Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tyler Davis joins Penn State as a preferred walk on.

Tonight Penn State picked up what could prove to be a pretty significant preferred walk on in the form of Illinois native and kicker Tyler Davis. As you all know, Sam Ficken is a senior and the Nittany Lions will have to replace him next year. Having Davis as an option makes this easier.

Right now Lower Dauphin native Joey Julius looks to be the leader to replace Ficken. However, with the addition of Davis this could change. Davis has an extremely strong leg, and is very accurate as well. Davis has also been selected to play in the US Army High School All-American Game. Chrissailerkicking.com ranks Davis as a 5 star kicking prospect.

Davis took home the hardware in 2014. He was the Illinois Summer Camp Overall Kicking Champion, the Illinois Summer Camp Field Goal Kicking Champion, and the Illinois Summer Camp Kickoff Champion. This shows that Davis is both a strong kick off man and field goal kicker. This is a skill that not all kickers possess.

Special teams is an aspect of football that is often times overlooked. However, as Penn State fans have seen in recent years, it can win and lose you a lot of football games. The Virginia loss in 2012, Nebraska loss last year, and Maryland loss this year are all examples. Bringing in Davis is a quiet, under the radar move but one that can really pay dividends for Penn State moving forward.

Monday, December 15, 2014

$12 million rennovations coming to Lasch Building.

Ever since arriving on campus James Franklin has wanted there to be renovations made to the Lasch Football Building, and he is now getting his wish. We found out today that a $12 million renovation is coming to the Lasch Building. The existing locker rooms will be expanded, there will be an expansion to the equipment rooms which will include new equipment, and the parking lot will be reconfigured. Construction is projected to begin in December of 2015 and end in June of 2016.

Now, this may not seem like a huge deal. However, it can be. Top notch facilities, which Penn State will really have after these renovations, are a big time appeal and draw to recruits. These facilities can be key in recruiting battles in the coming years.

There will also be renovations to the head coaches offices, coaches film room, and a nutrition bar for players and coaches. According to statecollege.com players lockers are expected to include multifunctional lockers, digital nameplates, a helmet display within the locker, a video wall, and an "experience room." The "experience room" will be a completely immersive digital experience that will allow recruits to find themselves experiencing a first person view of gameday.

As I said above, these upgrades should help with recruiting. It could also help draw assistant coaches to the program when other assistants are let go/leave for a different opportunity. These are changes Bill O'Brien wanted, James Franklin has wanted them since he got here, and now they are coming to Penn State.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What Penn State's 2015 offensive line could look like.

With one game, the Pinstripe Bowl, remaining in the 2014 Penn State Football season taking a peek to 2015 is not a crazy thing to do. All season long the Nittany Lions have struggled on offense. The biggest reason for these struggles has been a young, inexperienced offensive line. The offensive line is one area that the sanctions has really crippled and it has shown this season.

Through the regular season finale, Penn State is averaging 103.6 rushing yards per game. This ranks 103rd nationally. Christian Hackenberg has been sacked 43 times. This was not only the most in the Big Ten in 2014, but also the most for a single season in Big Ten history. Hackenberg was hit, pressured, and knocked down countless other times helping to derail the passing game. These are trends that can not continue next season. 

Next season Penn State's offensive line will be better. The players will be more experienced, as well as more talented. Right now there are offensive linemen being redshirted that can help next season. There are also players that should be able to move to positions on the line that they are better suited for and are more of a natural position for them. Finally, there is the commitment of JUCO offensive tackle Paris Palmer from Friday night.
Andrew Nelson (59).

The two guys who are starters this season that should be shoe-ins to start next year are Donovan Smith and Andrew Nelson. This season was Smith's third straight season as the starting left tackle, and over the past three seasons has been a consist player that at times has shown flashes of brilliance. The other is redshirt freshman Andrew Nelson. This season Nelson started at right tackle, and was named to both the All-Big Ten Freshman team as well as being named a Freshman All-American. Of all the young guys that played on the offensive line this season Nelson was the most consistent and showed the most promise. The question is not rather or not Smith and Nelson will start on the offensive line next season, but rather where on the offensive line will Smith and Nelson start.

