Hello again, Volunteer fans! It's your buddy Mike, from Black Shoe Diaries. On Monday I dropped in to scare the pants off of you by telling you all about the nasty Nittany Lion Defense. Today I'm back to tell you about the cuddly Nittany Kitty offense. I won't bore you with stats this time. The 8th Maxim does a fine job of that. Instead I'll just tell you about the players and what Penn State will try to do.
Penn State has a tradition of great running backs including Franco Harris, Ki-Jana Carter, Curtis Enis, and Larry Johnson. Tony Hunt (#26) belongs right up there with this group. He's an old fashioned workhorse back that dishes out punishment as the game goes on. He's tough and physical and hard to tackle. There will be times in the game where you will see him hit at the line and think you got him just to see him fall forward for a four yard gain. In the passing game he's an excellent blocker and blitz reader making him valuable on third down. In 2004 he led the team in receptions so he is also a valuable weapon out of the backfield. But the one drawback Hunt has is a lack of breakaway speed. You're not going to see him break an 80 yard touchdown. You're not going to see him turn the corner on a sweep and take it to the house. Get him going sideways and he goes down like a house of cards in a stiff breeze. Penn State will run him between the tackles all day long and he will just churn out 4 and 5 yard runs. If Tennessee can clog the middle they can have great success.
You may see Rodney Kinlaw (#8) get a few carries. He has had some knee problems that have prevented him from getting any serious playing time this year, but who knows with three weeks off he may be healthy again. Penn State also sports two excellent tight ends in Matt Hahn (#34) and BranDon Snow (#30). They don't get many carries but Penn State loves to use them as lead blockers in short yardage situations. They also sneak out of the backfield into the flat to catch passes near the goal line, so watch for that.
The passing game is led by first year starter Anthony Morelli (#14). Penn State fans had high hopes for Morelli this year, but he has not lived up to them. He has a cannon for an arm and can put the ball anywhere and make any throw. But he makes terrible decisions sometimes thinking his arm strength can bail him out. So he tries to force the ball into double coverage. He often stares down his receivers and will hold onto it an extra second thinking he can get the ball to the receiver faster than the defender can close. Sometimes he runs backwards trying to avoid a sack and ends up losing 15 yards instead of 8. Or he will throw a ball up for grabs instead of throwing it away. Usually he is good for 4 or 5 of these boneheaded plays per game. Penn State fans are praying this extra three weeks of practice will make him a smarter quarterback.
It's too bad Morelli has played so poorly because he has some fantastic weapons at wide receiver. Deon Butler (#3) has the best combination of talent and speed. He runs precise routes and has great hands. And he has the speed to burn a defender deep. Earlier this year he set a school record with 216 yards in one game (Northwestern). Look for Penn State to throw deep to him off of play action once or twice in the game. Usually he's open when they do, but Morelli often either overthrows him by 10 yards (damn that arm strength!) or holds the ball too long and underthrows him.
Derrick Williams (#2) took Penn State by storm last season before breaking his arm mid season. He's got great speed, but this year he has thus far not lived up to the hype that came with him out of high school. The coaches try to get him the ball 10-15 times per game. He returns punts and will line up in the backfield and even quarterback occasionally. But you will see him run mostly wide receiver screens for little gain and 5-15 yard out patterns with an occasional fly route. That's pretty much it. No post patterns. No crossing routes. No slants. Why the coaches don't do this to take advantage of his speed is beyond me. Watch them make a liar out of me and do it in the Bowl game. If they do I'll be shocked.
When Penn State wants to utilize a third receiver they bring in Jordan Norwood (#24). Norwood is a shifty receiver that can burn you across the middle with a crossing pattern or he'll sit down in the open part of the zone. He's got some speed and can get some yards after the catch, but this year for some reason he has had trouble catching the ball at times. This is uncharacteristic for him as he arguably had the best hands on the team in 2005.
One player the Vols could easily overlook is true freshman tight end Andrew Quarless (#10). If they only watched film from the first 8 or 9 weeks of the season, they wouldn't have seen how strong Quarless came on in the final weeks. Each week his catches and yards went up from the previous week. He's Morelli's favorite target over the middle with an awesome combination of size and speed. Cover him with a linebacker and he's probably going to outrun them. Cover him with a safety and he's probably going to run them over. Don't be surprised if Quarless has 5 or 6 catches and 100 yards by the end of the game. I think he is the best weapon Penn State has in the passing game right now.
Our Secret Weapon
The downfall for the Penn State offense this year has been the offensive line. Much like Tennessee, we have an All American left tackle (Levi Brown #67) and four other guys spinning in circles. You will see Brown being very active. Penn State will get him out in the flat on a screen pass a few times. One play to watch for is Brown pulling down the line and following the guard as a lead blocker for Hunt. This is a highly successful play for Penn State that they will run three or four times in a game. Usually he creams the unsuspecting outside linebacker springing Hunt for a 10+ yard gain.
The other guys on the offensive line are the definition of average. They are not very mobile and they are inconsistent in their blocking for both the run and pass. They have trouble picking up blitzes and in particular delayed blitzes. Their inability to do these things has really limited the Penn State offense this season. They can't seal an outside run which limits your running game. They can't hold blocks long in passing situations which limits what you can do down the field. Their problems seem to be magnified in the redzone where Penn State has really struggled this year. But as bad as this group is they are very disciplined penalty wise. You will not see many offsides or holding calls on this group.
Maybe they will add some stuff to the playbook before the game, but this is the Penn State offense in a nutshell. The running game will mostly go up the middle. They will run outside once in a while to keep the linebackers honest, but when you see Penn State try to run a sweep and get dropped for a three yard loss, think of me. The passing game will mostly consist of 5-15 yard out patterns and bubble screens to the wideouts. Quarless will be the only weapon over the middle. They will try a deep throw early. If they hit it they'll go back to it. If not it will be the last time they go to it. If they see Tennessee overpursue on defense you'll see some end arounds and reverses to Derrick Williams or freshman A.J. Wallace (#12). That's the Penn State offense. What Tennessee does doesn't really matter. No disrespect to the Vols intended. It's just the Penn State offense isn't capable of doing anything else with success. This is what they've done all year and I don't expect them to change. Take away these things and Tennessee has a great chance of holding Penn State to a low score.