Back-to-back victories over Iowa and Wisconsin have resulted in a more positive vibe in the program, despite some lingering off-field issues.
"Winning changes everything," one observer told us when asked about the state of the team. "All the finger-pointing and dysfunction has subsided thanks to the big win [over Wisconsin]."
In the past couple of weeks, observers indicated that a bit of friction had developed between certain players on opposite sides of the ball. "But back-to-back wins are huge," one of the observers said this week. "I mean, this team has outscored the last two opponents 65-14. That has the defense excited. The guys are really having fun right now."
Many observers we spoke with this week feel that last week's off-field issues helped to take the heat off quarterback Anthony Morelli . "The Austin Scott situation and Joe Paterno's driving thing took the spotlight off him last week," an observer said. "He needs to carry that momentum into the road though and the slingshot the team into the next game."
There is still a concern about both cornerback positions. As we reported earlier this week, Justin King is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury which has "clearly impacted his play at times." And as for Lydell Sargeant, "he's just inconsistent. He gets sloppy and needs to tighten up or he's bound to get burned. He has great athleticism, which helps him recover, but he needs to play focused on every snap."
With the loss of Jerome Hayes due to a season-ending ACL injury, Aaron Maybin has been stepping in to take his situation reps at defensive end. "I doubt we'll see a major change in the rotation. Maurice [Evans], Josh [Gaines] and Aaron [Maybin] are all very capable, smart, physical players," an observer said.
Penn State's coaches realize they have to get pressure on the Indiana pocket, so they are working some pass rushing situations which bring linebacker Sean Lee up to the line. "It's the same type of package they put in for Timmy [Shaw] last year," one observer explained.
Walk the Line
When asked about the offensive line's improved play, one observer said, "it clicked. Mike [Lucian] adds more than most people realize. He is more of a communicator and really has taken the time to understand when [the tackles] are going to give him help on a block. He adjusts more and really gets a good surge off the snap."
Observers feel the line still has work to do on shifting the pocket and opening up wide lanes with the tackles, but its improvement has been fairly clear all-around.
The emergence of redshirt freshman tailback Evan Royster has also helped the line. "He's got the head for it," an observer said. "It's not intelligence, it's understanding. If you watch his eyes, he will look to the [defensive] ends, shift to the linebackers and then see the matchup points with the line. He basically understands where the point of attack will be and where his best chance for a break-through run will be. LJ (Larry Johnson) did this, [Curtis] Enis did it, KiJana [Carter] did it. It's hard to just teach. He's still got a lot of work to do, but that aspect of his game will take him far quickly."
Stay tuned to FOS for exclusive practice reports on the team.