TYM: Midterm Grades

Welcome to Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FightOnState.com staffers Mark Brennan and Mark Harrington discuss and debate topics related to the Penn State football team. In this installment, they post their mid-season grades for the Nittany Lions. The guys rank each unit based on a five-star scale, with five stars being the best and zero being the worst.

OVERALL OFFENSE

HARRINGTON: Two Stars

The offense has had ups and downs through the first six games this year. Averaging nearly 32 points hould be an impressive stat, but it's one that is padded with 59 and 45 points in wins against Florida International and Buffalo, respectively. The offense's inability to post a touchdown at Michigan along with red zone woes at Illinois have made it one of the more inconsistent units PSU has fielded in recent years with flashes of brilliance one moment and blackouts the next. To say the struggles of seniors Anthony Morelli, Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw have been disappointing would be an understatement, and with some obvious leadership issues, the unit has work to do.

BRENNAN: Two Stars

One of the more inconsistent units in recent years? Yeah, I'd say the worst in these parts since, oh, 2006, when the Lions did the same thing -- beat up on crappy teams and struggle to score vs. good opponents. Three stars to me is an average performance, and at the level Penn State is supposed to be playing, the continuation of the big-game struggles translates into a sub-par grade here.

QUARTERBACK

BRENNAN: Two Stars

I'll let you cite all the numbers. The mark of a great quarterback is one who excels in big games. The mark of a good quarterback is one who gets it done in the clutch on occasion. I'm still waiting for the defining play of Anthony Morelli's career. With only six games left, he had better make it quick.

HARRINGTON: Two Stars

Morelli's numbers are pretty impressive: 221 yards per game, 10 touchdowns, 58 percent completion rate. Seem like a clear picture of a solid QB. However, toss in six interceptions and five fumbles and the numbers and the picture of the senior QB start to get blurry. Include the 13 sacks and it gets hazier. Throw in the loss of control with his exchange with Michigan fans and tossing his helmet in practice and the picture loses focus. Morelli has shown streaks of brilliance, but has simply not lived up to the captain's title yet.

WIDE RECEIVERS

HARRINGTON: Four Stars

Despite what Joe Paterno may tell you about dropped balls, the core group of the receiver unit has been solid. The top five receivers by receiving yardage (Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, Andrew Quarless and Terrell Golden) have combined for more than 1,000 yards and 81 catches. Norwood and Butler are averaging 50 and 47 yards per game, respectively. Chris Bell has had some impressive receptions, grabbing three catches for 96 yards (32 ypc.), but still has route-running issues and dropped a gimme in the end zone against Iowa. All in all though, the unit is a bright spot for the offense.

BRENNAN: Four Stars

I agree. Nice effort all around. And I wonder how much more impressive those stats would be if they were hit in stride once in a while.

OFFENSIVE LINE

BRENNAN: Three Stars

Penn State has rushed for at least 100 yards against every opponent this year and of the 13 sacks the Lions have allowed, I'd guess about half could have been prevent had the QB rifled the ball into the stands. This has not been a great line, by any means. But it is not the primary reason for the offensive issues.

HARRINGTON: Three Stars

Considering the tackles are new, this group has done a decent job -- at times. Interestingly enough, the unit has provided for a balanced attack for the top performers of the air and ground games. Through the air they have helped Norwood, Butler, Williams, Quarless and Golden combine for 1,032 yards. On the ground they have helped Rodney Kinlaw, Austin Scott, Evan Royster and Derrick Williams rush for a combined 1,043 yards. The good news is that the unit is coming off its best all-around performance of the year against one of the more formidable rushing defenses in the conference.

BACKFIELD

HARRINGTON: Three Stars

At his current pace Kinlaw, could have an 1,100-yard season. Most fans expected that if anyone was going to do that, it would have been Austin Scott, who ironically is no longer with the team. The running game has been able to find success, but the turnovers, seven by Kinlaw and Scott alone, have regularly sucked the wind out of offensive drives. Kinlaw, the primary back now, has had back-to-back lost fumbles against Illinois and Iowa. If that continues this grade will drop.

