Part One of Our Two-Part Temple-Penn State Primer: On Penn State

Part One of Our Two-Part Temple-Penn State Primer: On Penn State
September 21, 2012, 8:13 am

In advance of this weekend's showdown in Happy Valley between Temple and Penn State (3:30 p.n. on ABC/ESPN 2), Nick Menta and our friend and guest-spotter from Examiner.com Kevin McGuire have gotten together for a two-part preview of this weekend's matchup.

In Part 1, Nick picks Kevin's brain about the current state of the Nittany Lions. They'll reverse roles in Part 2. And for yet more, check out Nick's full game preview here.

On with the show...

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Nick: Alright, let's get the injury report out the way up front. How are the banged up running backs?

Kevin McGuire: It looks as though Bill Belton’s status is still not good, as he was
not seen in practice late this week while media were allowed to watch
(could be a decoy, who knows), but Derek Day was in full pads and
O’Brien suggested he is ahead of Belton right now.

Last week Penn State
relied on Michaekl Zordich to pound the football, and he is comfortable
doing so when asked. Don’t expect to see true freshman Akeel Lynch
unless absolutely necessary. O’Brien is trying to keep freshman from
playing as much as possible in some spots to preserve their eligibility
moving forward.

This is one of those inevitable "what really was it?" questions. Was Penn State's thrashing of Navy a product of the team settling in and finding itself, or of Navy being sort of horrendous by comparison. (No wimping out and picking both! Okay, you can if you want.)

It had to be a little from Column A and a little from Column B to be honest, but I think there are signs that Penn State is continuing to improve in some aspects in the early going under O’Brien.

The defense has forced eight turnovers in the past two games and that doesn't happen by accident. The defense has played better week-to-week after three games.

The offense seems to have found at least one player to take over a key role with sophomore Allen Robinson at wide receiver. The offense in general is still finding itself, but Matt McGloin has shown some good things early on with his decision-making, for the most part. As a team I think there are some positive trends unfolding for Penn State on both sides of the football that suggest they could be OK this season.

Speaking of McGloin, his progression isn't staggering, but it's certainly
substantial. Is it because it's O'Brien, because it's not Paterno,or because he doesn't have Bolden over his shoulder any longer? Which of those
three is most responsible for his improvement?

There is no question in my mind that McGloin has benefited from new
coaching, and he has made some subtle and not so subtle comments
supporting that idea. But, as you pointed out, I think the fact that
McGloin was named the starter early by O’Brien has the biggest impact on
everything.

Last season the switching back-and-forth of quarterbacks prevented Penn
State from finding their offensive identity and establishing any sort of
rhythm. We know that McGloin is not the most talented or skilled
quarterback, but right now at Penn State he has been the best available
option. Now McGloin gets to take all of the first team snaps and feel
more comfortable leading the offense.

What do you make of the number of attempts to go for it on fourth down? Specifically, O'Brien's decision not use Ficken for a chip shot last week and coming away with no points right after the kid has missed an extra point. The right move? Too aggressive? Is he unconcerned with Ficken's psyche?

I thought O’Brien should have gone for what should have been an easy field goal just to give Sam Ficken a chance to boost his confidence and let him know that he will be trusted. I felt kicking a chip-shot field goal (or at least not hesitating to attempt it) would have done Ficken some good as a young player who felt awful about the way the previous week had gone.

That said, I’m not Bill O’Brien.

It’s a new way of thinking when it comes to Penn State’s offense, and that means taking more risks and gambling on fourth down a lot more than usual. Penn State has already converted six fourth down attempts for a first down this season, compared to ten all of last season. This may be the way it is going to be under O’Brien but there may be something else to consider here. What does Penn State ultimately have to lose by going for it on fourth down rather than kicking field goals? We all know Penn State has no postseason to play for, so there is nothing to lose by playing with an extra risk.

Do you get the sense that as this season goes on, key guys in that locker room will grow committed enough not to leave the program, or is Penn State treading water until the next transfer period?

There is no question that the biggest challenge Bill O’Brien has this season is keeping this team together, and establishing and maintaining team chemistry is a huge part of that. The ability for this program to stay afloat, metaphorically speaking, will rely heavily on O’Brien keeping players on the roster now from transferring elsewhere after the season at a time when he will also need to focus on recruiting for the Class of 2013.

What's the most key matchup in this weekend's game that Penn State needs to get the better of to win?

Penn State’s biggest weak point this season has been third down defense. Penn State ranks 115th in the nation in third down conversions allowed, giving up first downs 50.98 percent of the time (Temple is getting off the field 60 percent of the time by comparison). If the Owls can get in to some manageable third down situations, with the running game they should have to rely on the odds could be very good that Temple continues to crack Penn State’s third-down defense.

And since I anticipate this being a tight game, that could become a huge factor as the game unfolds.

Click here for Part 2: On the Temple Owls and keep up with Kevin and Nick's weekend reports from State College on
Twitter @KevinOnCFB and @cnmenta.

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