Friday, October 31, 2014

Matthew Burrell set to commit.

Yesterday we found out that one of the nation's top offensive linemen in the 2015 recruiting class, Matthew Burrell, is ready to make his college decision. It was reported by 247 Sports that Burrell nearly committed on Thursday when receiving his US Army All-American jersey. This was a surprise to many, as it appeared Burrell would announce late in the recruiting process. Burrell is expected to announce his decision sometime next week, but according to some people close to the situation it could come as soon as today.

Earlier this week Burrell announced a top three, in no order, of Ohio State, Penn State, and Tennessee. This came just a few days after spending the weekend in Happy Valley and attending the Whiteout on Saturday against Ohio State. For a long time Ohio State has appeared to be the leader to land Burrell, but Penn State appears to be gaining ground and fast. Remember, Steven Gonzalez and Mike Gesicki both appeared to be Ohio State locks before committing to Penn State.

The timing of this is also interesting. As I said above, it seemed Burrell would announce late in the process but just a few days after attending the Whiteout game this news broke. It could be that he was extremely blown away during his visit, which according to every report he was, and has decided Penn State is the place for him. It is also possible that after the visit he now knows that he prefers Ohio State over Penn State.

L-R: Jenkins, Stevens, Franklin, and Burrell.
There are a few factors helping Penn State's cause here. One, Burrell's high school quarterback, Donovan Williams (class of 2016), has made it very clear that Penn State is the school he wants to play for in college. He is just waiting on an offer. Secondly, Burrell is very close with Penn State commits Sterling Jenkins and Adam McLean. This past weekend those two, especially Jenkins, were the guys leading Burrell around on his visit. They were in his ear all weekend after Coach Franklin made it clear to the current commits that Burrell is their top target. Finally, Burrell's picture on Twitter is a picture of himself, Jenkins, Franklin, and PSU target Tommy Stevens during Saturday's pregame. This may sound silly, but in today's age of social media small things like this can not be overlooked.

I still expect Burrell to commit to Ohio State. However, after this past weekend along with the timing of his decision to commit I feel much more confident he could go to Penn State. Prior to the past week I would have put it at a 90% chance of him committing to the Buckeyes and only 10% for the Nittany Lions. After this past week though I would change that to 60-40, maybe even 55-45. There are also people who are a lot closer to the situation than I am and know a lot more than I do that expect him to commit to Penn State. Keep an eye on this in the coming days, because the Nittany Lions might be about to land a massive commitment. If the Nittany Lions do land Burrell, they could be shaping up to have the best offensive line in the country in the near future with Jenkins, Gonzalez, Burrell, and Ryan Bates. Now that would be a pleasant change from the present day situation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Previewing Penn State vs Maryland

What: Penn State Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-3) vs Maryland Terrapins (5-3, 2-2).
When: Saturday November 1st, 2014, Noon on ESPN2.
Where: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania.

Saturday night Penn State lost a heartbreaking game in double overtime to the Ohio State Buckeyes 31-24. However, it was a game that can be a stepping stone for this team. The atmosphere was unreal which will help with recruiting, and Coach Franklin doesn't need any help recruiting. Also, it should give this team a renewed confidence. Ohio State is neck and neck with Michigan State for the best team Penn State will see all season, and the Nittany Lions should have won Saturday night. That game proved they can beat anyone they play.

The Maryland Terrapins are also coming off a loss, but it was a much different loss. The Terps went up to Camp Randall and were blasted by a mediocre at best Wisconsin team 52-7. Maryland is a team competing in their first season of play in the Big Ten, and is a team that has only ever beaten Penn State once and has never won in State College.

