We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Penn State sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, baseball or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Friday, Sept. 23. Let’s get started.
Cloudy forecast for Nittany Lions
The Lions’ problems begin with their unsettled front seven on defense, which will definitely miss linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, who is out for the season with a knee injury sustained last week against Temple. They could also be without three others.
Linebacker Jason Cabinda has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury – he has been seen with a cast on his left hand – and Brandon Bell sat out the Temple game. He was on crutches. Defensive end Evan Schwan also has an undisclosed injury.
No surprise, then, that ESPN.com’s Josh Moyer writes the following:
It doesn’t even seem to matter where opponents run. Against Kent State, Penn State failed to set the edge and allowed 7.8 yards per carry on outside runs. Against Pitt, gap integrity was the issue as the Panthers averaged 7.3 yards per inside rush. Michigan has one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. Even if Penn State stacks the box, it still might not be able to stop the Wolverines.
On the other hand, there is this from Mark Snyder of the Free Press:
Michigan’s running game still is not where the coaches want it, with only one breakout run in the past two weeks. Much of that last week was on the offensive line getting no push, but the backs aren’t too quick getting up there when there’s a chance.
He points out that Penn State is just 92nd among 128 FBS teams against the run, though that stat is skewed somewhat by Pitt’s 341-yard rushing effort in Week Two. But Snyder writes that the Wolverines want to be a running team, and this is probably the week they’ll try to do it, especially with quarterback Wilton Speight nursing an elbow injury.
ESPN.com’s Dan Murphy writes that PSU quarterback Trace McSorley, the Big Ten leader in passing yardage (828) might be able to exploit the Michigan secondary:
The middle of Michigan’s defense showed a couple soft spots in the passing game last week. Deep post routes and slants were largely responsible for the three touchdowns the Wolverines gave up on defense against Colorado.
Still, there is Michigan’s blitz-happy defense. And that huge advantage Michigan has in experience over the youthful Lions. And the fact that the game is in the Big House. Everybody expects the Wolverines to win. Moyer predicts a 41-24 result, while Murphy has it 30-14. Snyder believes the final will be 42-14.
More love for Saquon Barkley
Moyer also writes about Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and his perfectionist bent. Not only did he fixate on his lost fumble against Pitt, Moyer writes, but Barkley can recite the last four times he has lost control of the football along with the reasons.
There was the elbow issue against Pitt, two fumbles last season against Maryland – one at the point of contact (“Got to tuck it a little higher”) and one on a cornerback blitz (“Got to feel him out a little more”) – and then another in his final high school game, when his Whitehall (Pa.) Zephyrs fell to the Freedom Patriots.
That’s right – he’s still beating himself up over a lost fumble in a high school game. That’s in keeping with the approach he takes to everything. Moyer notes that Barkley worked on his power clean until it was on par with that of defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, who now plays for the Detroit Lions. And he writes that Barkley was so determined to become a better blocker in high school that he mastered all of Whitehall’s schemes, much to the surprise of his coach, Brian Gilbert:
“That’s what makes him so good, and continues to make him so good. Saquon finds his own deficiencies, and he will not stop until he fixes every single one. That’s just the way he is.”
He hasn’t changed, endlessly quizzing Penn State’s offensive coaches about his responsibilities on any given play.
“We all ask a lot of questions,” Barkley said with a laugh. “I just probably ask the most. That’s how I’ve been ever since I was a little kid. … Sometimes, I just want to reassure myself. Even if I’m 95 percent sure, I want to double-check.”
Erin McCarthy of Philly.com writes that redshirt freshman safety Ayron Monroe has been playing the role of Jabrill Peppers, Michigan’s do-everything safety/linebacker, on the Penn State scout team this week.
As safeties coach Tim Banks said of the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Monroe:
“He has tremendous balance. Very, very, very explosive. He kind of fits that (Peppers) mold.”
Tight end Mike Gesicki was also complimentary, saying Monroe “knows how he has to go out there and play to give us a great look,” something that is, in this case, “challenging.”
Very much so. Peppers leads the Wolverines with 28 tackles, and leads all of FBS schools with 9.5 tackles for loss. He also piled up 204 all-purpose yards and returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown in last week’s 45-28 victory over Colorado.
Coach James Franklin offered a reality check:
“If (Monroe) were as good as Jabrill Peppers right now, he probably wouldn’t be on the scout team.”
The last time the Lions beat a top-four team? How about 1999, when they opened the season with a 41-7 victory over Arizona. Since then, Roar Lions Roar notes, PSU is 0-10 against such teams.
Even that victory over the Wildcats is suspect. It came in both teams’ season opener, labelled the Pigskin Classic. That Arizona team finished 6-6.
As for those Lions, they won their first nine games but dropped their last three in the regular season, to Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State. All three losses were by a touchdown or less.
They rebounded to shut out Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl, the final game for defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who retired after the season concluded.