TYM: Passing Game Look

With spring practice starting Friday, we continue our Take Your Marks series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate issues concerning the Penn State football program. In this installment they tackle the passing attack.

Biggest Hole

Harrington: On paper, PSU's passing game should be among the best in the Big Ten, if not the nation. It has experience, speed and several Scout 5-star and 4-star prospects -- like Anthony Morelli (5-star), Derrick Williams (5-star), Chris Bell (5-star) and Pat Devlin (4-star). Add in proven veterans like Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, and this group should be viewed as a lights-out strength of the team. However, last season Butler, Williams and Norwood pulled in a combined 133 passes for 1,549 yards and five touchdowns. Although the three had 42 more receptions and 147 more receiving yards in 2006 than the 2005 season, the unit's overall production dropped in 2006 from 15.4 yards per catch in 2005 to 11.6 yards per catch in 2006, and from 10 total touchdowns in 2005 to five in 2006. So the biggest hole to fill is the overall consistent production of the receivers. Granted, there was a major change in quarterback -- from Michael Robinson to Morelli -- however, the unit's 25 percent drop-off in YPC and 50 percent drop-off in touchdowns was a huge factor for the offense last season. In fact, the unit went 10 games last year without a single touchdown reception, including the bowl game.


Brennan: "Biggest hole" doesn't really fit here, because the Lions have plenty of qualified personnel across the board, including the athletes you mention as well as others such as QB Daryll Clark and TE Andrew Quarless. But the one thing missing from the equation last year -- aside from Quarless -- was a consistent receiving threat with size. The limited number of touchdowns from the wideouts indicated that they were generally effective between the 20s but had their hands full in the red zone. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Bell has the frame to be the big wideout PSU has been searching for the past couple of years. But he'll have to become more disciplined to earn more snaps. In the meantime, moving 6-6 QB Brett Brackett to receiver should help, too.

Brightest Spot

Harrington: The brightest spot has to be the final performance of the 2006 season by Morelli. Facing tremendous scrutiny by the fans and media after he publicly responded to comments his former high school coach allegedly made about him, Morelli led the Lions to a victory over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, with his second-best passing efficiency performance (135.39) of the year. Against the Vols he went 14 for 25 (56 percent) for 197 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions or sacks. Although it wasn't the best passing performance PSU fans had ever seen, it definitely reflected improved poise, confidence and decision-making for Morelli after some tough games earlier in the year.

Pat Devlin

Brennan: The across-the-board talent of the receiving corps should shine this season. In 2005, when the primary members of this group were freshmen, they were spoiled by a quarterback (Robinson) whose ability to scramble kept defenses honest. It was as different story in 2006, when the receivers became the focus of opposing defenses, and it led to a collective sophomore slump. Playing 12 regular-season games in 12 weeks, they never had a chance to step back, collect themselves and adjust to the new roles. The practices before the bowl game allowed them to do that and it showed with more confident performances against the Vols.

Unexpected Impact

Harrington: Although the buzz has been about Brackett's shift from quarterback to wideout, I am looking to another big target to emerge as an added dimension for the passing game -- Mark Rubin. He was as a clutch receiver as a true freshman in 2004 and ended that season with 16 catches for 187 yards (11.7 YPC). He was subsequently sidelined in 2005 due to an ankle injury and after a shift to safety for a period saw action in 2006 in six games and caught one pass for eight yards against Temple. The redshirt junior adds another dimension to the unit thanks to his size and hands, and could be an excellent target out of the slot.

Mark Rubin

Brennan: Hey, I forgot all about Rubin. Apparently the staff did, too. Good pick. Hopefully they'll stop messing with him and let him do what he does so well. I'll go with Brackett because I don't think we've seen anything like him at Penn State since Joe Jurevicius. That 6-6 is not a program height; it's legit. In any event, between Brackett, Bell, Rubin and incoming freshman Derek Moye, I'm guessing the fade pattern to short guys like Butler and Williams are a thing of the past.

It's Now or Never

Harrington: This is Terrell Golden's last shot to make an impact on the team. Over the course of his PSU career he has pulled in 18 passes for 390 yards -- an impressive 21.7 yards per catch -- and two touchdowns. Golden has shown good speed but has to tighten up on his routes if he wants to be an impact player.

Terrell Golden

Brennan: Maybe Golden's spectacular 35-yard catch against Tennessee -- one of the key plays in the Outback Bowl -- was a sign of positive things to come for the senior. I'm going in a little different direction, though, and saying Derrick Williams. He has not looked quite the same since breaking his arm against Michigan in 2005. In roughly a season and a half of action, he has caught 62 passes for 729 yards and a pair of TDs -- solid numbers, to be sure. But he'll be the first to admit he expected to make a much greater impact to this point of his career. As such, this is an important season for Williams to prove he still has the game-breaking ability with which he teased us before the injury in 2005.


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