Nittany Notes: Rough Work

Penn State is working to bounce back from the Michigan loss. See how the Nittany Lions are responding and what message the coaching staff is preaching.

Tuesday's Practice

Monday's practice light, focusing on basic fundamental sets. But Tuesday saw a "weak performance" from the offense. "The offensive players on a whole have not responded well to the [Michigan loss]," according to one observer. "Several of the guys are dejected and just not looking sharp." Another observer said, "The defense is working their [rears] off and these [offensive] guys are having a pity party."

The offense worked basic fundamental sets on Tuesday. The line primarily practiced its blocking schemes, the running backs worked read-react drills and the passing unit worked on receiving sets. Tailback Austin Scott has seen extra work with strip drills. "I'm not concerned with him fumbling in practice," one observer said. "The issue is something changes with him during a game. I think he lets up at times."

Miss-Again Scheme

An interesting theme among observers is the confusion with the offensive scheme Penn State used against Michigan. "I am not sure where that came from," one observer explained. "[The team] worked a lot of passing, 3-, 4- and 5-wide sets [during the week]. The bunch formations were worked on too."

It appears that the game plan was changed at the eleventh hour. "I was so confused to see [the offense] come out running." In fact, Michigan rookie QB Ryan Mallett passed 19 times in the first half while Lion senior Anthony Morelli only tossed the ball 12 times. "The coaches were telling [the players] that they had to be sharp. The [players] were expecting to ride the passing game a lot," one observer said.

Joe Paterno all but confirmed this in a team meeting earlier this week, when he said, "The staff wanted to do some things that I didn't want to do."

Leadership Concerns

There are definitely concerns about Morelli's mental state and "his ability to bounce back."

Reporters spotted Morelli arguing with Michigan fans after they started taunting him. After the game he also went off in the locker room, screaming and tossing equipment. Said an observer: "I understand you're frustrated. Who isn't? But losing composure like that. What does it do for your credibility? What does it do for the team?"

There are also concerns that PSU lacks a captain that has the leadership style needed to "get everything back on track." Dan Connor is very respected, but "is not the vocal guy you need." Terrell Golden is well respected, but is not "that take-charge type."

Several observers have pointed to Sean Lee as the possible answer. "He is not afraid to get in guys' faces — and he has been — telling them when they [screw] up. The offense needs that guy too, though," one observer said. "They should have him play both ways so he can right the offense too."

Other Notes

  • Unity was a primary theme for Paterno at the team meeting. He said anyone caught pointing fingers regarding the Michigan loss — players or coaches — will be kicked off the team immediately.

  • There had been no major position changes through Tuesday's practice. Morelli continues to see first-team reps at QB. Austin Scott is still seeing first-team reps at TB, splitting time with Rodney Kinlaw. Paterno told the team he has "100 percent confidence" in each of his players.

  • Dontey Brown sustained an elbow injury earlier this week. The severity is not known at this time, but he is not practicing currently.

  • Although true freshman tailback Stephfon Green is still expected to redshirt, observers continue to rave about his performance against the first-team defense. Described as "incredible," "so good," and "having magic feet," in Tuesday's practice Green squeezed through a collapsing hole, juked two linebackers [including Sean Lee], faked a safety and outran a second safety. He later ran a streak where he "perfectly" caught a 35-yard pass and outran everyone. "At least the future there looks bright," one observer pointed out.

  • Illinois has an outstanding linebacker in J Lehman, who once again leads the Big Ten in tackles (49 in four games). Fortunately for the Lions, they have two terrific young 'backers on the scout team to help them prepare for Lehman. True freshmen Chris Colasanti and Nathan Stupar are both receiving strong reviews for their performance on the practice squad.

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