The Nittany Lions enter Saturday's contest as 3.5 point favorites. The Terrapins have not exactly been bar burners on offense this season. They rank 65th nationally in passing yards per game (236.4 yards) and 98th nationally in rushing yards per game (137.5 yards). This is a good matchup for a Nittany Lions defense that is 9th nationally in scoring defense (17.4 points per game), and 3rd nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (83.5 yards)

Maryland's offense is led by sixth year senior C.J. Brown at quarterback. This season Brown has completed 55.1% of his passes for 1,316 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. Brown has also run for a team leading 376 yards and 5 touchdowns. Stopping Brown is the key to stopping the Terrapins' offense. Brown's favorite target is WR Stefon Diggs. Diggs is one of the most dangerous big play threats in the entire Big Ten. This season Diggs has 601 receiving yards to go with his 5 touchdown receptions. Saturday night Marcus Allen played an awesome game filling in for Ryan Keiser, that will have to continue this weekend against a solid quarterback in C.J. Brown. I am sure that the Terps' will try to exploit the true freshman with their passing attack. It is also worth noting that Coach Franklin said true freshman Troy Apke will make his collegiate debut this Saturday. So it appears he will be Allen's back up at safety.
Stefon Diggs

Maryland's leading running back is junior Brandon Ross. So far in the 2014 campaign Ross has rushed for 257 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Wes Brown (231 yards, 3 touchdowns) will also see reps at running back. Maryland's rushing attack has not been very good this season. As long as Penn State's front 7 continues to play like they have all season, they should have no problems stopping the Terrapins rushing attack.

One area where the Terrapins excel is on special teams. Stefon Diggs is the best return man in the nation and leads the country in average yards per kick return. Sophomore defensive back William Likely is arguably the Big Ten's best punt returner, and another great weapon for Maryland. Penn State has really struggled on special teams lately, especially in the punting game. Neither Chris Gulla nor Dan Pasquariello had success punting the ball against Ohio State Saturday night. The Nittany Lions must do a great job in kick and punt coverage this week, their punters must also do a better job this weekend.

Maryland has left a lot to be desired on defense so far this fall. The Terps rank 84th nationally (29.3 points per game) in scoring defense. They have allowed 30+ points four times, including having surrendered 52 points twice. The last two games Penn State's offense has shown flashes of being able to put it together. For most of the first half against Michigan they moved the ball at will, but had to settle for two field goals on three red zone trips which wound up burning them. Then in the fourth quarter against Ohio State the offense put together some of their better drives of the season. Especially the 19 play 77 yard drive to tie the game in the closing seconds.

What Penn State's offense does this week all comes down to how the offensive line plays. The final drive of the game Saturday was the most impressive drive the OL has had all season. With Donovan Smith out, they held up to allow Christian Hackenberg to march the Nittany Lions down the field and into field goal range. This is a Maryland defense that can be exploited, and I hope the Nittany Lions can take advantage of that Saturday afternoon. In order to do that though, the offensive line must account for defensive lineman Andre Monroe. Last season Monroe racked up 17 tackles for a loss, and he already has 8 tackles for a loss this season. Monroe has also recorded 6.5 sacks already this season, that's a bad combination for a Penn State offensive line that has allowed a Big Ten leading 25 sacks this season.

Akeel Lynch will begin to see more reps this week with Zach Zwinak out. This season Lynch is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season, which is the best on the team. In my opinion, it is overdue that Lynch gets more carries on offense. I believe he has the potential to help this running game more than Bill Belton does. I'd also like to see more of true freshman WR Saeed Blacknall this week. Blacknall had a very good game Saturday night, including an impressive touchdown catch on which he got held and still was able to haul in a contested ball. I also would not complain if Wendy Laurent is at center over Angelo Mangiro assuming Donovan Smith plays (James Franklin said today that he 'anticipates' that Smith will play Saturday). Miles Dieffenbach could potentially return this weekend as well, which would be great for the Nittany Lions' offensive line.

This Saturday the Penn State Nittany Lions will look to avoid their first four game losing streak since 2004. Even though both Penn State and Maryland are coming off of loses, they appear to be two programs trending in different directions right now. Prior to last weekend I would have picked Maryland to win this game. However, after how well we saw Penn State play against Ohio State and the way Maryland was drubbed by Wisconsin I am going to pick the Nittany Lions. This game is a real coin flip though in my opinion, and it would not surprise me at all to see the Terps get the W. Penn State must avoid an emotional letdown after last week, and I think they will. It won't be easy, Maryland will be angry after being embarrassed last week, but the Nittany Lions get a W and move within one win of bowl eligibility.
Penn State 21
Maryland 17

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ryan Keiser and Zach Zwinak to miss the remainder of the season.

