and pass defense. In terms of Posluszny, I think he will be higher than high for this game. However, I can't see Sean Lee playing inside despite what the depth chart says. If Posluszny moves inside again, don't expect some numbers, but I think he will force Darius Walker to look outside on runs.

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