Next year there are a few scenarios that could play out that would give the Nittany Lions a much better offensive line than this season. The first one sees JUCO transfer Paris Palmer start at right tackle, while Donovan Smith remains at left tackle for a fourth straight season. In this scenario Andrew Nelson slides from right tackle inside to right guard, a position Nelson might be better suited for than right tackle due to his size (6'5, 300) and athleticism. This would leave left guard and center as question marks. At center I would like to see Wendy Laurent start, as I feel he has been better and looked more comfortable at center this year than Angelo Mangiro. Then, Mangiro, Brenden Mahon, and incoming freshman Steven Gonzalez battle it out for the left guard position. Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, and Chance Sorrell who are all currently being redshirted as tackles could be moved to guard and also be thrown into the mix at left guard.
Paris Palmer.

Another scenario, and the one I endorse, is this. Palmer becomes the starting left tackle, due to him being more athletic than Donovan Smith. Smith moves from left tackle to left guard, giving the Nittany Lions a very strong left side of the offensive line. Once again, Laurent is at center. Nelson could remain at right tackle, with the battle being at right guard. However, I would still move Nelson inside to right guard. I would then have Sorrell, Beh, Brosnan, and Chasz Wright battle for the right tackle position. This also allows Penn State to redshirt the other three incoming offensive linemen in this class (Gonzalez, Sterling Jenkins, and Ryan Bates) which is the best case scenario in my opinion. This is an offensive line that should be much, much better than this years. With how good the defense should be next fall, along with the amount of offensive talent there is at the skilled positions Penn State should only need a mediocre offensive line next season to potentially see a 2 to 3 win improvement over this year's 6-6 record.

There were always going to be growing pains this year with such a young team. Due to the sanctions year three was always going to be the hardest. Proof of this is the fact the Nittany Lions had 41 scholarship players at their disposal in the season finale against Michigan State. However, things will get better and soon. Next year Penn State should have around 60 scholarship players dressing each week which is a massive improvement over the 40-45 they dressed per game this season. Most importantly though, the offensive line will be much better in 2015. A better offensive line means more running lanes for Akeel Lynch, better pass protection for Christian Hackenberg, and therefor should help lead to Hack being more like his 2013 self.

Landing Paris Palmer Friday night was huge, no player in the 2015 class as a better chance of making a major impact right away than Palmer does. He should be a big reason why the 2015 offensive line will improve greatly over the 2014 line. An improved offensive line leads to an improved team, and an improved team leads to more wins and a happy fanbase. More wins are on the way, starting in 2015.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What Paul Chryst leaving Pitt could mean for Penn State.

As I am sure you all know by now, it is being widely reported that Paul Chryst is on his way out at Pitt. Chryst will head to his alma mater to become the new head football coach at Wisconsin. If you include interim head coaches, Pitt will be on their 6th head coach since 2010 next fall. That kind of turnover and instability sucks for any program. Oh well, sucks to suck Pitt. Anyway, this could mean a few things for Penn State.

A few months ago defensive back Jordan Whitehead surprised a lot of people by committing to Pitt when he seemed to be a heavy Penn State lean. Now that there will be yet another coaching change at Pitt,  Whitehead may reopen his recruiting. If he does, my guess would be he would end up at WVU. In part due to Penn State having since added Garrett Taylor, who in my opinion is a slightly better prospect than Whitehead. Whitehead is neck and neck with Penn State commit Sterling Jenkins for being the best prospect in the state of PA in this 2015 class, if he reopens his commitment I can guarantee you the coaching staff will give him a call. If they haven't already.
Nick Bowers

Kittanning tight end Nick Bowers is currently committed to Pitt. However, he has been mulling a flip to Penn State for sometime now. This may only fuel his possible desire to flip. Bowers has visited Penn State twice since committing to Pitt, and recently got a visit from the coaching staff. A Bowers flip would not have surprised me as was, now it really won't.

Furthermore, defensive end Shareef Miller. Of the top 10 players in PA in the class of 2015, 7 of which are currently committed to PSU #DominateTheState, Miller is the only remaining un-committed player. Miller will announce his decision February 1st. This past weekend, Miller took an official visit to Pitt. His last official visit will be at Penn State the weekend of January 23rd. Miller is already seen as a heavy, heavy Penn State lean with Pitt being his number two school. With a coaching change coming at Pitt, Miller should really be a Penn State shoe in now.