Today Coach James Franklin announced that seniors Ryan Keiser and Zach Zwinak will miss the remainder of the season. It is unknown what Keiser's injury is, just that he suffered it last Thursday in practice. As for Zwinak, he was carted off the field after injuring his left leg in some fashion on the opening kick off Saturday night. It's a real shame to see any player's college career end this way, especially two guys who have been through as much as these two have.

Now, time to look at what it means on the field. The loss of Zwinak should lead to something that should have happened a long time ago, more carries for Akeel Lynch. Zwinak, who will finish his career as Penn State's 15th all-time leading rusher with 2,108 yards as well as 21 TDs, is no longer a factor at running back. Lynch as most of you know, in my opinion, is the best all around running back on the team. This season Lynch is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, which is by far the best on the team. With Penn State being a team struggling to run the ball so much, I wish Lynch would have gotten more reps sooner. However, it will be inevitable now.

At safety, true freshman Marcus Allen had a phenomenal game in his first career start Saturday night. Filling in for Keiser, he recorded 11 tackles and a pair of pass break ups. I am very excited to see what Allen can do with an extended look the rest of the season. Even if Keiser was going to be able to return, I still would like to have seen Allen get more playing time. He is the future for this program at safety, and the more reps and experience he gets this year the better off both he and the Nittany Lions will be in the future. Malik Golden may also see an increase in reps at safety to spell Allen.

Another place Keiser will be missed is on the field goal/extra point team. Keiser is the holder for Sam Ficken, and last year when Keiser missed some time Ficken slumped. However, Saturday night Ficken was 3/3 on extra points and 1/1 on field goals with Chris Gulla holding. I would imagine Gulla will remain the holder the rest of the season, even if he loses his job as the punter.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ohio State 31, Penn State 24 (2 OT). The good, not so good, and other notes.

Last night the Nittany Lions lost a heartbreaker. They fell at home in front of a rocking white out crowd at Beaver Stadium to the Ohio State Buckeyes 31-24 in double overtime. Despite the loss, it's hard to be feel too negative about this game today. No one, myself included, gave the Nittany Lions a chance to even keep this game close. Even though they lost last night, I feel a lot better about this team than I did before last night.

Despite trailing 17-0 at halftime, Penn State never gave up. The Nittany Lions reeled off 24 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead in overtime. The Nittany Lions played with a ton of heart and fight last night. They took one of the best teams in the country to the brink, and had it not been for a ton of horrendous officiating then we'd most likely be talking about a Nittany Lion upset today.

Mike Hull
Last night the senior linebacker had the best game of his Penn State career. Hull recorded 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, and an interception. Mike has had a monster season, and last night was just the best one yet. Hull is well on his way to being a first team All-Big Ten performer this year, and his draft stock keeps rising each week. 

Anthony Zettel
Much like Mike Hull, Anthony Zettel is well on his way to being a first team All-Big Ten player this season. The redshirt junior had another huge game last night. He was extremely disruptive up front, batted down a pass to pick up a key third down stop, and had a pick six to turn the tide of the game early in the third quarter. Zettel has been arguably the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten this year, and he played that way again last night.
One of Allen's 2 pass break ups.

Marcus Allen
Last night the true freshman made his first career start in place of the injured Ryan Keiser. Allen played a great game all night long. He recorded 11 tackles, and broke up 2 passes. He never once looked overmatched, and was not burnt in coverage at all. Moving forward I would like to see Allen get additional reps at safety. Even when Keiser gets healthy.

The Defense
Coming into this game Ohio State had scored at least 50 points and had at least 500 yards in five straight games. The Nittany Lions held them to 31 points and 293 yards of total offense. Also, OSU's 31 points was a bit tainted. Not only did they get 14 points in the two overtime periods on just 37 yards, the refs also gift wrapped 10 points for the Buckeyes in the first quarter. Bob Shoop's defense has been one of the nation's best this year, and that continued last night. One of the best things about the Franklin hire has been Bob Shoop and his defense. Penn State can easily win 3 or 4 more games this season if the defense continues to play this way, and there is no reason to think they won't. Ohio State was by far the best offense Penn State will see all year, and the Nittany Lions defense stifled the Buckeyes all night long.

