Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
SIDENOTE: Robert Bolden was named starting quarterback after this report was complete, however the writers opted to not make a late change to their analysis so fans could read their original thoughts.
ND: After a spring and summer filled with debate over who would be the quarterback under center, the fans finally get to see with their own eyes on Saturday all three of the potential stars. The Lions square off against Youngstown State on Saturday in what will amount to a more spirited scrimmage that allows for every kid on the depth chart to see some action.
MH: It's been a busy preseason with the coaching staff focused on rebuilding the offensive line, setting up the linebacker rotation, identifying a punter and, oh, finding a quarterback. A lot of folks are hung up on who will start against Youngstown State; my advice would be to see who not only gets the job done but gets the bulk of the reps in the game. Penn State has to come out awake on this one since the road gets treacherous very quickly as they head south to Tuscaloosa next week.
Who: Youngstown State at No. 19 Penn State
When: September 4th at 12 pm ET and 9 am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 1-0
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: No Line
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: There are some great games this weekend with Oregon State and Boise State facing off out here on the West Coast. But, I think the Michigan and UConn game is going to be huge for a number of reasons. Coach Rich Rodriguez has to get this season off to a good start, and his defense has to come up with a way to keep opponents out of the end zone. Meanwhile, UConn is a popular pick to win the Big East this year. They are a good, balanced team that you know wants to get a big signature victory right out of the gate. I really like UConn winning this game. I'm not convinced that Michigan can win this game with a shaky defense and no quarterback.
MH: Keep an eye on No. 21 LSU as they head to No. 18 UNC. The Tar Heels are sifting through a widespread cheating scandal and may have to go deep into the depth chart to get their team fielded. We'll see. Nirav, I am with you on the UConn/Michigan clash; U-M fans are sky-high despite losing their best defensive lineman Brandon Graham to the NFL draft and their best cornerback Troy Woolfolk to injury. They feel that they will "put up points on anyone," but, like you, I am not sold that the "defense is overrated" concept will fly against the Huskies, let alone in the Big Ten.
ND: Every time I turn around, another North Carolina player seems to be under investigation. Despite having a tremendous defense, I think the off-the-field problems are going to plague them in the season opener against No. 21 LSU. If the Tigers can get Jordan Jefferson some time to throw the ball, I think he can frustrate the Tar Heels and that's when the Powder Blue will come apart at the seams. Geaux Tigers.
MH: Good call, considering UNC may have to pull out some team managers to suit up. There are slim pickings this week, but I wouldn't put it past No. 24 Oregon State to shell-shock No. 6 TCU. Should the Horned Frogs be up that high? We'll see.
ND: The Offense will trot out onto the field unsure of who will be driving this squad. I am expecting the Lions to use Kevin Newsome to start the game based on his performance in last week's scrimmage. I think the coaches will leave the redshirt sophomore in the game for a series or two into the second quarter.
At that time, I am expecting to see Matt McGloin in the game to finish off the half and bring the second team kids out of the locker room. Finally, the mop up duties will be given to true freshman Robert Bolden in the remaining minutes of the third and all of the fourth quarter. I think the coaches are going to give both Newsome and McGloin a shot to win the starting job against Alabama, and they want to see who has the best chemistry with the other starters. I don't expect Bolden to get the keys to the Spread HD machine until later in the year, and that's only if he proves worthy in these "garbage" time situations and in practice.
Regardless of who is under center, the biggest question in my mind is how will the offensive line perform? At this time last year, the line was looking confused and ineffective even against Akron and Temple. The offensive line has been revamped but their ability to protect the new quarterback and, more importantly, open holes for Evan Royster is really key. Royster must be given room to run or Anthony Fera better start warming up his leg.
The one position that I am shocked that nobody is talking about is the tight end. With Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless both in the NFL and Andrew Szczerba injured, the experience level at the position is very, very thin. And, the tight end is going to be key to the new quarterback for check downs.
The Penguins were flat out atrocious on defense last year. They were terrible at defending the pass and may have been more effective at getting pressure on the quarterback if they yelled "boo" at the same time. Most of their defense returns, but this defense should prove to be little challenge for the Lions regardless of who is under center.
Look for the Lions to use a balanced attack to get used to every situation in preparation for the rest of the season.
MH: I think Paterno and company know that Newsome will get the start; he's been sporadic in preseason drills, but with 11 game-passes (eight completions) he's the "veteran" of the group. But I wouldn't get hung up on that. Bolden has been very impressive considering he's been on campus for about 10 minutes. He's got great mechanics, a sharp delivery and a head for the game. He's also not as quick as Newsome, but has a "gazelle stride" and can move. Personally, I think we'll see some alternating drives with "Mr. Consistency" McGloin in the mix.
What is getting overlooked is that essentially all three guys are in the same boat. Sure, Newsome has thrown 11 game passes, but Bolden could surpass that in his first two drives. McGloin has a whole two game passes. So, it's not like we're talking a major experience chasm between these players.
Nirav, you nailed it with the offensive line. The staff feels that the right side of the line with Lou Eliades at RT and Stefen Wisniewski at RG is stable and solid. Doug Klopacz is a question mark at center as are De'Ontae Pannell at LG and Quinn Barham at LT. Watch for Johnnie Troutman to see some action at LG since he's been making a move late this preseason. The issue is that the Penguins are unlikely to show the offensive line's true colors.
I think the biggest weapon PSU may have is with the wideout position. The young quarterbacks have a myriad of targets to toss to – and sizable ones at that. Graham Zug and Derek Moye are the veterans, but Justin Brown and Shawney Kersey add some size and speed. The "small burst" of Devon Smith should give a nice spark or decoy on offense in the slot. Also, newly-anointed captain Brett Brackett is in the flex tight end role that Andrew Quarless played, and he adds another big target out there.
