Penn State Review 2011

 

Penn State Review

As we saw last week against Kent State, sometimes having great expectations can ruin what otherwise should be a good time.  None of us imagined Trent would be held to 38 yards rushing and we certainly didn’t think UA QBs would combine for FOUR interceptions.  So, while the score turned out the way we all expected it to be, the route we took to get there had a few unexpected detours.

The night before we left Philly, we were inundated with traffic information regarding our journey to Happy Valley.  Epic rainfall had produced tremendous biblical-like flooding throughout the Quaker state (Fletch’s favorite anti-freeze when dealing with pesky fetzer valves) and many of the highways and byways to get to Happy Valley were being listed as impassible.  In fact, one article I received questioned whether or not it was really THAT important to travel to the game at all, given the road conditions.  Armed with as much information as we could gather, we then had to make a difficult decision.  Should we risk being washed away by the Susquehanna River and its tributaries or should we stay in Avondale and attend the 25th Annual Kennett Square MushroomFestival taking place nearby?  I know what you are thinking and now, as best I can tell, they weren’t those kinds of mushrooms so that made the choice a very easy one.  ONWARD to Happy Valley!

The football stuff will be along shortly but I just have to brag on my meticulous planning which, combined with my near flawless execution, resulted in getting to Happy Valley in record time.  Mapquest and Google Maps told me that I should expect about a 3 hour and 15 minute ride to State College (honestly – where do they get these “creative” names of Happy Valley and State College) and that’s without equipping my sister-in-law’s Civic with floaties and a rudder in order to pass a few sections of the river.  And, given the fact that we’d experienced airline delays, rainouts for our US Open tickets, a near rainout of our Yankees game and torrential downpours each time we emerged from the subways of NYC, it was a given that our trip to the Valley wouldn’t be Happy in any sense of the word.  The 40% chance of thunderstorms (which only increased into the afternoon) made me at least be thankful that we’d be underneath the overhang during the game (which was the clincher to ditching the ‘shroom festival).

At any rate, we identified a section of the river that was to be avoided at all costs (Duncannon and Paxton), according to the Birmingham News and reports out of Pennsylvania, and we plotted our course.  Well, Garmin had its own agenda and, as you all know, you NEVER argue with Garmin.  So, after a few twists and turns, we landed precisely on the section of road we were trying to avoid.  As Bud Light likes to say, “Here we go.”  As I looked for the easiest place to do a U-turn, we saw a sign that said Hwy 322 was partially open.  Well, that meant we were only partially screwed, right?  So, on we went.  The river had overflowed significantly and it was a sight to see.  However, we were able to pass thru the area that was labeled as impassible with no delays and the trip revealed some of the most beautiful scenery these eyes have seen.  It’s truly beautiful country up there and our misfortune turned into fortune as the rest of the world had obeyed the warnings and avoided this road to State College – SWEET!  Our Tides had turned! 

I’ve spent too long with the foreplay but I know that’s how you boys like it.  Before the Flight of the Conchords strike up “Business Time”, I would be remiss if I didn’t lend a paragraph or two about the tailgating in Happy Valley.  Imagine placing a large stadium (107+K) in Gatlinburg and removing the tourist crap that litters the area and that’s pretty much what you have at Penn State.  Donors purchased little one foot by one foot sections of Nittany Mountain, securing their scenery for all eternity.  The Valley is, as you’d expect, surrounded by mountains that were gorgeous.  The tailgating that took place all around us was completely off the chain.  Girls were dancing on pickups.  Funnels were being turned up and shots were being offered in every single tailgate.  Music was pumping and everyone was more friendly than you can imagine.  Numerous tailgates asked us to come over and have a beer, a shot or bite to eat and all wanted us to have as good of a time as they had in Tuscaloosa.  Picture it as an extended family reunion of alcoholics who adore football and that’s about what you had in Happy Valley.  We’ve had tremendous times in Baton Rouge, Fayetteville, Notre Dame and Pasadena but this trip probably outranked them all.  If you EVER get a chance to visit, it’s must see TV I promise you.  We simply couldn’t have had a better time!  Oh, and then the game started so……………ON TO THE NOTES!