The Team's Fight
This team fought, scratched, and clawed last night. They were down 17-0 at the half, had a lot of horrible officiating calls go against them, and yet this team never quit. They reeled off 24 unanswered points in the second half to take a 24-17 lead in OT before Ohio State came back to win it. This team showed a ton of heart on the 19 play 77 yard drive at the end that led to Sam Ficken's 31 yard field goal as the clock expired to tie the game. What made that drive even more impressive is the fact thy did it with Donovan Smith, their best offensive linemen, on the bench with an injury. The defense fought their asses off all night long to pretty much shut down one of the nation's most powerful offenses. To watch a team come together and fight the way they did last night, especially after the previous two losses and after getting down 17-0, was extremely impressive.

Not So Good:
This is NOT an interception.
I am always the last person to blame poor officiating for a team losing a game, but last night was one of the worst officiated games I have ever seen and it cost the Nittany Lions big time. Ohio State was gift wrapped 10 points in the first quarter. The Buckeyes' first TD was set up when a pass that was clearly incompletely was ruled an interception. On the drive that would follow, the Buckeyes should have been called for a false start on the play they scored their touchdown. Then on the Buckeyes' next drive they kicked a field goal at least three seconds after the play clock expired, but no delay of game penalty was called. On a Penn State drive in the four quarter, Hack hit Saeed Blacknall for a pass down to the Ohio State 20 yard line that was negated due to a complete BS crack back block penalty on DaeSean Hamilton. On Saeed Blacknall's TD catch in the fourth quarter, he was blatantly held and no penalty flag was thrown. Luckily that one did not come back to hurt the Nittany Lions. The issues continued in overtime. Mike Hull was called for a garbage leaping penalty on Ohio State's extra point attempt on their first TD in overtime which led to the following OSU drive starting at the 12 yard line. Big Ten officiating has always been horrible, but last night may have been the worst I have ever seen. To be perfectly honest, if the game was officiating properly Penn State wins.

This is a penalty, and this FG should NOT have counted.

The Offense
Even though Penn State scored more than 13 points in conference play for the first time this season, and put up 20+ points on a power conference team for the first time all season, the Nittany Lion offense still struggled quite a bit last night. Penn State put up just 78 yards of total offense in the first half, and didn't cross midfield until the third quarter. The offense was much better in the second half, and John Donovan deserves a lot of credit for using WR screens and a nickel and diming their way down the field offense that worked in the second half. However, it was still bad as a whole. Christian Hackenberg had no time to throw at all, and Joey Bosa basically lived in the Penn State backfield. The rushing attack struggled again, as the Nittany Lions could only muster 16 rushing yards. However, there have been stretches their past two games when the offense has shown flashes of being able to move the ball. So maybe they're close to turning a corner, especially since Miles Deffienbach could return this week.

Penn State punters struggled immensely last night. Chris Gulla punted four times and averaged just 37.5 yards per punt. Gulla was then benched for Danny Pasquariello. Pasquariello would also punt four times, but he averaged just 31.5 yards per punt. Giving your opponent a short field time and time again is not a recipe for success in football. This is an issue the Nittany Lions must get fixed ASAP.

I have not been this proud of a Penn State team in quite awhile. Last night they dressed 43 scholarship players, and nearly knocked off one of college football's best teams. Penn Stats is a program on the rise, and last night proved that. Urban Meyer vs James Franklin will be a great rivalry for the Big Ten for years to come. Well, unless Urban decides to retire for the 13th time because he wants to get out of a pressure situation.

Other Notes:
- Last night's attendance was 107,895.
- Mike Hull (19), Brandon Bell (13), Marcus Allen (11), CJ Olaniyan (9), and Nyeem Wartman (9) all set a new career high in tackles last night.
- Penn State was shut out in the first half for the first time in three years.
- DaeSean Hamilton set a Penn State single game record with 14 receptions last night.
- Saeed Blacknall caught his first career TD last night.
- Next week's game against Maryland kicks off at noon on ESPN2.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Miles Dieffenbach could return Saturday.

As we all know, in the spring Penn State lost one of their senior leaders to a knee injury. Left guard Miles Dieffenbach tore his ACL in spring practice, and has not played at all yet this season. It has shown as Penn State's offensive line has been absolutely horrible.