The running game has Royster leading the charge towards the school rushing record. With Stephfon Green banged up , Chaz Powell has been shifted to offense and we may see him step in for Green, but I don't expect the coaches to throw out a lot in the game in the realm of split backs or misdirection plays.
ND: A hole is an opportunity. That should be the motto of the defense this year. There are holes on the defensive line and the linebacker crew. Well, each of those holes is an opportunity for a younger kid to step in and keep the tradition of a stellar defense alive.
Nobody knows what to expect from the Youngstown State offense since Eric Wolford is a first year coach, and this is his first head coaching job. Wolford was the running backs coach at South Carolina and has been an assistant at Illinois and Arizona among other programs. So, Wolford knows what it takes to prepare a team and how to help his team be successful. But, we just don't know what schemes Youngstown will use. As a result, you can expect the Lions to play pretty vanilla on defense until the coaches figure out some of the tendencies and schemes.
Quarterback Kurt Hess will face a strong pass rush from Devon Still and Jack Crawford. The Lions have a fantastic defensive tackle in Still. His size, strength and tenacity have many thinking that he can fill the hole left by Jared Odrick and I think they are right. His ability to get a push up the middle will really help the outside pass rush of Crawford as well as the linebackers that come on the blitz.
The linebacker crew is completely new after Josh Hull, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee all went to the NFL. The starters will be Bani Gbadyu, Nate Stupar and Chris Colasanti. But, I am looking forward to seeing how Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges perform. By the time the Big Ten portion of the season starts, I think we'll see both on the field as starters. But, at this point of the season, experience beats talent, so the more experienced kids are getting the nod.
This defensive team will completely shut down and frustrate the Penguins. The Football Championship Subdivision squad just doesn't have the talent or the speed to do any real damage in this game. A couple of late game scores will help the Penguins get double digits on the scoreboard but the game will be over by halftime.
MH: Penn State's front four is fierce; it's a huge order to fill the shoes of first-round pick Odrick at defensive tackle, but Still seems to be the best guy to get the job done. He's aggressive and has great power. The question is if it's enough for him to demand a double-team and can he handle it? Defensive captain Ogbu is next to him on the interior and has been a reliable pocket pressure point. The ends of Crawford and Eric Latimore are big and bad with improved technique and impressive speed.
Hess better have his ears and eyes open to figure out who is coming from where. The defensive line has a lot of depth too with guys like Sean Stanley, Jordan Hill and Brandon Ware inside and Kevion Latham and Pete Massaro on the ends. Coach Larry Johnson will likely maintain his patented rotation.
Watch for Coach Ron Vanderlinden to run a bit of a rotation with the linebackers between Gbadyu, Mauti, Stupar and Hodges on the outside. Colasanti and Mike Yancich are manning the middle linebacker two-deep, and that is probably the biggest concern with the linebackers heading into the season, although Still and Ogbu certainly help.
The secondary has D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris at corner and Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay at safety, so there is a lot of experience in the defensive backfield. As you said Nirav, this defense should have the Penguins flapping their wings to get airborne given the heavy rush the front seven will bring.
ND: We know who will be playing the various roles on Special Teams but we don't know is if this squad will perform better than last year. Coach Paterno stated that they spent extra time on special teams and that he hopes it yields results. After special teams cost the Lions against Iowa and gave Ohio State a huge advantage, Coach knows that this aspect of the game can be a game changer especially with an inexperienced quarterback.
MH: The good news is that Paterno acknowledges his special teams were anything but last year and the squad has put in extra work on the unit this preseason. The bad news is that there are fresh faces all over the unit, which may actually not be bad in the end. Collin Wagner, who booted the game-winning Capital One Bowl field goal, is back. Fera's powerful leg will be manning punt and kickoff duties. Brackett is the new holder and Ty Howle is the new snapper, so they'll have to shake off any early jitters. With the wedge banned the return game should be faster; watch for Smith to be a potential weapon with his speedy legs.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: The best matchup in this game is really going to be how each quarterback – Newsome, McGloin and Bolden – compete against one another. This single game is not going to dictate who the Lions will use as a starter this season but it will definitely play a role. So, I'm looking forward to see which quarterback puts their best foot forward in this glorified scrimmage.
MH: Great call Nirav. I think you nailed it with the PSU quarterbacks being the biggest competition of this game. That's not to take anything away from YSU, but PSU has to make some decisions and get adequate reps to the quarterbacks to help them do that.
Keys to the Game:
ND: With the new LBs, new quarterbacks and reshuffled offensive line, the key to this game is to get used to different looks from their opponents, the crowd noise and the general pace of the game. In short, the Lions have to take advantage of this layup of a game before getting ready for the matchup in Tuscaloosa.
MH: I say focus. Penn State has to come out sharp and look at this game as a preparation for Alabama next week. I am not saying the team should be looking ahead. Rather I am saying to focus squarely on this game and make every snap and every down count towards getting better realizing big things are on the horizon.
ND: All the talk will be about the quarterbacks in this game, but it will be the running of Royster and Green that will put the game away by the mid-second quarter. There will be plenty of young kids that will get to see some action in the second half, which will be fun for the kids and for the fans.
Penn State 52, Youngstown State 13
MH: I think we see a balanced, yet "vanilla" attack here. Little "glitz" and "glam" but the offense works to get the quarterbacks adequate work, but also looks to tune up the offensive line.
Penn State 38, Youngstown State 10
Until next time,
Fight On State!