OFFENSE

After turning the ball over 5 times against Kent State (KENT STATE!), I think the lead sentence on the Offense HAS to be about ball security.  On Saturday against PSU our balls were secured better than if they were in a custom molded Kevlar Cup.  Zero turnovers.  ZERO.  This in front of the largest crowd EVER to see an Alabama football game.  I don’t think this can be understated – in all the years that Alabama has played football, it has never played in front of that size of a crowd (and a loud group at that).  At the beginning of the game, my wife remarked that this was the loudest she could remember a stadium being – it was loud, my friends.  But AJ, who’d been named as THE starting QB on Thursday in front of the team, executed a very smart game (more on that later) and the ball carriers protected against fumbles throughout the contest.

It was interesting to me that we only completed two bubble screens, as I figured that would be a key part of our arsenal.  Granted, AJ had a few balls batted down and one of them was going to be a bubble to White, but it was interesting that we really didn’t work that into the flow.  Also, for the second game in a row the Wildcat was not used a single solitary time.  In case you are wondering, this is the breakdown of formations we used against PSU:

  • 1 Back:  28 runs & 3 passes
  • Shotgun w/back:  23 passes & 6 runs (AJ getting flushed and running is counted as a pass)
  • Shotgun empty backfield:  5 passes
  • Pistol:  1 run, 1 pass
  • Inverted Wishbone:  1 run (though they lined up in this frequently, they only ran one play)

As you can see, the Pistol and Wildcat seem to have left the offense about the same time we lost our economic stability.  Will it come back around?  I think the Pistol will as that was one of our most effective formations in the past so I suspect we’ll use it more in the future.  However, I’ve come to think that Blake Sims and the Wildcat may not ever come to pass and I’m really disappointed about that – Sims can play.   If it doesn’t happen against North Texas it may not happen much this season.  But, at any rate, as you can see we were pretty vanilla and we showed little to no creativity.  This was basically the same formula that we used last year against a bad PSU team and this year’s version may be even worse.  I think they could remove the State and just be PU b/c they stink.  I’m sorry but they are all hat and no cattle, regardless of how many people are there or what traditions they have.  PSU is not a good football team so I’m not sure we HAD to show ANYTHING.

McHeady:  While AJ wasn’t flawless by any means (see like 15 batted balls or something like that – ok, maybe five), he had three very real opportunities to screw up.  His best play was when he grabbed the defender who batted a pass and tackled him so that he couldn’t pick it off.  His second best play was a play when he recognized the screen to TR was covered and AJ tucked and ran for three yards.  Later, he also showed enough recognition to throw the ball away.  Three heady plays for a newbie QB.

Ahh, Push It:  In this case, Salt n Pepa are Steen, Fluker & co and they “ahh, pushed it,” pushed it real good.  In going back and watching the tape, I was amazed at the collective push we had at times.  In our first FG drive (2nd qtr), three separate occasions the line got about a three yard push.  Our last two drives, when everyone knew we’d be running it, we were able to shove it down their throats.  It appears our running game takes its toll in the second quarters of the halves.  On TR’s 22 yard run, all three PSU LBs were blocked on the second level out of a 1 back, 3 wide set.  Pretty impressive.

Zipper Up:  My goodness what a zipped throw AJ made to Michael Williams for the first TD.  Rest assured, there will be a Zipper Down segment as this was not the smart throw by any stretch.  He had TR and Maze on one defender (our 2 against their 1) while Williams was bracketed by two defenders.  Amazing throw – I still have no idea how he got it in there.

Dueces Fold:  With Carter and Hanks set to take the field in the near future, it appears DeAndrew White’s role will go back to being somewhat limited.  He was targeted only once and was non-existent throughout the game.  Meanwhile, Norwood elevated his game and showed the toughness to run crossing patterns into traffic.  Norwood has surpassed White, IMO.  North Texas becomes a critical game for #2 as this may be one of his last times to impress since his playing time is sure to diminish.

Vertical Horizon:  Well, well, well, Michael Williams made a liar out of me!  Maybe he can get vertical!  How about the big man going up and reeling one in down the sidelines?  After dropping a pass & causing an interception last week, big Mike came back with a vengeance.  Outstanding game blocking & catching by #89!