In his weekly meeting with the media today James Franklin said that Penn State could possibly have Dieffenbach back on Saturday night. Dieffenbach has been practicing with his teammates the past few weeks, and is close to a return. Franklin said his knee is a "week to week thing," and that getting the senior captain back would also provide a huge emotional boost to the team.

How much Dieffenbach could help on the field obviously is a huge unknown. First off, he has not played in a game since November of 2013 in the season finale at Wisconsin. Secondly, it's pretty crazy to expect him to go from having missed nearly a calender year to starting and taking every snap. Odds are Dieffenbach would be eased back into his playing role. But, even at 75% and rusty Miles Dieffenbach is an upgrade over the offensive line play the Nittany Lions have gotten this season.

When Dieffenbach returns, rather it is Saturday night vs Ohio State or at some other time, he will be reinserted at his left guard position. This could potentially make the left side of the Nittany Lions offensive line a strength with Dieffenbach and left tackle Donovan Smith. I would expect Brendan Mahon to move from left guard to right guard, with Brian Gaia moving to the bench. Having Dieffenbach may not be felt on the field in his first game back, whenever that ends up being. However, once he knocks rust off and is able to play the majority of games that should help improve the line.

It would be very nice if Dieffenbach is able to start against Indiana, Temple, and Illinois. These three games are all extremely winnable, and having Dieffenbach and Smith on the left side of the line should improve pass protection and the running game. Being at full strength for those games gives the Nittany Lions a great chance of going 7-5. Even if Dieffenbach is not back Saturday night, he should be back soon. All along my guess was that he would be back for the Maryland game on November 1st, and I'm sticking to that prediction.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Previewing Penn State vs #13 Ohio State

What: Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2) vs #13 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1, 2-0)
When: Saturday, October 25th, 2014, 8pm ABC
Where: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania

After having their second bye in three weeks last Saturday, the Nittany Lions are back in action this week. Saturday night Penn State will host the 13th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes under the lights at Beaver Stadium in front of what should be a rockous White Out crowd. Hopefully the crowd will be able to have a negative effect on the Buckeyes, because Saturday night Penn State is going to need all the help they can get.

After Ohio State stumbled around with Navy, and then lost to Virginia Tech to start the year this game looked totally different. Penn State was 2-0 and seemed to be on the rise this season, while the Buckeyes were 1-1 and looked like a team desperately missing their star quarterback. Since then however, the Buckeyes' have been getting better week in and week out while the Nittany Lions have wasted a dominate defense due to their offense progressively getting worse. Largely due to putrid, unacceptable offensive line play.

The Nittany Lions come reeling into this game after losing back-to-back Big Ten games to Northwestern and Michigan. Penn State's offense played horribly in both games, and despite that the Nittany Lions still should have beaten Michigan. Penn State's defense has been among the best in the country all season long, but they will face their hardest test of the season Saturday night.

Ohio State has arguably the best offense Penn State will see all year. The Buckeyes rank 4th nationally, and second in the Big Ten, averaging 46.8 points per game. Ohio State is led on offense by freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. Barrett was thrown into the fire when returning starter Braxton Miller blew out his shoulder in training camp. Barrett struggled early in the season, especially in the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech. However, he has played fabulously of late.

J.T. Barrett

Barrett is completing 65.2% of his passes this season, and has thrown for 1,615 yards and 20 touchdowns. His passing yardage total is the second most in the Big Ten behind Christian Hackenberg. Barrett has also been a key cog in the Buckeyes' rushing attack through six games. So far this season Barrett is second on the team in rushing yards with 383 yards, and he is tied for the team lead with 4 rushing touchdowns. Penn State made Devin Gardner look decent, J.T. Barrett is a lot like Gardner except he's just a heck of a lot better. I think, or maybe I should say fear, Barrett will have a huge game Saturday night.

The rushing attack is led by sophomore running back Ezekiel Jackson. This season Jackson has rushed for 531 yards and 4 touchdowns. Freshman Curtis Samuel will also see carries, and has chipped in 251 yards and 2 touchdowns this year. Senior Rod Smith has run for 4 touchdowns. The Nittany Lions of course sport the nation's best rushing defense, and it will need to be stellar Saturday night. If Penn State has any chance at pulling the upset, they must stop the Buckeye rushing attack. I expect the Nittany Lions' front seven to be up to the challenge Saturday night, I just fear the Buckeyes wearing them down.