BRENNAN: Two Stars

In terms of simply gaining yardage, yeah, this group has done a respectable job. But you mentioned the fumbles, which are ridiculous for fifth-year seniors. And don't we also have to factor in Scott's off-field issues? The BEST-CASE scenario is he was out in the middle of the night a day and a half before a game. And I'm not even going to touch the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, to me, that kind of stuff drags this entire unit down. I applaud Kinlaw for patiently waiting his turn and -- outside of the fumbles -- making the most of his chance when he got it. He is running hard and showing a ton of heart. Likewise, there is a lot to like about Royster. But it is tough to give this unit an above-average grade when taking into account the on- and off-field performance of everyone involved.

OVERALL DEFENSE

BRENNAN: Four Stars

The stats tell the story here: Second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense and total defense. Sixth in the nation in scoring defense, eighth in rushing defense, 13th in passing defense. Save one drive in the Michigan game and a poor first half vs. Illinois, this would be a five-star effort.

HARRINGTON: Four Stars

The defense continues the trend it has shown in recent years to snuff out opposing offenses and provide opportunities for the offense. Unfortunately, the offensive red zone woes and periods of consistent three-and-outs have provided challenges for the defense this season. Overall the unit has been consistent, aggressive and smart in its play.

DEFENSIVE LINE

HARRINGTON: Three Stars

Young and aggressive, the defensive line -- which some thought would be a weak point -- has been solid. Defensive ends Maurice Evans, Aaron Maybin and converted linebacker Jerome Hayes have combined for 12 sacks on the year. With the loss of Abe Koroma and Tom McEowen to injury earlier, the interior of the line has done an impressive job with converted end Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Chris Baker and Phillip Taylor in the rotation. However, with alleged off-field issues around Baker and Taylor the unit could be in for a rough road ahead.

BRENNAN: Three Stars

Sure, this group has done a good job, especially considering how young it is. But we're not grading on a curve here. Given the issues against Michigan and Illinois, as well as some off-field stuff that figures to impact playing time this week, I'd say we're looking at a middle-of-the-road grade now with a chance to develop into a five-star unit in the future.

LINEBACKERS

BRENNAN: Five Stars

Dan Connor and Sean Lee have both been amazing. If the stat crews from Illinois or Northwestern were charting their stops, they'd probably both have 100 tackles by now. They've also done a nice job of setting a hard-hitting tone for the defense. I was tempted to give slight demerits here for the lack of strong off-field leadership from Connor and the other captains. But everything we hear indicates Lee is emerging as that type of leader, so that balances out things. OK, now dazzle people with too many stats.

HARRINGTON: Five Stars

Once again, Linebacker U. is living up to its name. In fact, there is a buzz growing around the program that Lee may end up the best of the Paul Posluszny-Connor-Lee trio of recent years. Lee leads the team with 63 tackles. At that pace he would hit 126 takedowns this year, which would surpass both Connor and Posluszny's marks over the pas two seasons. Connor is only 41 tackles away from the all-time mark set by Posluszny last season -- that is only 6.8 stops per game for the remainder of the regular season, something he could probably do in his sleep. Toss in Tyrell Sales, Navorro Bowman and even walk-on Josh Hull -- not to mention highly touted freshmen Chris Colasanti, Nathan Stupar and Andrew Dailey on the scout team -- and the unit is stacked for the future.

SECONDARY

HARRINGTON: Four Stars

Ranked 13th in the nation, the PSU secondary has managed to hold opponents to 173 yards per game. Despite some coverage concerns with both Lydell Sargeant and Justin King, the unit has five interceptions on the year by four different players (King, Anthony Scirrotto, Sargeant and Tony Davis). If Sargeant can button up his routes and King can avoid the periodic lapses this unit will have a solid second half of the season. My major disappointment here is the streaky play King has had. Hyped as one of the top corners nationally with NFL aspirations, I don;t think he has lived up to those expectations through the first six games.

BRENNAN: Four Stars

Two other nits to pick here: 1.) Poor tackling, on occasion -- though I will allow that there may be some injury issues the staff is trying to keep quiet that are playing a role with that. 2.) Too many dropped picks. As tight as the PSU offense gets in big games, it is imperative this group take advantage of every opportunity presented to it.

OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS

BRENNAN: Three Stars

Overall a good job but some serious issues with kickoff coverage of late. Don't look now, but State has given up a Big Ten worst 811 yards in that area.

