Take Your Marks: Midterm Grades

Harrington and Brennan compile a report card as the Nittany Lions enter the second half of the season. At 6-0 and atop the Big Ten standings, there have been plenty of positives in Happy Valley.

Welcome to Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate topics pertaining to Penn State football. In this installment, they offer their midterm grades for the Nittany Lions.

QUARTERBACK
Brennan:
Daryll Clark has been better than expected, leading the Big Ten in efficiency rating (162.5). But he has to do a better job of hanging onto the football and I'll withhold a top grade until he gets it done in a clutch situation on the road. So far, so good.
Grade: B+

Harrington: Clark's numbers are impressive. His confidence has given the offense a shot in the arm and his versatility has made the offense, dare I say, exciting to watch. If he can continue to progress and lead, he will help PSU achieve some special things through the remainder of his career.
Grade: A-

RUNNING BACK
Brennan:
In Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, Penn State has the best one-two punch at tailback in the Big Ten. If there is room for improvement, it is in becoming more consistent in cutting toward open ground as opposed to running into the pile.
Grade: B+

Harrington: A unit many felt would struggle due to PSU's supposed inability to land blue-chip tailback talent that last few years has proven to be a team strength. Among the Big Ten's rushing leaders, Royster has the best yards-per-carry average (7.8). Meanwhile, the guy everyone is raving about, Michigan State Javon Ringer, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Add in Green's explosiveness and it's a formidable duo. Once Green gets a handle on those fumbles this grade should go up.
Grade: B+

RECEIVER
Brennan:
This crew was expected to be a team strength and has turned out to be just that. Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams have all been spectacular at times, and youngsters like Brett Brackett and Graham Zug have stepped up when needed. Look for the tight ends to get more action in the second half of the season if they ever get healthy.
Grade: A

Harrington: Butler, Norwood and William have combined for 869 yards and seven touchdowns. I'm more impressed by the fact that inexperienced wideouts like Brackett, Zug and Derek Moye have all stepped up when needed (each has a TD catch). Add in Andrew Quarless at tight end and even Royster getting in on the action and the air attack has a myriad of targets. In fact, 15 different receivers have pulled in passes so far this season.
Grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE
Brennan:
Penn State leads the Big Ten in scoring offense, rushing offense and total offense, and the veteran line has been a big part of that. This group, collectively, is my mid-season offensive MVP, even though I'm anxious to see how it does in the tough road stretch coming up.
Grade: A-

Harrington: The unit that generally makes or breaks an offense has been a consistent force for PSU this season. With a heavy dose of experience, the line has managed to pave the way for a very balanced attack of 1,540 rushing yards and 1,458 passing yards. These guys do not get a lot of credit, but they have been the X-factor for the offensive success PSU has enjoyed.
Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE
Brennan:
Given the losses due to suspensions and injuries, it is amazing that this unit continues to be a team strength. I expect it to get even better as Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma get into top shape. Special tip of the cap here to Aaron Maybin, who became a full-time player when Evans was suspended and Jerome Hayes blew out a knee, and now leads the Big Ten and ranks second nationally in sacks with seven.
Grade: B

Harrington: As has been mentioned, Penn State has done an outstanding job overcoming personnel issues in this area. The sheer depth Larry Johnson has assembled is amazing. Most other teams suffering such a degree of loss would have been decimated. For the line to pull together and get it done in the face of adversity is truly impressive.
Grade: B

LINEBACKER
Brennan:
Redshirt sophomore Navorro Bowman is my first-half defensive MVP. Despite starting only three games, he has outperformed Ohio State All-Everything 'backer James Laurinaitis in every significant statistical category except assists. But the rest of State's linebacker corps has been inconsistent to date.
Grade: B

Harrington: You'd think losing Sean Lee would have torn apart this unit. It certainly had has a major impact, requiring inexperienced players like Bowman, Josh Hull and Bani Gbadyu to step up. But having Lee coaching from the sideline and helping them adjust has been significant. This unit still has work to do to improve, but all things considered it has played well and Bowman's exceptional play bumps them up a grade in my book. Now the 'backers just need to build up their consistency and round out some of that depth to fortify the unit.
Grade: B-

SECONDARY
Brennan:
Even with Justin King off to the NFL, this group has improved since last season. Veteran safety Anthony Scirrotto and company are doing a good job of keeping the action in front of them and have been outstanding in run support. No wonder coordinator Tom Bradley is playing so much nickel.
Grade: B+

Harrington: The secondary has had its ups and downs, but with A.J. Wallace and Drew Astorino getting more and more game reps, the unit has seen significant improvement. This grade for me was teetering between B and B+. But the more these two play the more it will go up. That is not a knock on anyone else, but the level of play is just elevated with Wallace and Astorino on the field
Grade: B

KICKING GAME
Brennan:
Place-kicker Kevin Kelly has been consistent but hasn't had to make a money kick yet. Punter Jeremy Boone has not been up to the standard that saw him win All-Big Ten honors in 2007, but limited action (a league-low 16 punts) has prevented him from finding a rhythm. Outside of a meltdown on kickoff coverage against Temple, both cover teams have been solid.
Grade: B

Harrington: Kelly has been very consistent on field goals and extra points, missing only one triple by a few yards on a 60-yard attempt. Punting has been another story. Boone doesn't even rank in the top 10 for conference play. If he can elevate his game, this grade will elevate along with it. More importantly, he needs to improve to help PSU win the battle for field position. On a positive note, the kickoff coverage has improved on the whole, ranking fourth in league play.
Grade: B

RETURN GAME
Brennan:
Williams has been sensational on kickoff returns and so-so on punt returns. Fumbles by Williams and Scirrotto on punt returns are a concern.
Grade: B

Harrington: What started out as a weapon has fizzled in recent clashes. Penn State has been fair-catching a lot of punts. If the coaches would unleash Williams it could really give PSU an edge. Williams has shown how lethal he can be on kickoffs, but Wallace has really struggled in this department.
Grade: B-

COACHING
Brennan:
It is difficult to second-guess much of what Joe Paterno and his staff have done to date. They've been good with personnel and have clearly pushed the right buttons when games have been tight.
Grade: A

Harrington: The coaches have definitely put together some nice game plans and are leveraging the teams overall speed and athleticism throughout against opponents. We'll see how they handle things in Madison and Columbus, but so far, so good.
Grade: A

INTANGIBLES
Brennan:
Leadership has been strong. Events that could have been distractions have not turned out to be a problem. And the team has been able to overcome a couple of serious injuries. So far, chemistry is a strength for this outfit.
Grade: A

Harrington: I agree, the leadership has been impressive. This team is also very focused, determined and the players seem to enjoy each other's company. It's been a major upgrade all around in this area.
Grade: A

OFFENSIVE MVP
Brennan:
Offensive Line
Harrington: Daryll Clark

DEFENSIVE MVP
Brennan:
Navorro Bowman
Harrington: Navorro Bowman

ROOKIE MVP
Brennan:
Drew Astorino
Harrington: Drew Astorino

COACHING MVP
Brennan:
Galen Hall/Jay Paterno (offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach)
Harrington: Dick Anderson/Bill Kenney (offensive line coaches)


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