NITTANY NOTES: Pressing Questions

A look at some key topics regarding the Nittany Lions as they prepare for the Big Ten opener against Illinois at Beaver Stadium.

Will defensive linemen Abe Koroma and Maurice Evans play against Illinois Saturday?

In new FightOnState.com broke Monday evening, Koroma and Evans made their way back to practice Monday. They had been held out of action since a Sept. 2 search of their on-campus apartment turned up a small amount of marijuana.

At his press conference Tuesday, head coach Joe Paterno said he did not know whether the duo would play this week and declined to answer further questions on the matter.

However, the observers we spoke to feel that both Koroma and Evans will see action against the Illini. But no one expects either of the former first-teamers to start.

"Joe has put a hefty penalty on these guys," one observer said. "And I know Mo at least is chomping at the bit to hit someone. I think Joe realizes they have paid their dues and I expect them to get in the game — maybe by late in the first [quarter]."

As another observer explained, "I'm guessing that Koroma and Evans will be playing this week, if I know Joe."

What is the deal with the kickoff coverage?

The coaches have had the players focused on this aspect of the game heavily through the early sessions this week. "[The coverage] was a mess [against Temple]," one observer said. "Guys were out of their lanes, they collapsed too early and didn't play sharp at all."

This week there has been a stress on lane coverage, collapse drills and pursuits. "The coaches will run it over and over — the guys have worked on their communication and watching each other. It's all about keeping your head on a swivel to contain the return man, wedge the blockers, but also know what the guys in the lanes around you are doing. Last week they were doing their own thing and not working together," another observer said.

The Illini feature one of the most dangerous return men in the nation in Arrelious Benn. Though he is only averaging 15 yards on six attempts this year, last season he popped a 90-yarder for a score against the Lions that gave Illinois early momentum.

Is the team addressing all of these fumbles?

Yes. The team is working on protection drills where players around the ball-carriers try to strip the pigskin out. The coaches are also stressing fumble recovery drills.

"It's all about hands — this is why [the coaches] work ball movement drills like tips, fumbles and protection," an observer explained. "The biggest part is getting the players to mentally focus and lock on to the ball. That is why they're yelling things like 'lock it down' or 'clamp it down' or 'get that grip.'

"The coaches are very concerned with fumbles and fully expect Illinois to try to exploit this to open up opportunities."

What kind of scheme is the defense working this week?

"Juice Williams is a double threat. It used to be priority one to contain him on runs, but he's gotten much better with his arm," an observer said of the Illini QB. "The [defensive] coaches feel that [Daryll] Clark has helped to test them in a similar manner for the past few weeks. Daryll is not as fast as Williams, but he can make those shifts — run to pass, pass to run. He keeps you on your toes if you're in the front seven."

As another observer explained, "They used the Temple game to work the nickel a lot and get more comfortable with it. That could help with the speed they need to contain Juice and also keep the coverage tighter on him."

Although Evans is primarly seeing second-team reps, defensive line coach Larry Johnson is working on formations where Evans and speed rusher Aaron Maybin are the ends.

In these nickel sets, an outside linebacker — either Navorro Bowman or Bani Gbadyu — may move closer to the line just before the snap to "either contain or pressure."

Check out this image to see what Penn State's primary nickel package looked like against Temple. Note that starting outside linebacker Tyrell Sales is replaced by safety Drew Astorino (28). In the meantime, Astorino lines up in a deep safety spot, while starting strong safety Mark Rubin (9) moves up and plays closer to the line.

What about the offense? Will we see any option?

The offense has focused on working a lot of the scheme and personnel sets seen against Temple with backfield combinations of Derrick Williams, Stephfon Green, Evan Royster and Chaz Powell. "They put in a bit more of those misdirection sets against Temple to get the work in and refine the timing," an observer told us.

In terms of the option, "They work it in most practices, but I don't suspect we'll see a lot of it — really at any point this season. I think they will toss it in when a team least expects it, but I don't get the impression they will run it as a base set like they did in the days of Zack Mills."

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