HARRINGTON: Three Stars

While the kicking side of things has been impressive, the return game has taken backward strides in recent weeks. The return game needs a spark, which is surprising considering the explosive play Wallace and Williams had out of the gate this season.

KICKING

HARRINGTON: Four Stars

With Jeremy Kapinos gone, Jeremy Boone has stepped in and been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. In fact, he ranks No. 15 nationally in net punting. Not too shabby. As for Kevin Kelly, now recovered from the pelvis fracture last year, he has been booming kickoffs, which has been instrumental in the field position battles. He also ranks No. 11 nationally in field goals, hitting 71.4 percent of his tries and making 1.67 field goals per game.

BRENNAN: Three Stars

I agree with you on Boone, who boosts the overall grade of the special teams. If a team MVP poll were taken right now, he'd have to rate in the top five. As for Kelly, his 10 field goals are tied for 11th nationally, not his percentage. He is 8 of 8 inside of 40 yards, but 2 of 6 from 40 and beyond. That, coupled with PSU's poor net return kickoff coverage (opponents' average start is their own 29-yard line, second-worst in the league), prevent me from giving an above-average mark here.

RETURN GAME

BRENNAN: One Star

OK, so Penn State tore it up against no-name programs like Florida International, Buffalo and Notre Dame. But what have you done for the Nittany Nation lately? The Lions' long kickoff return in the Big Ten is 23 yards and the average is 15 yards. State has only returned five punts in three conferences game for a total of 37 yards, or less than eight yards a pop.

HARRINGTON: Two Stars

What started out as a weapon has fizzled in recent games. In fact, PSU is ranked No. 74 nationally on kickoff returns and No. 25 on punt returns. Surprisingly, A.J. Wallace has looked tentative and even slow at times, which has taken away a major advantage State enjoyed through the non-conference slate.

By popular demand, we are adding a coaching section to our grades. Read on for the details.

OVERALL COACHING

HARRINGTON: Three Stars

Again the defensive side of the ball tends to overachieve while the offensive side tends to underachieve. On an positive not the special teams coaching, with kicking and coverages seems to have gotten a boost. No doubt thanks to Larry Johnson handling the kicking game.

BRENNAN: Three Stars

One side is pretty good. One side is pretty not so good. To me, it balances out to a pretty average effort overall. Details to follow.

OFFENSIVE COACHING

BRENNAN: Two Stars

OK, we set you up. Go ahead and make the obligatory comment about Penn State's "offensive" coaching. I know many of the offense's issues can be traced to untimely turnovers. But I think the staff sent a horrible message to the team when it made a last-minute change before the Michigan game, going with an ultra-conservative approach. It left the Lions with little margin for error, and as expected, when they made mistakes they could not recover. Continued problems in big games is a clear indicator that something is seriously wrong with the dynamic of the offensive staff. People can criticize QB coach Jay Paterno all they want, but that type of big-picture issue should fall at the feet of the head coach.

HARRINGTON: One Star

I couldn't agree more. The Michigan eleventh-hour shift was nothing short of an insult to the team. Talk about putting them in a position to lose. The apparent lack of cohesiveness and the apparent plethora of dysfunction on this side of the ball needs to be addressed if this team wants to get back to the level they should be playing at. Toss in the over-protection of Morelli when the team stumbles and I'd say they are doing nothing to help at least aid Morelli in growing into the leader his captaincy title demands.

DEFENSIVE COACHING

HARRINGTON: Four Stars

Having seen this coaching staff up-close there definitely seems to be a bond on this side of the ball, which translates into pumping out impressive units and NFL players. These guys just continue to put out unit after unit after unit that simply perform at an impressive level. They alos have to be some of the most tolerant guys on the East Coast considering the disadvantages the offensive deals them at times.

BRENNAN: Four Stars

Unlike the offense, the coaches on this side of the ball seem to be operating together extremely well. From the outside looking it, it appears as if there is just a whole different level of respect. If Joe Paterno is to be criticized for the dysfunctional offense, then he ought to be given props for allowing Tom Bradley and company to do what the do so well over on defense.

Chime in with your thoughts on these grades on the Total Access Board.

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