Friday, September 07, 2007

Nittany Notes | by Jay

A solid PSU preview from the Philly Inquirer:

For the first time in recent memory, and maybe ever, the 14th-ranked Lions have designated three wide receivers as starters, but no fullback.

The revised alignment upgrades junior wideout Jordan Norwood, who grabbed a game-high five passes for 92 yards in last week's 59-0 spanking of Florida International, to first-team status. Former starting fullback Matt Hahn, meanwhile, drops to No. 4 at running back, behind Austin Scott, Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster...

"We have so many wide receivers back, and myself," said senior quarterback Anthony Morelli, who, perhaps not coincidentally, registered career highs in pass attempts (38), completions (23) and passing yardage (295) against FIU, in addition to throwing for three touchdowns. "We feel comfortable with our passing game."

Also perhaps not coincidentally, Penn State is without Tony Hunt, the workhorse tailback who has taken his 277 rushing attempts and 1,386 rushing yards to the NFL's Eagles, leaving the ground attack in the hands of the top five backs on the depth chart - including two fullbacks - who combined for all of 50 carries last season.

Not that Morelli is so bold as to pronounce the dawning of a new era of Air Joe.

"We'll do whatever we have to in order to win football games, whether that's to run to open up the pass or vice versa," Morelli said. "Whatever the defense gives us, however we can move the ball, that'll be what we do throughout the year."

...But, as is the case in play selection dictated by down-and-distance, Penn State's expected tilt toward the pass probably owes more to personnel than to philosophy.

Smurfish starting wide receivers Norwood (5-10, 172), Deon Butler (5-10, 168) and Derrick Williams (6-foot, 189) all caught 40 or more passes a year ago, the first time that has happened in the same season at Penn State.

If the Lions want to go bigger, there's 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Chris Bell - Norwood calls him the most talented wideout on the roster - and 6-3, 212-pound Terrell Golden, as well as 6-6, 241-pound converted quarterback Brett Brackett, who could prove useful on jump-ball plays in the end zone.

And the tight-end position also factors in, especially when 6-5, 252-pound sophomore Andrew Quarless' suspension for underage drinking ends (Paterno has yet to decide how long that will be). With Quarless out, another large target, 6-4, 250-pound Mickey Shuler, filled in and caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown against FIU.

"Maybe that is where this program is going offensively," Norwood said of the greater emphasis on the pass. "If so, that wouldn't bother me at all.

"I do think it's being emphasized a little more. And I think it should be. I don't think Penn State has had this much talent at wide receiver in a long time. We legitimately go six, seven receivers deep with no dropoff."
Even though the Lions lit up Florida International for 59 points last week, let's be clear: FIU stinks on ice. Mark tells me that last year the Golden Panthers were 119th in scoring offense (9.58 ppg) -- dead last in Division 1 -- and 87th in scoring defense (26.08 ppg). (As somebody on the boards said the other day...when told that Penn State had played "Florida International," his wife's reply was, "they played an airport?")

A little bit on the PSU running game, and some adjustments they made to get on track against FIU:
There was no getting around it: Penn State's running game was not that impressive early in Saturday's game.

"It was terrible," Joe Paterno said. "But overall I thought we finally settled down and picked out a couple of things we could handle with their blitzes, and we were able to run the ball."

The Nittany Lions rushed for 35 yards in the first half against Florida International's defensive front that players said was stunting and blitzing on almost every play.

In response, Penn State passed the ball almost twice as many times as it ran in the first two quarters. While Anthony Morelli broke a school record for passing yards in a half, starting running back Austin Scott averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per rush during the same time.

It took until halftime for Penn State's revamped offensive line to understand what was going wrong...

"We sat down, talked about it, and we came out and ran the ball a lot better," left guard Rich Ohrnberger said.

Ohrnberger is among four players starting at new positions along theoffensive line, the others being left tackle Gerald Cadogan, right guard John Shaw and right tackle Dennis Landolt.

Redshirt freshman Lou Eliades was listed as the left guard starter on a depth chart released by Penn State in the middle of last week, but didn't see the field until the third quarter of the game on Saturday.

The youth, coupled with FIU's constant movement was an anticipated concern.

"I expected them to have problems," Paterno said of the offensive line.

"Once we got some things put together, and we had some kind of pattern to their stunts, we could pick out a couple of plays that could handle most of it and I thought they did a good job."
Austin Scott finally found the end zone with two minutes to go in the half, and then Penn State punched it in four more times.

Pete Thamel of the NYT had a fun profile of Coach Terno yesterday, which included this gem:
Joe Paterno has seemingly not changed. He lives in the same cozy ranch-style house and, until recently, walked through campus to work. He turns in most nights around 10:30 while watching game film, pencil in hand. He does not have a cellphone, has never sent an e-mail message. He laughed when the N.C.A.A. banned text messaging between coaches and recruits this summer.

“I get a big kick out of all the fuss,” Paterno said. “I thought it was tech messaging — T-E-C-H.”

I was out drinking with my friend Bob last night and the conversation turned to sports movies. Went something like this.
Jay: "Tin Cup, Eight Men Out. Rocky (the first one). You gotta love the ones that are about more than just the underdog winning the big game. Slap Shot--"

Bob: "Something For Joey."

Jay: "Something For Joey?"

Bob: "TV movie, the kid from Penn State who won the Heisman, and his little brother Joey who had leukemia? You've never seen that? Oh, that's one of the best TV sports movies of all time. Right up there with The Rocky Bleier Story. Cappelletti, I think his name was."
Sure enough, Something For Joey is something of a sports movie classic. Penn State running back John "Cappy" Cappelletti was one of the best football players of his day. (You can watch some clips of him here.) Cappy won the Heisman in 1973, and at the acceptance ceremony he dedicated the trophy to his little brother Joey, who was stricken with leukemia. You can read his entire speech here. Those in attendance deemed it the most moving acceptance speech ever given at these ceremonies.

As John went on to fame and fortune in the NFL, Joey battled cancer for another three years. He finally passed away, with John by his side, in 1976.

In the movie (based on a book by Richard Peck) John Cappelletti was played by Marc Singer. JoePa makes an appearance, played by vet TV actor Paul Percini, and Geraldine Page plays mother Ann. And last, but not least, it was Steve Guttenberg's first ever screen credit, in the role of younger brother Mike Cappelletti.

Apparently Something For Joey still pops up on ESPN Classics from time to time. Keep your Kleenex handy.

Quote of the week (paraphrasing):
Q: Do you think Penn State will blitz as much as Georgia Tech?

Charlie Weis: Well, I would.