Tight Beginnings?:  Lamonde Russell is just about the last relevant TE we’ve had at the capstone and the last time the TE was seen as anything but a third tackle.  For the first time in a long time, the TE position was used as a weapon.  Williams, Smelley and Underwood combined for 8 targets in the passing game and one carry.  Speaking of…

The Good, The Bad, and the Smelley:  To the good, Brad got the first down.  To the bad, we understand why he’s not a ball carrier.  Had Smelley gone to the left, he’d still be running.  Instead, he chose to charge the middle and nearly got his coach PISSED!  So, that covers the good and bad.  It was not Smelley’s best game as a blocker.  At the 8:04 mark of the second quarter, TR loses five yards on a carry.  If you watch, Smelley completely ignores and brushes by the DT who flattened Trent.  Strike one.  Then, as he continued downfield, Smelley whiffed on his next block completely (strike two), falling over one of his own OL.  Strike three!

Save a Horse:  TR posted his first real effort as a lead back.  His first carry of the game was the most impressive 3 yard gain you’ll see as he was squarely hit three yards in the backfield.  He still is not seeing some opportunities in the running game but 26 carries for 111 & 2 TDs will get ‘er done.  I would like to have seen a bit more of Lacy (and the BEAST!) in order to save the big horse that we’ll be riding this season.

Third Down a Charm:  After an abysmal third down effort against Kent State (KENT STATE!) last week, AJ rebounded by going 9 for 13 on third downs.  Remarkable improvement.

Little in the Middle but We’ve Got Much Back:  Blame my parents for sending me to basketball camps where rap was king (and thank you Sir Mix-a-Lot for Baby’s Got Back).  Anyway, this is the best way to describe our running game.  By my count there were two outside running plays and one reverse and those three times are the only times we threatened the flanks.  EVERYTHING else was up the middle.  196 yards equals some good production but wow – threaten the flanks why don’t ya!  (Note: To his credit, Lacy did bounce a couple of runs outside but they were supposed to be up the gut runs.)

WTF?:  Sorry, nothing clever in the title for this.  Alabama’s identity is power football.  McElwain said as much when he came here.  So why on earth would you be passing on 3rd and goal from the 1 when your line has been getting a nice push?  If Warmack doesn’t miss the block on 2nd down, TR walks in.  RUN THE BALL!

DEFENSE

We are who they thought they were…and that is one bad, bad mammer jammer defense.  Someone remarked that we have 8 players in the top 100 defensive players in the nation so basically we are an NFL defense that plays on Saturdays.  For the second week in a row there were virtually NO yards after a catch.  The few times the ball was caught, a defender was right there to bring down the receiver.  There are so few open windows to throw the ball.  In fact, we combined for an incredible 17 (SEVENTEEN!) passes broken up.  On five straight plays in the third quarter we nearly picked off a pass (twice Lester was credited with a pick).  There were 8 or 9 occasions where Alabama woulda shoulda coulda had a pick – that is simply amazing.  And, while there were no sacks credited to the D, the tape revealed that we flushed the QB from the pocket numerous times.  Also, I picked up on a little defensive adjustment after the first drive that changed things drastically.   Read on for more goodies!

Down Under the Radar:  A buddy of mine asked me if Jesse Williams (“that Australian dude”) played against PSU as he never saw him.  I said “exactly” without watching the tape.  Holy crappers, people, Jesse the Body was everywhere Saturday.  He actually was in the backfield a lot on their first drive and continued to be a force throughout the day.  He even batted down 2 passes!  His penetration was really impressive and I’d suggest going back and watching him if you are down on him!

Dre, Oh!  Dreeee, Oh!:  Daylight come and me don’t wanna throw to his home.  Dre Kirkpatrick has finally realized all of the five star potential that he’s carried with him.  His coverage was outstanding but he actually forced two fumbles in run support.  RUN SUPPORT!  You heard me right!  Dre is becoming a complete player and an elite corner and it’s been amazing to watch his transformation from putting an M and an E in ME to putting and M and an E in TEAM.

Red Barron:  Just about every big time hit had #4 involved.  He’s big time.  You are watching the best corner and the best safety in the country as far as them being complete players.  Coverage?  Check.  Run support?  Check.  And this Red Barron brings the hammer, folks.   7 tackles, a pick and a fumble recovery – nice day’s work.

