Five points of concern for the Lions this spring:
5. Jack Crawford – Crawford has been touted as the next Tamba Hali and many Penn State fans were expecting big things from the DE in 2010. Those expectations sank quickly as Crawford was plagued with injuries and missed game time. Crawford does not seem to have the explosiveness needed to wreak havoc off the edge and he has been handled quite well be opposing O-lines. If Crawford stays healthy in 2011 I think he could be an asset to a strong D-Line. However, Crawford needs to play with much more intensity and finish each play like Hali did in 2005.
4. Schedule – Penn State plays arguably one of the toughest schedules in 2011. With an early bout vs Alabama at home in the second week of the season followed with a trip to Temple, a team that drove Penn State crazy last year, the Lions will have to gel together quickly. The Big Ten looks to be a strong conference in 2011 and trips to Indiana and Northwestern should show PSU fans the strength of the secondary. Iowa, Illinois and Purdue will be great teams to host in 2011 as all three look to rebound and grow from tough 2010 campaigns. Then comes the final stretch. A perfectly placed bye week will help the Lions before a very tough final 3 games. Penn State will host a very good Nebraska team for their final home game and then travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin to finish the season. If Penn State handles Alabama, I could see this team being 9-0 heading into the Nebraska game. However I can easily see them finishing at 9-3 or 10-2 with that end of the season onslaught.
3. Quarterbacks – The 2010 football season started and ended with questions about quarterbacks. It seems as if not much has changed heading into 2011 and early on we could see much of the same pattern. I expect Rob Bolden to play better for the Lions and possibly win back the starting position. Look out for Paul Jones to also make a push and possibly get some chances early on to run the wildcat and option. Matt McGloin had a magical three game run in 2010, but then hit rock bottom vs Ohio State, Michigan State and Florida. I think he will fight hard and see the field quite a bit, but mainly in clean up duty. Trying to guess what Jay Paterno and the staff decide to do is near impossible, but don’t look to see Kevin Newsome having much of a chance to play QB for PSU. He should consider a position change to possibly WR or TE.
2. Joe Pa’s Health – If anyone kept track of the number of articles written about Joe Paterno’s health in 2010 they would have the ability to publish a new book. Joe Paterno is old, we know. Unfortunately, his health is not something that is going to get better with age or experience like his team. 2011 could be the final hoorah for the octogenerian. He has always said that he would like to go out when he feels that the team will be set for years after he leaves. This could be that time. Paterno may be able to get through the season, but if the team finishes a mediocre 7-6 again the pressure from the fans and administration may be too tough to overcome.
1. Offensive Play Calling – Did it seem like Penn State play calling became predictable in 2010? How many times did you say to yourself “I wonder what they will do next, how about Royster up the middle?”. It seems as if with each season, Penn State’s offensive game plan has declined in preparation. After hearing that Stanford’s offense is able to run over 300 plays, I began wondering why Penn State refuses to adopt any kind of innovative play calling. The Spread HD was a complete PR stunt and as long as Galen Hall and Jay Paterno are calling the plays for Penn State, the Lions will continue to have a second tier offense. Penn State needs to take a page from the play books of the successful teams from 2010: Oregon, Auburn, TCU, Stanford, Ohio State, Arkansas and Wisconsin. All had great offensive play calling that confused the opposing defense and put games out of reach. Defense is great, but if you can’t score points you can’t win. This was by far the biggest problem for Penn State in 2010. The lions finished 81st in the nation in scoring offense averaging only 24.5 points per game. In their 49 trips into the red zone the lions scored 39 times and only 27 of those 39 times were touchdowns. That is a 55.1% TD conversion rate. Wisconsin comparatively had 68 red zone trips scoring 62 times with 54 touchdowns. That is a 79.4% TD conversion rate. If Penn State wants to complete with just the top tier teams in the Big Ten in 2011, they must do better offensively.