BY BRAD HURLEY
The Nittany Lions will be back at Beaver Stadium this week, where they will try to get their first win of the young 2012 season against the Midshipmen (3:30 pm ET ABC, ESPN 2) from the Naval Academy.
Penn State sits at 0-2 on the year after an opening home loss to Ohio 24-14 and a heartbreaking loss last week to Virginia by a score of 17-16.
The Nittany Lions could have very well been the victors in those games and be sitting at 2-0 as Navy comes to town later today. However, an enemic offense, lacking special teams, and a defensive let down in the second half against Ohio have Penn State without a win and in a must win situation today.
Somebody might ask why I think Penn State is in a must win situation? Afterall, Penn State can't play in a bowl game, so what does it matter if they have enough wins to become bowl-eligible, right?
There are a lot of things that will affect the future of Bill O'Brien's program that are banking on the success of this year's team. For one, people cannot ignore the importance of keeping Fork Union, VA verbal committ Christian Hackenberg dedicated to the blue and white. Hackenberg, who is originally from Tamaqua is ranked as the top-rated quarterback in the country by ESPN. He was in attendance at last week's game against Virginia along with highly-ranked Penn State tight end committ Adam Breneman.
If there is one thing Hackenberg can take away from last week's game is that he will certainly have an opportunity to come to Penn State and play right away. Matt McGloin will be gone, Paul Jones is now slotted as an "F" tight end, so that only leaves true freshman Steven Bench to compete with for a starting job come next season.
The quarterback position at Penn State over the last three seasons has been an absolute nightmare. The records haven't been all that bad with PSU goin 7-6 in 2010 and 9-4 last season. However, with a signal caller at the helm that could make the big play on a consistent basis those seasons could have been a lot more successful.
In his four year career at Penn State McGloin has gone 289-531 for 3,576 yards, 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Very average numbers for the opportunities McGloin has been given in his time at Penn State. Don't forget about McGloin's partner in crime Rob Bolden, who is now at LSU. Bolden had talent, but never turned into production on the field going 165-328 for 2,045 yards with seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Hackenberg is a prime part of getting Penn State football out of the shadows and back into a positive light. He could possibly be the last true pro-style quarterback wearing the blue and white since Kerry Collins dawned the colors back in 1994. It's evident that Hackenberg has the arm to make the big play, which is something McGloin cannot do. Anytime Penn State falls behind this season it will be extremely hard for them to come back with just eight to twelve yard outs and slants in the arsenal. Without the possibility of the big play the Nittany Lions will continue to struggle until they find someone who can make the big pass play.
Still no matter what McGloin is the starting quarterback this week and he sure has his work cut out for him with all the injuries to the Nittany Lions offense.
Starting running back Bill Belton is day-to-day with an ankle sprain he suffered against Ohio and back-up Derek Day is also day-to-day with a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Virginia game. Curtis Dukes figures to be the option to start if Belton and Day can't play with Zach Zwinak getting some carries mixed in there as well. Penn State needs to run the ball better to turn things around as they only average 106. yards rushing per game at 3.3 yards per carry.
Starting wide receiver Shawney Kersey is no longer with the team and nobody really knows why. Kersey leaves a hole in a Penn State wide receiving core that has already lost Justin Brown (tranfer to Oklahoma) and Devon Smith (left team personal reasons, transfer to Marshall). On a positive note wide receiver Allen Robinson lead the Big 10 in receiving with 19 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown.
The Penn State defense besides the breakdown in the second half against Ohio has been solid this season.
The Nittany Lions front seven are sure to be tested later today when the run heavy wishbone offense of Navy comes to Beaver Stadium.
Quarterback Trey Miller (20-16, rush), fullback Noah Copeland (6-29, rush), and slot receiver Gee Gee Greene (3-33, rush), along with running back Prentice Christian (2-39, rush) will be counted on to do most of the running for Navy.
Penn State has been good against the run this season only allowing 103.5 yards on the ground per game, which comes to 2.9 yards per carry.
Penn State also has to watch out for Navy in the passsing game a bit as Miller went 14-19 with 192 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Shawn Lynch had a good first game for the Midshipmen catching four balls for 87 yards and a score.
"Navy is so good at what they do. They're attacking your discipline, and they're attacking your toughness," said O'Brien. "Now, we've got a tough defense. In my opinion we have a tough football team. We have a tough defense, but what we've got to do defensively is we've got to play responsibility football."
What the Nittany Lions really need to do is get a win and later today against a home crowd would be a great opportunity for them to do so. This is perhaps the most important season in a long time in Penn State history and 0-3 is not the way to start a climb back to prominence.