TYM: Bowl Game Banter

Welcome to Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FightOnState.com staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate issues pertaining to the Penn State football program. In this installment, they take a preliminary look at PSU's Outback Bowl bid. We will do a TYM specific to Tennessee later.

WHAT ONE AREA OF THE TEAM FIGURES TO BENEFIT THE MOST FROM THE EXTRA BOWL PRACTICES?

BRENNAN ANSWERS: I think the passing game will receive the biggest boost. QB Anthony Morelli and his receivers have been out of sync all season. This should give the entire group a chance to step back, take a collective deep breath, and work on the chemistry that was obviously lacking in the grind of 12 games in 12 weeks.

These sessions are also going to help the three players vying to replace suspended defensive tackle Ed Johnson: Steve Roach, Chris Baker and true freshman Phillip Taylor.

HARRINGTON ANSWERS: I agree that the passing game is the biggest beneficiary of the bowl sessions, but I also think the offensive line is in need of the extra work.

With John Shaw getting back into the swing of things, the line has had its ups and downs and has yet to solidify itself on a consistent basis. This is a chance to do that.

WHICH REDSHIRTING FRESHMEN WILL BENEFIT MOST FROM THE EXTRA BOWL PRACTICES?

BRENNAN ANSWERS: Getting back to what you said, these sessions will be critical for the young offensive linemen. Penn State's front five struggled all season, and three projected starters for the bowl game - Levi Brown, Robert Price and Chris Auletta - will not be back next fall. During the regular season, it is difficult for the staff to spend too much time working hands-on with linemen who are redshirting.

With the extra practices the bowl provides, players like Lou Eliades and Antonio Logan-El will have a chance to see some serious action.

HARRINGTON ANSWERS: These practices are invaluable to both veterans and younger players, and frankly they provide a tremendous amount of extra work for the redshirt guys. I agree with your offensive line assessment, however, I think it's a bigger challenge to replace Tony Hunt. All eyes are on Austin Scott, but given the fact that he hasn't come out of a spring practice healthy for the last three seasons, I am still skeptical of his durability.

Evan Royster and Brent Carter will have an opportunity, so these practices will be a valuable learning experience for them as the try to contribute to the depth chart next season.

WHERE SHOULD THE FOCUS OF THE COACHING STAFF BE?

BRENNAN ANSWERS: Recruiting aside, it would seem to me as if the practice sessions in Happy Valley should be conducted with half an eye toward next season; namely giving the young guys a good look and taking steps to smooth out the offense. Once the Lions get down to Tampa Dec. 23, they can start to zero in on the Volunteers.

I actually think it is a positive that finals are preventing State from heading to its bowl destination as early as usual. In the last two postseason games - vs. Auburn in 2002 and Florida State in 2006 - the team seemed to have weary legs when kickoff finally arrived.

HARRINGTON ANSWERS: I think that next year is 100 percent the right answer. Penn State has to plan for the future and that starts with the bowl preparations. The coaches have to get the team preparations for 2007 underway now, including an all-around focus and an effort to eliminate the mental mistakes and sloppiness from the game plan. This is of particular importance to the offensive line where the talent is there, but the mental mistakes tend to be a liability.

WHAT'S UP WITH JOE PATERNO AND HIS RECOVERY FROM SURGERY ON HIS LEFT LEG? IS HE REALLY DOING AS WELL AS HE CLAIMS?

BRENNAN ANSWERS: I doubt it. Then again, I doubt he is as bad off as some of the doom-and-gloom crowd seem to believe. There is a realistic middle ground there. The guess here is that Paterno will be in Tampa (that's a no-brainer at this point), he will be able to walk to some degree by the time the bowl rolls around and he will coach the game. I'm still having trouble envisioning the medical staff clearing him to stand on the sideline at that point, though.

HARRINGTON ANSWERS: I do think there is some PR spin around his recovery - perhaps building up the tall-tale aspect of the legend a bit, but knowing Paterno's attitude and determination - I would not be surprised to see him ahead of schedule. I too would be surprised if he is cleared to "roam" the sidelines, particularly if his mobility is limited. No one wants to be responsible for him getting whacked again due to his inability to get out of the way.

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