What we learned: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
10:00
AM ET
Lessons learned from Penn State's 24-10 loss against Minnesota:

1. Complementary football is not a strength of Penn State. The Nittany Lions' offense moved the ball relatively well in the first half, as it scored on two of four drives, while the defense couldn't stop anything in the first half and allowed scores on four straight drives. In the second half? That was completely reversed, as the defense shut out Minnesota ... and then the PSU offense was shut out by Minnesota. Complementary football is something Bill O'Brien has preached, and it's not something Penn State has done particularly well lately. The Indiana loss was one example, but this might have been the most striking example all season. Penn State is just not operating on all cylinders right now; when it fixes one problem, another seems to pop up in its place.

[+] EnlargeZach Zwinak
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltZach Zwinak had season highs in carries and yards against Minnesota.
2. Take away Allen Robinson, and there's not much to this passing offense. Minnesota shadowed Robinson with two defenders for most of the afternoon. (Gophers coach Tracy Claeys acknowledged afterward that you could count "on one hand" the number of times Robinson wasn't double-teamed.) The most surprising part of that strategy is that more teams haven't used it. Robinson still accounted for half of Christian Hackenberg's 14 completions, but he finished with just 63 yards -- and no target stepped up in his place. Brandon Felder couldn't haul in at least one big pass, and the alleged No. 2 WR didn't finish with a single catch. Tailback Bill Belton and true freshman TE Adam Breneman were the only other players to register more than one reception. It's Robinson-or-bust for this passing offense.

3. Penn State has a good "problem" at running back. The only problem is answering, "Who should be on the field on this drive?" Belton rushed for 201 yards last week in the best game of his career, while Zach Zwinak rushed for 150 yards Saturday in the best game of his season. O'Brien seems to be relying on the running game more, as Belton hit a career-high for carries last week (36) and Zwinak hit his season-high for carries on Saturday (26). Both players have made their mistakes -- Belton fumbled on the first play against Minnesota -- but both players seem to be on top of their games right now. When Zwinak was in a slump, Belton stepped up and made a name for himself. And, Saturday, Zwinak showed that he's back to his usual self. Who'll see most of the carries from here on out? That's no longer an easy answer -- but that's a good problem to have.

4. There's little to celebrate on defense. The worst part of Penn State's bad defense is the secondary, but that's not the only cause for concern. PSU gave up 165 passing yards by halftime, and then the rush defense couldn't stop David Cobb (24 carries, 139 yards) in the second half. Nyeem Wartman missed a critical tackle at one point, and the linebackers didn't exactly have their best gameon Saturday either. Depth has been a concern all season but, even when this team's healthy, the talent level on defense just isn't high enough to compete with decent Big Ten teams. That issue won't be corrected this season ... and there might be too many problems to fix by next season, too.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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