Nittany Notes: Up and at 'Em

The Nittany Lions continue their bowl preparations for the upcoming matchup with Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. Get a look at what Penn State has been focused on in another exclusive Nittany Notes report.

Tuesday had the Nittany Lions up early with a 6:30 a.m. practice session. "[The coaches] typically like to mix things up before the bowl game to keep the guys on their toes," one observer told us. "They like to see the reaction [from the players] to early morning drills."

Some players were not pleased about the scheduled session square in the middle of final exams, but most of them reacted well to it. "Not everyone was going to be happy about this. Some guys have early finals, so they had to go from practice right to a test, but Sean [Lee] and Maurice [Evans] were on the defensive guys to 'put on a smile' since 'it's a good day for some football.' "

Special Drills

The team has taken a focus on kick return coverage. As one observer explained, "[Texas A&M] has Kerry Franks, who is a tough returner. He can rip of 40 yards if containment breaks down."

Penn State has worked in extra pursuit drills and block shedding reps. "A lot of the guys need to maintain that separation so they don't get locked up and taken out of the play," an observer said. "That has been a big issue: they run right at the ball carrier, but they ignore the blocker who just wraps them up. You have to grab the angle that gets you to the ball, but helps you avoid the blocks."

Penn State ranked ninth in the Big Ten in kick-return coverage during the regular season. The unit was coached by assistant Brian Norwood, who has since left the program to take over as defensive coordinator at Baylor. In his absence, new assistant Kermit Buggs is handling the direction of the kick coverage team.

Block Building

The offensive line has been focusing on addressing the sizable Aggie defensive tackles. At 315 and 322 pounds, respectively, Henry Smith and Joseph "Red" Bryant give the A&M defensive line a massive surge off the snap.

A.Q. Shipley, Rich Ohrnberger, Mike Lucian and Stefen Wisniewski have been working to pick up this inside rush in 1v1 and 2v2 drills. "Q, Rich and the guys have been running some pick-up drills where they line up against the big bodies," said one observer. "They'll throw in Abe [Koroma] or Phil [Taylor] — or even [offensive linemen Johnny] Troutman and [Josh] Marks. They aren't in there for technique, but just to throw weight at them and help them adjust to handle the sheer size of these two [defensive] tackles."

As another observer share, "It's not just stopping [Smith and Bryant], though. It's directing them, which is the challenge. They key is having the interior pick up the initial surge, but communicate to get the help to direct them to open up the lanes. That is easier said than done when you have 600 plus pounds coming at you."

Despite the size up front, A&M is has pulled down only 18 sacks this season, 27 less than Penn State's defense "That's just a number, though. You can't take them lightly or they will rip open the pocket and make life miserable," one observer told us.

The Front Line

On the defensive side of the ball, the players have been focused on containment drills. Facing a three-headed running attack from quarterback Stephen McGee and running backs Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane, Penn State is up against a backfield that has variety in its arsenal.

"Goodson and Lane are two totally different runners," one observer said. "Goodson is just under 195 pounds. His style is like Rodney Kinlaw's in that he is quick and can shift into a lane and break open a run if the opportunity presents itself. Goodson is quick and can make the corner on the wing. [Sean] Lee, [Tyrell] Sales, Mo [Evans] and [Josh] Gains have been running fan-out drills where they spread out the coverage and direct the runner wide."

"Lane is a totally different runner [from Goodson]," the observer told us. "He's 275 [pounds] and build like a truck. Even when he gets hit on the line [of scrimmage], the guy will just lower his shoulder and picks up five or six yards."

The interior players like linebacker Dan Connor, and tackles Abe Koroma, Ollie Ogbu and Phillip Taylor have been working on their take-down technique to manage Lane. "It's all in the basics — wrap him up low. He can't run without his legs," another observer explained. "It's tough, though. When you go low you're heading to the ground, so if you miss him you're out of the play."

These players have also been working on "wall coverage," where they basically assemble a wall in the interior. "[Lane] is not shifty like [Goodson], he's not as lateral, he just tries to run you over."

Finally, the Aggies have McGee at QB. "He'll run the option or draw or try to get the offense to bite on the run and toss deep." The entire front seven has gotten some option work in for McGee. "He's not as explosive as [Indiana's] Kellen Lewis, but he can move. If the assignment discipline breaks down he'll roll up yardage and first downs," according to an observer.

Stay tuned to for continuing coverage of Penn State football as they prepare for the Alamo Bowl.


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