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Penn State concerns exploited by OSU

Published November 14. 2009 09:00AM

Last week's 24-7 loss to Ohio State was a microcosm of all the concerns about Penn State, with all of them being realized in the same game.

The 18th ranked Nittany Lions had thought to have alleviated many of those concerns during a five-game winning streak since the Iowa loss, but they all rose up to rear their ugly heads against the Buckeyes.

It was if Penn State's worst nightmares all came true at once.

The Lions had to rebuild their offensive line, wide receiving corps and secondary coming into this season. All three areas were exploited by Ohio State to some extent.

The PSU offensive front was dominated by the Buckeyes, who managed to keep pressure on QB Daryll Clark without blitzing. OSU bottled up the Lions' running game, holding Evan Royster to just 36 yards. Clark completed just 12 of 28 passes for 15 yards with an interception, with most of his completions going to Graham Zug, who caught seven passes for 96 yards.

"Obviously, we haven't done the job we have to do, especially in the second half, against some clubs," said PSU coach Joe Paterno during his weekly press conference (full text is at "I think we depended too much on the big play. The offensive line, bumps and bruises, changing people around, has not helped."

Paterno noted that guard Johnnie Troutman, who has a leg injury, probably wouldn't play in today's Senior Day home finale with Indiana, which is a 12 noon kickoff. The game is being televised by The Big Ten Network.

Defensively, the Lions' secondary, which was untested much of the season due to the pressure by the front seven, gave up a big play as Terrelle Pryor connected with DeVier Posey on a 62-yard bomb for a TD in the third quarter to give the Buckeyes some breathing room at 17-7.

The real surprise was OSU's ability to run the ball against the Lions, who allow just 98.2 yards on the ground per game. The Buckeyes racked up 228 yards rushing.

Adding insult to injury, it was Pryor, the Jeannette, Pa. product that spurned the Lions for Columbus, that was at the heart of it. Pryor's numbers weren't huge (8 of 17 passing, 125 yards, 2 TDs, to go with 50 yards rushing on five attempts), but his performance went beyond the statistics, as he made key plays to keep drives going, connecting on crucial passes and eluding the PSU containment to run for first downs and keep the sticks moving.

The Lions' special teams, particularly their kick and punt returns and coverage, have been poor all season, and never more dramatically than against the Buckeyes. Ray Small had more return yardage in this one game than the Lions have had all season. PSU was repeatedly backed up in their own territory to start drives.

Since the Buckeyes didn't turn the ball over, the Lions faced an uphill battle for field position all game.

Penn State does not have a special teams coach, as Paterno prefers to split that duty among his assistants. Don't expect that to change, either.

"Because that's the way I like to do it," said Paterno. "We haven't been bad on special teams through the years, so let's not get carried away. I think we are doing fine. I'm not about to change."

The loss dropped Penn State to 8-2 overall and ended its hopes of defending its Big Ten crown. A win over the Buckeyes, combined with Iowa's loss at Northwestern, would have kept the Lions in contention. At 4-2 in the conference, they will watch Iowa and the Buckeyes, both 5-1 in the Big Ten, slug it out in Columbus today for first place. The Hawkeyes won't have QB Ricky Stanzi today due to an injury against the Wildcats, giving OSU even more of an edge in the Horseshoe.

A major rap against PSU this season is a less than stellar schedule. The Lions have beaten the teams they were expected to beat handily. The schedule should have provided the opportunity to adequately prepare for games against their two highest ranked foes, both of which they hosted in Happy Valley, yet they came up empty against Iowa and OSU.

The Lions have two regular season games left, plus a bowl game. If they can beat Indiana and Michigan State, they would be 10-2 and perhaps increase their stock and chances of playing in a New Year's Day bowl.

Another school of thought is that since the Lions aren't in the running for a championship at this point, it might be good if they start looking toward next season and getting players experience, particularly at quarterback, since Clark will be gone and PSU will have an inexperienced QB to start the season.

Since the Lions have an early visit to Alabama next year, getting back-up QB Kevin Newsome additional snaps over the final three games might be to their advantage,

That's not to take anything away from Clark, who has played well, at least statistically, during the past two years. Clark has been moving up the PSU all-time stat charts, and for this season, he has completed 178 of 291 passes for 2.283 yards and 18 TDs against 8 interceptions.

Clark's misfortune is that he hasn't produced the career-defining big victory, but that shouldn't be all on his shoulders. Pryor mentioned last week that the Buckeyes' win was produced by 70 players, not just him, so the Lions' inability to win against Iowa and OSU isn't just Clark's fault.

Paterno isn't ready to give up the rest of this season for next year, however. He even bypassed talking about his senior this week, stating he is concentrating on righting the ship for the Hoosiers.

"Hey, we got a tough football game this week," said Paterno when asked if Newsome might work out with the first team offense more this week.

Tough luck Hoosiers

If Iowa was leading a charmed life (at least until last week's loss), then Indiana is the Big Ten's tough luck team. Coach Bill Lynch's team is 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten, but they have lost by a point to Northwestern, by three points to Michigan and Wisconsin, and was leading Iowa heading into the fourth quarter.

The Hoosiers run the pistol offense, which Paterno explained is a version of the triple option from the shotgun formation. Quarterback Ben Chappell has passed for 2,377 yards and 13 TDs against 12 interceptions. Tandon Doss, his top target, has 65 receptions for 843 yards and 4 TDs.

The Indiana ground game is led by Darius Willis, who has 465 yards and 6 TDs.

Defensively, the top tacklers are senior linebacker Matt Mayberry with 51 stops, junior LB Tyler Reploge with 48 and senior safety Austin Thomas with 39.

Of particular concern for the Lions' offense is the Hoosiers' pair of defensive ends, Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Kirlew has 5.5 sacks and Middleton has three.

Doss and Ray Fisher are dangerous return men and will be a challenge for the Lions' coverage teams.

Penn State has never lost to Indiana on the gridiron, winning all 12 meetings, including a 34-7 win last year.

Next week's game at Michigan State is a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

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