Finally, the future. The class of 2016 prospects have been in contact with this current Pitt staff. That's the Pitt staff they have made a relationship with. A new Pitt staff means they need to make new connections, meet new coaches, etc. Meanwhile, they will be in contact with the same Penn State coaches as they have been all along.

On The Field
One thing Chryst has proven, to me anyway, is that he is a great offensive coordinator but not a great head coach. Yes, Pitt is not the easiest program to win big at. But he still should be better than 19-19 right now, and shouldn't be losing to teams like Akron and Youngstown State. 

Now Chryst takes his head coaching skills to Big Ten foe Wisconsin. It has been widely reported that Wisconsin is not willing to pay going rate for assistant coaches. This makes it a challenge to get and keep good assistants around. It also, reportedly, played a role in both Brett Bilema and Gary Anderson leaving.

Obviously, this affects Penn State. Even though the Nittany Lions and Badgers are in separate Big Ten Divisons PSU is slated to play the Badgers in 2018 and 2019. Also, Wisconsin is looked at as a yearly contender in the Big Ten West so Penn State could see them in some Big Ten Championship Games down the line.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014 Penn State Football Defensive Player of the Year/Team MVP: Mike Hull.

Is there really any other question as to who the MVP of the 2014 Nittany Lions is? Senior linebacker Mike Hull was a man amongst boys on the field this season and carried on the tradition of Linebacker U. Hull was a senior captain and the leader of one of the country's ten best defenses. His heart, leadership, and play on the field has led to him being named the FTG 2014 Penn State Defensive Player of the Year and team MVP.

Penn State had the Big Ten's best defense this season and one of the ten best defenses in all of college football. Without Mike Hull, I do not think this would have been possible. Not only was Hull the leader of the defense, he was also a senior captain and team leader.
This season Hull leads the Big Ten, and is seventh nationally, with 134 tackles. He also has recorded 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks, and has an interception. Hull's stellar play led to him winning the Butkus-Fitzgerald Award as the Big Ten's top linebacker. Hull was also a first team All-Big Ten performer this fall, and he will garner a lot of All-American consideration.

When he came out of high school in 2010 Mike Hull was one of the top linebacker recruits in the country. When the sanctions hit, he nearly transferred. Thankfully, he did not. Hull burst onto the scene in a back up role in 2012, then last year struggled in his first season as a starter while dealing with a knee injury all season. This year he was a starter, he was healthy, and he became one of the best linebackers in college football as well as the best Penn State linebacker since Sean Lee.

This year Mike Hull has been all over the field on defense. In the offseason he made the move from outside linebacker to inside linebacker and it is a transition he made with ease. Hull was constantly in on tackle, was light years better in pass coverage than last season, and was one of the senior leaders on the team.

Hull's best performance of the season came against the Buckeyes on the national stage. In front of a raucous Whiteout crowd Hull had the game of his life. He racked up 19 tackles, intercepted a JT Barrett pass, and was making plays on defense all night long. Hull recorded at least 10 tackles in eight games this season, and had 9 tackles in two others.

This season saw Mike Hull become one of the country's best linebackers. His draft stock skyrocketed this season. Furthermore, Hull had one of the finest seasons I have ever seen a Penn State linebacker have. He embodied what Linebacker U is all about this season. Hull will be dearly missed next season on and off the field. Luckily, he gets to play one last game in a Nittany Lion uniform.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2014 Penn State Football Breakout Player of the Year: Anthony Zettel.

Entering the season Penn State had a question mark at defensive tackle. The question was who would replace All-Big Ten performer Da'Quan Jones. Redshirt junior Anthony Zettel was tabbed as that player, and he did not disappoint.

Just like Jones a year ago, Zettel wound up being a first team All-Big Ten performer this season.  Last week I wrote an article making a case for Zettel as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Even though Joey Bosa of Ohio State won the award, Zettel was certainly worth consideration. I also expect Zettel to get some serious All-American consideration this season.