I’m a Man, Yes I Am:  I giggled while watching Donte Hightower during this game.   When he’s assigned to fill a gap, he does so in a very violent way.  Numerous times he came on a blitz and just waylaid the poor OL in his path.  I’d say he’s healthy once again.  He even was running sideline to sideline.  He shifted from DE to LB throughout the game without ever looking tired as he did all of last season.

Simply Interchangeable:  So, on the first PSU drive, the majority of their yards came on third down while facing a 4-1 front.  Donte and Upshaw were on the edges with Mosley as the lone LB.  Barron walked down to form a 4-2 look but he was in pass coverage each time.  PSU gained 31 yards against this look and, after this drive, I noticed that we changed to a 3-2 look primarily on third downs (with the exception of the entire last PSU drive).  Donte moved from DE to LB and stood next to Mosley to form the 3-2 look.  They would then blitz from their positions up the middle (sometimes shifting late to work the edge) and this shut down the ability to run against this front.  On the last PSU drive, Bama played almost an exclusive 4-1 alignment with Watkins and Hubbard as the outside rushers and PSU gained 30 rushing yards against it.  I didn’t like this look against Kent State (KENT STATE!) and PSU worked it over in the running game.

Special Teams:

I’ll just give you some quick bullet points on special teams.  All in all good day and good progress this year with the lone exception (as usual) being the punting game.

  • Shelley remains perfect on the year in FGs.  Mr Consistency!
  • Nice play design on the fake FG, even if Smelley didn’t follow his blockers.
  • Opponents are averaging 16.9 yards per KO return which is 10 fewer than last year.
  • 37.2 yards per punt ain’t gonna cut it.  I know it’s Mandell and not Mandrell but please, sister, punt the ball!  We are 75th out of 120 D1 teams in net punting. Sigh.

Mama Said Knock You Out!:  Many of you chided me last week for not acknowledging Vinny “The Hit Man” Sunseri and rightly so.  Since Vinnie is primarily a special teamer, I tend to cut down on the amount of words by eliminating some special teams moments.  I told you guys last year that Sunseri and DePriest were the two most impressive performers at the Under Armour All American game and they’ve done nothing but prove that they belong since they got to campus.  DePriest is going to be great and Sunseri will be as well.  Last week, our cousin Vinnie put the FLASH in the Golden Flashes with multiple big hits and this week he channeled his inner Waterboy to completely jack an unsuspecting PSU defender.  Sunseri must be Italian for sunset because he turned the lights out on some dude.  Have you ever seen someone propel themselves in the air like he did?  WOW!  Now that’s what I call some high quality H2O!

Extra Points:

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades:  Sunseri, DePriest, and Clinton-Dix are absolutely de-crap-itating people every Saturday.  And, did you notice the Kouandjio bookends when the second string line came in?  Cyrus planted a little Nittany on his first snap – that little Nittany was all Big 10 player Devon Still.  These guys keep showing up and impressing each week.

You Ain’t Gotta Go Home, But…:  I’m just going to shoot straight with you.  I’ve verified that the rumors about Sims threatening to transfer last year are true.  Some said that when P Sims left the field on Saturday, he was beyond pissed.  I’m sure he feels that he should be the starter and nothing is going to change that feeling.  And, being ranked as the #1 pro style QB coming out of high school, he obviously has some talent and should be able to find some team out there that needs his talents.  Do not be surprised if Sims leaves the program at the end of this season unless something changes drastically in his playing time.

Jumbo Package:  Everyone see the new TE Brandon Lewis?  They moved this 285 lb big un to FB and he’s a big piece of the goal line package.  And what a big, big package it is.  And, when he comes in, they run right behind Fluker and Steen – this is our go to side of the OL.

Next up is North Texas.  If you haven’t seen a freshman player play after this game, he’s redshirting.  That may include Duron Carter but I kind of doubt it.  I think if he gets cleared, Carter will play as several players have mentioned a wow factor with DC.  Great size and hands – he could be the kind of chip you play even if it’s only for half the season.  When you know you are THIS close to competing for a Championship, you’ll play a kid like DC, no matter how many games are left.

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