Sunday, September 16, 2007

Penn State Keeps Fillin’ Up on Cupcakes


Penn State continued to roll through its weak non-conference conference schedule with a 45-24 win over Buffalo in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions have beaten Florida International, a terrible Notre Dame team, and Buffalo in the first three weeks of the season. PSU has won all three games by double digits, but it hasn’t exactly dominated the last two weeks. The Nittany Lion offense sputtered until the waning minutes of the first half against Buffalo and the Irish stayed with Penn State until the last few minutes of the third quarter despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. The Lions haven’t been tested, and the #10 team in the country still has plenty of work to do as it gets into the Big Ten portion of its schedule.

The strongest part of Penn State’s squad has, not surprisingly, been the defense. Ranked eighth in total defense, the Lions’ D has allowed only four touchdowns all season and has held opponents to 217 yards per game. On top of that, PSU has the best rush defense in the country – holding opponents to 17.7 yards per game on the ground. They are also tied for the national lead in sacks with Indiana (5.67/game). Next week, Penn State finally leaves Happy Valley and the top rush defense in the country will face a real test when they go against the Big Ten’s best rusher, Mike Hart, (167 ypg) and Michigan at the Big House.

The Lions’ D is going keep them in every game, but the less than stellar offense could do them in against some real competition. After the Buffalo W, Coach Joe Paterno called running back Austin Scott and backup Rodney Kinlaw both number one caliber backs, but Scott especially has looked shaky the last two weeks. He fumbled once against Notre Dame and against Buffalo, he coughed the ball up twice before he was replaced by Kinlaw. To Kinlaw’s credit, the senior backup made the most of his opportunity and rushed for 129 yards and a TD.

Quarterback Andrew Morelli finally got it going towards the end of the first half and finished 20-27 for 202 yards and four touchdowns – a career high. Morelli has been a bit of a question mark among the Penn State faithful, but may have a new favorite target in tight end Andrew Quarless. It was the sophomore’s first game after serving a two game suspension for underage drinking and he caught two of Morelli’s four scoring throws. Quarless was originally slotted to start, but dropped on the depth chart after the legal run-in. If these two mesh, it could be the key to ending some of the offense’s struggles.

In the Philly Inquirer post game story, offensive coordinator Galen Hall said: “We still have a lot of improvement to do. We're not [ready] in any shape or form."

Next week’s match-up with Michigan in Ann Arbor may be a bit of a wake-up call for the Lions. The Wolverines may not as good as they were supposed to be, but for an untested Penn State team, it’s definitely not a guaranteed W. The Lions should win this game, but if they come out flat the way they did against Buffalo, they’re gonna be in a battle until the end.

One thing is for sure - the defense will have no room for error. I’m not so sure that Penn State is as good as their #10 ranking suggests, but they can help make their case with a strong showing at Michigan.