The 6'4, 275 pound redshirt junior moved to defensive tackle after begin a reserve defensive end the past two seasons. Last season Zettel showed his potential as a disruptive player when he finished second on the team with 4 sacks, and also recorded 6 TFL in a back up role. As a redshirt freshman in 2012 Zettel showed great burst and explosiveness on his way to recording 4 sacks and 2 pass break ups in a limited role. Remember though, those stats came while playing defensive end a position where it is much easier to rack up sacks and TFL than it is at defensive tackle.

This season Penn State had the Big Ten's best defense, the nation's best rush defense, and a top 10 overall defense in all of college football. This defense was led by a dominate defensive line, and the straw that stirred the drink on that defensive line was Anthony Zettel. For the season Zettel recorded 36 tackles, 15 TFL, 8 sacks, 5 pass break ups, and 3 interceptions one of which he returned for a touchdown.

The numbers alone do not tell the whole story on Zettel. There were countless times this year he pressured the quarterback causing poor throws, or leading to the QB getting sacked by another player. He demanded double teams that made it easier for the linebackers to make plays as the offense had on less blocker to work with. He was unblockable in almost every single game, an was constantly blowing up run plays even he was not the one who made the tackle. Zettel truly burst onto the scene this season in both his first season as a starter and his first season as a defensive tackle as one of the Big Ten's best defensive tackles.

As a redshirt junior, Zettel is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. However, I believe he will return. If Zettel returns he will cement himself as a first round draft pick, much like Jared Odrick did by returning for his senior season in 2009. Next season Zettel should be even better. Since this was his first season at defensive tackle, he should only continue to improve with more time at the position. Penn State's defense should be among the nation's best again in 2015, and Anthony Zettel will be a big reason why. I've seen few players that have were as dominate in their first year as a starter, let alone first year at a new position, as Anthony Zettel was in 2014. That is why I am naming him the FTG 2014 Breakout Player of the Year.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tyler Murphy vs Bob Shoop, the rematch.

Saturday November 9th, 2013, the Florida Gators are hosting the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Gators are 10 points favorites against a Vanderbilt team that as not won in The Swamp since 1945. Despite this, Coach James Franklin and his Commodores were thinking upset.The man under center for Florida on this day? Now Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy.

James Franklin and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, came prepared with a great gameplan and upset the Gators. Vanderbilt would dominate Florida by a score of 34-17, and Tyler Murphy played arguably the worst game of his collegiate career. On December 27th Tyler Murphy will tangle with Bob Shoop's defense once more. Except this time, Shoop will be working with a more talented group.

In this game Murphy committed four turnovers. He threw three interceptions, and lost a fumble. Murphy also had -44 yards rushing between sacks and the Vanderbilt defense containing him. Murphy is a great athlete and a solid dual threat quarterback. One of the keys to beating Boston College is containing Murphy. Boston College is 5-1 when Murphy has at least 90 yards rushing, but just 2-4 when he fails to reach 90 yards rushing. Last year at Vanderbilt Bob Shoop and James Franklin proved they can completely bottle up Murphy, and they did it with a less talented defense than they have at Penn State this season.

After his performance in this game, Murphy lost his starting job. The Gators would lose their final three games of the season and Murphy graduated at the end of the season. Murphy decided to use his final year of eligibility to play at Boston College under the coach that recruited him at Florida. Steve Addazio was the offensive coordinator at Florida Murphy's freshman year, and was his head recruiter. This also gave the Connecticut native the opportunity to play much closer to home.

This is a matchup to watch on the 27th, Bob Shoop's defense vs Tyler Murphy. The fact that last year Murphy had arguably the worst game of his collegiate career against Bob Shoop makes me even more confident that the Nittany Lions can contain Murphy in the bowl game. This is not the same offense as Florida ran last year, and Murphy is a better player now than last year, but a similar gameplan to last year should be expected from Shoop. Last year Vanderbilt was able to get in Murphy's face and pressure him, I look for Penn State to try and do the samething to stop him in the Pinstripe Bowl. Bob Shoop is one of the nation's top defensive coordinators and I expect that will be shown in the bowl game once again. This Nittany Lions' defense ranks either first or second in the nation in rush defense, total defense, and opposing passer efficiency. So I must say that I like their chances of containing Murphy.