Heading into the bye week the Nittany Lions are 8-1 (5-0 Big Ten) and still atop the Big Ten Leaders Division. Let me say that one more time in case it didn't sink in the first time. Heading into week ten of the college football season, Penn State is 8-1 (5-0 Big Ten) and still atop the Big Ten Leaders Division.
The dictionary defines character as qualities of honesty, courage, and integrity. Character is the best word to define this year's Nittany Lions squad. This team doesn't win pretty, but they get the job done. Penn State is actually the first team in the 116-year history of the league to win five straight games, all in conference play, by 10 points or fewer.
There is an elephant in the room as far as Penn State football is concerned and that elephant is the Penn State offense. Penn State ranks 56th in rushing with 162.4 yard per game, 91st in passing with 194.2 yards per game, and a dismal 101st in the country in scoring, averaging just 21.8 points per contest.
The unit is just flat out struggling. The fact that Penn State is 8-1 with such a lackluster offense makes one think "what if?"
The real question is "what if" the Nittany Lions had a quarterback? You know a 6-4, 220-pound gun slinger with all the right tools. Pennsylvania is usually a hot bed for quarterback talent so the Nittany Lions have no excuse not to put a stud back there to lead them to the promise land.
Let's take a look at some big-time quarterbacks from Pennsylvania that never wore the blue and white.
Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino from Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh attended Pitt University, four-time Super Bowl Champion Joe Montana from Ringgold attended Notre Dame, Buffalo Bills star QB Jim Kelly from East Brady attended Miami, "Broadway" Joe Namath from Beaver Falls attended Alabama, and Berwick standout Ron Powlus attended Notre Dame. All household names with the exclusion of Powlus and all great quarterbacks in the Nittany Lions backyard that didn't wear the blue and white.
Recently, Penn State has also had some trouble getting in state quarterbacks to come to Happy Valley. Michigan and now Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne and Ohio State and now Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor both were heavily recruited by the Nittany Lions, but chose rival Big Ten programs instead. The consensus seems to be that if you're a good quarterback in Pennsylvania, do not go to Penn State. That in its own right is a shame because this year's Nittany Lions squad is a quarterback away from being a serious contender nationally.
Penn State running back Silas Redd is starting to make a name for himself in college football. The sophomore surpassed the 1,000 yard mark against Illinois, logging 137 yards on a career-high 30 carries. Redd also rushed for 100 yards for the fifth straight game this year, being the first PSU running back to do so since Curtis Enis in 1997.
Redd eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark made him the 12th different Penn State player to post 1,000 yards rushing in a season and 20th player overall in the country to rush for over a 1,000 this season. Penn State has now had seven-straight seasons with an 1,000-yard rusher covering seasons by Tony Hunt (2), Rodney Kinlaw (1), Evan Royster (3) and Silas Redd (1).
The real reason Penn State is 8-1 this season is no doubt the defense. A ton of accolades have already been handed out to Penn State defenders and deservingly so.
Defensive tackle Devon Still looks to be the favorite at the moment for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Still was a A first-team Mid-season All-American and ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten with 15.5 tackles for loss (minus-72) and is second on the team and seventh in the conference with four sacks. With 47 tackles, including 25 solos, Still ranks fourth among Nittany Lion defenders and also has registered one fumble recovery and a pass break-up.
Gerald Hodges looks to be the next linebacking great at Penn State with his performance so far in the 2011 season. Hodges has earned his second consecutive Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor after another dominating performance to lead the Penn State defense in the 10-7 win over Illinois last Saturday. Hodges is the first Nittany Lion to earn back-to-back conference accolades since former Penn State standout Navorro Bowman did so in 2009 (vs. Indiana and Michigan State). A junior, Hodges broke his career-high for the second consecutive week, recording 19 tackles. Hodges' 19 tackles were the most by a Nittany Lion since Paul Posluszny recorded 22 tackles at Northwestern in 2005.
The bye week for the Nittany Lions couldn't have come at a better time with No. 10 Nebraska coming to Happy Valley on November 12th. Penn State is two games up in the Leaders Division race and will take a huge step towards securing a trip to Indianapolis in December for the Big Ten Championship if they can win that one.
The Penn State offense needs to do everything it can do to get better before their game with the Huskers. Nebraska isn't Illinois or Iowa and the Nittany Lions will have to put points on the board if they want to tame "the Big Red Machine."