By: C.J. Doon
College football season is back, and no school has been looking forward to it more than Penn State University. After a tumultuous off-season revolving around the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the sight of the Nittany Lions roaring out the tunnel on September 1st will be a welcome sight for fans, students, and alumni.
The Lions open their 2012 campaign against the Ohio Bobcats from the MAC conference, a team coming off an impressive 10-4 season, culminating in the program’s first bowl win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Penn State finished third in the Leaders division last season with a 9-3 record, and is looking to improve under first year coach Bill O’Brien. Here are the storylines heading into Saturday’s game:
How will Penn State’s running backs play in the absence of Silas Redd?
After the departure of Silas Redd to USC, Penn State is left with a bevy of inexperienced players at the running back position. Sophomore Bill Belton will likely get the bulk of the carries, but keep your eye out for senior Derek Day (24) and junior Zach Zwinak (40). Day, a prominent player on special teams, saw limited action last season for the Lions, but due to the lack of depth at the tail back position, he will likely be given more carries this year. Zwinak, the back-up fullback behind senior Michael Zordich, will also get a chance to carry the ball on Saturday in an attempt to find a powerful back to compliment shifty runners Belton and Day.
How will the Lions’ defense fare against the fast-paced Ohio offense?
The Ohio Bobcats offense is coming off a year in which it set school records for points (427) and yards per game (449.3) using the hurry-up offense. The Nittany Lions have struggled with the hurry-up offense in the past, highlighted by a 30-14 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Cougars in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl. Returning linebackers Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, and Glenn Carson are the most experienced players on the Lions’ defense, and are poised to shut-down the Bobcats’ offense. Defensive linemen Sean Stanley and Jordan Hill can create havoc on the offensive line, and are sure to get in the face of Ohio’s senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Penn State’s secondary will be led by senior cornerback Stephon Morris. Morris, who ranked fifth on the team with five total pass break-ups last season, has the most career starts among all cornerbacks with 13. Rising sophomore Adrian Amos, who played in every game last season, will be counting on veteran leadership from Morris, as well as senior safety Malcolm Willis.
What can we expect to see from Bill O’Brien’s new offense?
First-year coach Bill O’Brien brings in a pro-style offense, an offense that was very successful when O’Brien was the offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. One of the most unique features of O’Brien’s offense was the use of multiple tight ends. Penn State has had its share of great tight ends in the past (Kyle Brady, Mickey Shuler, Andrew Quarless to name a few), but very few have emerged in recent years. Part of the reason is that Penn State simply doesn’t throw to its tight ends. Last season, Penn State tight ends combined for only 15 catches. With the introduction of a two tight end set, a feature that allowed New England tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to combine for 24 receiving touchdowns, the Nittany Lions have a new weapon in the passing game that is sure to make Matt McGloin smile.
The Ohio Bobcats are a football program on the rise, and are not to be taken lightly. Penn State is a six point favorite, but don’t be surprised if the game comes down to a late field goal. The Beaver Stadium crowd will be one of the loudest in the venue’s 62 year history, and the Lions will be feeding off the energy of their fans. If Penn State is able to get off to a fast start, I think it will be able hold on for the victory in front of a raucous home crowd. Final score: Penn State 24, Ohio 20.