Challenge Awaits O-Line

Penn State's offensive front has made steady improvement through the first three weeks of the season. But today's game at Ohio State figures to present the most difficult challenge yet.

So far this season, the Penn State offense, despite two 30-point games, has not shifted out of neutral into the high-flying unit it was built up to be coming into the season.

Against Akron it couldn't run the ball, at Notre Dame it was immobile and vs. Youngstown State the passing attack struggled.

But the woes over the last two games could hardly be attributed to a rapidly gelling offensive-line, led by stalwart Levi Brown. Quarterback Anthony Morelli has been sacked just once (at Notre Dame) and last week it opened holes for a ground game that amassed 389 yards, it's most since 2002 against Michigan State.

By comparison, last year's senior-laden group allowed three sacks in the season opener to South Florida and seven over the first three games.

Perhaps the decreased number of sacks allowed are the result of a new focus. No longer can the boys up front count on a mobile quarterback to pull the ball down and run when protection breaks down in front of him, as Michael Robinson did so often in 2005.

“It's been an adjustment,” said Brown, the lone returning starter from 2005. “We've had to block a little bit longer. Last year Mike would pull the ball down sooner and run with it.”

However, just like last year, the Big Ten schedule begins on the road, but instead of playing a half-empty Ryan Stadium at Northwestern, Penn State opens at the Horseshoe against No. 1 Ohio State today.

The Buckeyes, despite replacing nine of 11 starters on defense, should throw complex blitz schemes at the first-year quarterback and young offensive line. And then there's the crowd noise generated by over 100,000 fans.

Penn State has done as much as it can to prepare for this environment.

“They bring out the speakers [for practice before] most of the away games just to get used to it,” center A.Q. Shipley said.

As of Thursday morning, Brown said Penn State had not practiced utilizing silent counts, which help eliminate false start penalties that are caused when the stadium is simply too loud.

Penn State has not won at Columbus since it joined the Big Ten in 1993 and has not defeated a ranked opponent on the road since it beat No. 22 Wisconsin in 2002. Also, the Lions have not defeated a team ranked No. 1 since 1990, when they downed No. 1 Notre Dame on a last-minute field goal in South Bend.

PSU played in South Bend two weeks ago and overall the offensive line played well. But Ohio State's defensive line poses different problems.

“Ohio State's guys are a little bigger than Notre Dame's,” Shipley said.

If the Lions want to end their struggles against ranked teams on the road, the solution is obvious.

The line can't let the pass rush get to Morelli and it must open holes for Tony Hunt.

“The offense can go wherever we take it,“ Brown said. “There are unlimited possibilities right now.”


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