The reason I fear the Buckeyes wearing them down is the Penn State offense. The Nittany Lions absolutely stink right now on offense. Their offensive line can not block anyone. This is why Hack has been sacked a Big Ten worst 20 times this season, and why the Nittany Lions rank next to last in the nation with 93.2 rushing yards per game. Ohio State has a very talented, athletic, and physical defense. I do not expect Penn State to do much at all on offense Saturday night. I foresee Hack running for his life while being chased by guys like Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett. We will most likely see Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, and Akeel Lynch getting stuffed on rushing attempts all night.

If Penn State has any shot they must, absolutely must, sustain drives on offense. They have to stay on the field to let their defense rest, and must also, you know, score some points. Ohio State is averaging more than twice as many points as Penn State this season. That is a bad, bad combination for the Nittany Lions. As much as I want to say Penn State can pull off this upset, I just can't. The formula to pull off the upset is to sustain long drives on offense to let the defense rest, playing lights out defense like they have all season, and scoring at least 24 points. While I think the defense has the capability to play well if they aren't absolutely gassed, I do not think the offense can do nearly enough to prevent that.

Penn State is in big trouble come Saturday night. I love Penn State has much as anyone, but I fear they are going to get absolutely annihilated Saturday night. The Nittany Lions' defense is the real deal, and they will keep this game somewhat close through two quarters. However, I think the offense's inability to sustain drives and move the ball will lead to Ohio State's offense wearing Penn State's defense down. I do not think this will be as ugly as last year's 63-14 shellacking, but it still won't be pretty. It's also going to make me sick to my stomach seeing Larry Johnson in Ohio State gear and listening to ABC ram it down people's throats all night long about his career at Penn State. Don't worry, Urban Meyer is still a complete punk. The Nittany Lions will get their payback in another two years or so once the scholarship numbers are back where they need to be, and guys like Brian Gaia, Angelo Mangiro, and Ryan Keiser are not seeing regular playing time.
Ohio State 40
Penn State 14

Monday, October 13, 2014

It was always going to get worse before it got better.

When the sanctions were levied in July of 2012, things seemed extremely bleak for Penn State. On top of the crippling sanctions, the Nittany Lions then lost the first two games of their 2012 season starting the season 0-2. Then we all got spoiled for a little while. The Nittany Lions would go on to win 8 of their final 10 games in 2012, and it should have been 9 of 10. Remember the fumble debacle in Nebraska that the refs blew? However, that 2012 team was still pretty good. Matt McGloin went from not very good, to the Big Ten's best pro-style quarterback. On defense there were players like Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill, and Glenn Carson who are all now in the NFL. The offensive line was always very good with players like John Urschell, Miles Deffienbach, and Matt Stankiewitch. That team was 8-4, and should have been 10-2. That team was the best team Penn State has had since the sanctions were levied, and was going to be all along.

Why was that the best team of the past three years? One word, math. The Nittany Lions had 74 scholarship players in 2012. The most of any year during the sanctions. For comparison, this year the Nittany Lions have 64. Last year Penn State was still able to post a winning record at 7-5. However, anyone who watched that team and the 2012 team will tell you the 2012 team was much better. Ultimately though, the Nittany Lions managed to go 15-9 the past two years with the sanctions hanging over them. Then this year they started 4-0, and were 2-0 when the sanctions were lifted. Due to the fact the Nittany Lions went 17-9 during the sanctions I feel a lot of people failed to realize that things were always going to get worse before they got better.

This year Penn State currently sits at 4-2. However, despite being 4-2, they are not a very good football team. A big reason why is the sanctions. The offensive line has 1 scholarship player, Donovan Smith, that is not a freshman or a sophomore. I did not include Miles Deffienbach since he is still out with his knee injury. No disrespect is intended here but guys like Brian Gaia, Derek Dowrey, and Angelo Mangiro should not be starting on the offensive line of a school like Penn State. Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson have each got some good potential, but neither appears to be ready to be starting yet. But due to the sanctions and lack of offensive line depth all of these guy are starting, or seeing significant playing time.

