On Sunday, we touched base with our program observers to get the lowdown on some important issues.
BEWARE THE HOOK
Don't expect the Penn State coaching staff to admit it. But after his shaky performance against Michigan Saturday, senior quarterback Anthony Morelli will be on the proverbial short leash this week at Illinois.
In fact, according to a well-placed source, Joe Paterno had to be talked out of pulling the starting QB in the second quarter of the loss to the Wolverines. Paterno wanted to give backup Daryll Clark at least a series, but his son, PSU quarterbacks' coach Jay Paterno, convinced the head coach to stick with the starter.
The staff reportedly went into the Michigan game not sure of what to expect from Morelli after he had a poor week of practice. Things did not improve Saturday, when Morelli missed a series of open receivers in the first half. He finished the game 15 of 31 for 169 yards and no TDs.
Penn State has been in a bit of a catch-22 situation with its QBs. Practice observers report that Clark has been extremely inconsistent this season. So if Morelli is pulled or hurt at some point, it will be interesting to see if the staff goes to Clark, the most athletic QB on the roster, or redshirt freshman Pat Devlin, who is looking more and more like the future of the position at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are loaded with talented and experienced pass-catchers. Even a perfunctory glance at a recording of the ABC telecast of Saturday's game reveals many instances of open receivers not getting the ball. So you can only imagine what the detailed coaching cut-ups must have shown.
The key is finding someone who can make the quick decisions AFTER the snap necessary to take advantage of the wealth of talent at wideout. It is not about reading defenses as much as it is about reacting to them, and finding the open man or men.
Again, don't expect anyone on the staff to say it just yet, but of the QBs on the roster, Devlin is the most equipped to operate the kind of quick-hitting passing game that would allow the Lions to take advantage of their most obvious offensive strength.
On Penn State's charter flight from Willow Run Airport outside of Detroit back to University Park Airport Saturday evening, barely a word was spoken.
It was only 49 minutes, but they said it felt like three hours, a source told us.
There are serious concerns within the program of how the Lions will respond to the 14-9 debacle in Ann Arbor. In the locker room after the game, the only senior who stepped up and told everyone to hold their heads high was tri-captain Terrell Golden. Other seniors apparently were waiting until the sting of the loss subsided to let their feelings be known.
Several members of the coaching staff, meanwhile, seemed more intent on ripping the officials than addressing their own shortcoming. That has become a common theme after losses in the Big House.
This year, offensive line coach Bill Kenney was seen yelling at the referees just before he ducked into the locker room. And Jay Paterno came screaming into the locker room blaming the officials, according to a source.
GROUND TO A HALT
Penn State opened the Michigan game with two straight plunges into the line. Think the Wolverines were ready for the the Lions running on first down?
Of State's 11 first-down runs in the game, nine were for two yards or fewer.
Count Penn State junior kicker Kevin Kelly among those left scratching their heads when Joe Paterno opted to punt rather than attempt a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter of the Michigan game. Jeremy Boone pooched the punt perfectly and the ball rolled out of bounds at the U-M 3-yard line.
I was on the field five or 10 yards when he called us off, Kelly said in the post-game press conference. I was a little shocked at the call. I have no reasoning for why Coach called that. I was just surprised by the call. But it ended up that Jeremy had a great punt.
Kelly went on to finish 3 of 3 on field goals in Ann Arbor, accounting for all of Penn State's points.