Nittany Notes: Ready To Rumble

Get the lowdown on where the Penn State football team stands as the prime-time clash with No. 1 Ohio State nears.

Attitude & Approach

By all accounts, the Penn State football team is excited and anxious for Saturday's showdown with No. 1 Ohio State as Beaver Stadium. "The [players] love these home night games because of the crowd, but they also seem to dread the long delay on Saturday, so they'll get together to watch some football and just try to relax a bit before the late start."

It's been a week full of relatively short practice sessions, but also a week of preparations described as "intense," "tough" and "aggressive." As one practice observer told us, "The staff has kept the practices short and focused to keep the guys fresh, but most to them have really dug deep this week and pushed it. We've seen a lot of hard hitting from the guys that you'd expect."

Among those hard-hitting players have been the usual suspects — Dan Connor, Sean Lee, Maurice Evans, A.Q. Shipley and Rich Ohrnberger.

Young Guns

The veterans are not the only players who have delivered big hits this week. "Some younger guys really got into it," according to another observer. Here are some observations on some of these younger players:

  • Tailback Evan Royster "is getting more and more confident in his abilities. He's really starting to realize what he can do to move a pile when he gets low and just pumps his legs. What makes him special, though, are two things: first, his vision before the snap — I know the term's cliche — but he visualizes the gaps that the front seven place in their game. That's a hard thing to just teach. Other backs will just try to run over a pile and just lock on a hole, but Evan can pick out the weak points to attack and will adjust to the defense rather than the playbook.

    "Second, he's versatile — he can move a pile and skip through it to pick up yards, and he has the legs to hit an open zone and escape a defender."

    Will Royster get his first start this week? Don't count on it, has head coach Joe Paterno will give the nod to veteran Rodney Kinlaw.

    "Joe's still Joe. He's playing more and more younger guys but, right or wrong, he's still comfortable with veterans at quarterback and running back — the guys who touch the ball a lot. I think Evan will have an impact on this game, though."

  • Linebacker Navorro Bowman is back seeing regular practice reps after being sidelined with an ankle injury sustained prior to the Iowa game. "[Bowman] saw some limited playing time against Indiana, but now he looks to be comfortable judging by the contact he was throwing in practice. The coaches have asked him a few times this week to take it easy, but he either forgets or is ignoring them. He's running fine and seems to be anxious to get back into the rotation."

  • As we reported earlier this week, freshman Chris Colasanti has seen some of Dan Connor's first-team reps at middle linebacker. "He's had the opportunity to get some guidance from Dan and get a feel for the tendencies of the other [first-team linebackers and linemen] around him like Sean [Lee], Mo [Evans] and Phil [Taylor]. He could see some [game] action this week, but it depends on what Dan and the coaches feel about resting [Connor]. The [practice] reps have helped Chris with the role of communicator. Understanding how quick things happen and how much time you have to read the offense and make a defensive adjustment based on the abilities of your teammates is one of the biggest factors in a middle linebacker being effective."

    Filling Holes

    On a side note, it's been stressed by observers that the coaches are concerned with injuries, which is why they have had Lee and Connor in the green cross jerseys, limiting their contact, and are asking other players to ease up on their contact. "The squad has had some key injuries so limiting them is key," one observer shared.

    With Matt Hahn out with an ACL injury, backup fullback Dan Lawlor has seen a portion of the first-team reps with tight end Mickey Shuler also shifting over. "I am honestly not sure if [the coaches] are looking to run a lot of plays that use the fullback. They have gotten some work in, but I don't get the impression they are really working Lawlor a lot to get him ready to see a lot of action."

    In scouting Lawlor, an observers said, "fundamentally he's consistent — he sets his feet, squares his shoulders and does a good job targeting his assignment and holds the block. That's so important. He really needs to get up his intensity, though. Matty is just flat-out aggressive. He plays like he isn't going to just block you, he is going to run right over you. Dan needs some of that to rub off."

    On the offensive line Mike Lucian has continued to see light reps, wearing the green cross jersey, indicating limited contact. Stefen Wisniewski has been taking a good number of the first-team reps with John Shaw rotating in.

    As one observer said, "I am surprised they are taking it easy with Mike. I think everyone expected him to be ready for OSU — he has seemed fine and I thought they kept him out of the Indiana game to rest him for Saturday."

    Leading the Pack

    Sean Lee has really been on the defense this week both on the field and in the locker room, getting the unit to focus and "give it everything on every down."

    "He really is comfortable in that role. He's got a lot more confidence talking up the squad with the level he is playing at," one observer said. "In the eyes of the team this guy is a captain."

    Dan Connor has been "amped for this one. He's been working a lot more with the guys around him, like Chris [Colasanti] and Abe [Koroma]. He's certainly not getting in front of the team to fire them up, but I'll tell you, his all-out style inspires a lot of the guys around him."

    Quarterback Anthony Morelli has been "up" on the field, but "pretty quiet" off the field this week. "He's been intense in the huddle, but tends to keep to himself at times. I am not sure if it's how he focuses or what, but he certainly understands what this game could mean to his legacy at PSU — either way."

    Return of the King?

    Most fans are curious about Justin King and his apparent drop-off performance against Indiana. As one observer told us earlier in the week, "Justin will be OK. [Indiana's James] Hardy is a great wideout, but he also has what, seven inches on him. That is a big disadvantage to overcome."

    This week King "has looked good" in practice. "I think the shoulder may have been bothering him more than he let on, but he's done well in coverage and been sharp on his routes [in practice this week. It's mental to come back from that and his head is one of his biggest assets."

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