Penn State's defense has improved leaps and bounds over last year. Largely due to the fact the defense is more athletic this year than last year, but due to the issues on offense it has not mattered much. Even on defense though the sanctions can be seen. Penn State is extremely thin at linebacker. This was on display against Northwestern when Nyeem Wartman was out with an injury, and the Wildcats exploited Jason Cabinda and Vonn Walker all day long in the passing game. There's a reason Mike Hull and Brandon Bell have played nearly every snap on defense this season.

This team has zero margin for error right now. There is a lack of depth at most positions, lots of inexperience, and a flat out lack of talent at some positions. Look at last night's game, Ryan Keiser's failed play on Funchess' touchdown was an absolutely killer play. Getting two field goals instead of two touchdowns on three red zone trips would also prove to have a major effect on the outcome of the game. Now having these things happen to any team during a game can decrease their chance of winning the game, but for Penn State stuff like this is that much more detrimental due to the fact they have zero margin for error.

When the sanctions were handed down a lot of people felt that year three would be the toughest for Penn State, and so far that appears to be true. This team is not nearly as good as the 2012 Nittany Lions. They are much better than the 2013 Nittany Lions on defense, but much worse on offense. A big reason is this team currently is dressing 64 scholarship players each Saturday, the least they have had since the sanctions were handed out. They are also currently the second youngest team in the FBS. Inexperience and a lack of depth is usually a bad combination for any team to have. I still believe this team will get at least 6 wins and make a bowl game this year, and had I told you when the sanctions were levied that Penn State would not have a losing record and reach a bowl game in the next 3 years you would have been ecstatic. If you say otherwise, you are lying to yourself.

Now, things will start to get better begging next year. First off there are a lot of young guys getting a ton of experience this year that will be better next year simply due to more experience. Secondly, Penn State only has 9 seniors on the team. Take away those 9, and add in guys being redshirted right now, and that puts the Nittany Lions at 62 scholarships before the 2015 recruiting class comes to Happy Valley. The recruiting class will add somewhere in the range of 20-25 scholarship players which will put the Nitany Lions in the same ballpark as their competitors in terms of scholarship players available. It should be noted that I only counted guys that are redshirt or true seniors into that figure of 9, there are 16 redshirt juniors but, with the exception of maybe Anthony Zettel, they should all be back for their senior season.

What will also help next year is there are a lot of players that will be able to step in and help right away as true freshman. Offensive linemen Steven Gonzalez, Ryan Bates, and Sterling Jenkins can all help right away. So can defensive backs John Reid and Jarvis Miller. Franklin and his staff have done a great job of targeting Penn State's three areas of least depth (OL, DB, and LB) in the 2015 class. Now I know some people will say, "why will playing true freshman help when part of the problem this year is inexperience?" It is because guys like Gonzalez, Bates, Jenkins, and Reid are all more talented players than some of the players Penn State currently have at their respective positions. I know I'd much rather have Steven Gonzlez or Sterling Jenkins on the offensive line next fall than Brian Gaia or Derek Dowrey. I'd also be more comfortable with John Reid covering wide receivers than I would be with Trevor Williams. Once the Nittany Lions are able to bring in back-to-back recruiting classes of 20+ players, they will really start to be in a much better place scholarship numbers wise. I truly believe this team will start to turn a big corner in 2016, and that 2015 will be better than 2014.

A lot of people are questioning Coach Franklin and his staff right now. I totally understand that, it'll happen after losing games the way Penn State just did to Northwestern and Michigan. Yes, the play calling and clock management have been rough at times. However, this coaching staff has worked wonders with the defense. Offensively they are not exactly working with the cream of the crop in terms of their line, and no team can be successful offensively without solid line play. Coaching is far from Penn State's biggest problem right now, it is lack of depth and talent at some positions. It is blatantly obvious on the offensive line, but is also seen elsewhere at times. Such as Ryan Keiser horrible play last night that led to Michigan's lone touchdown.

Coach Franklin and his guys are good football coaches. They proved that by averaging 8 wins a year at Vanderbilt, in the country's hardest conference, with very little talent. They can also recruit extremely well, which they proved at Vanderbilt and are now proving at Penn State. This program will be very good, and soon. However, things were always going to get worse before they got better. Right now, in my opinion, things are as bad as they are going to get.