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PSU vs. Ohio: 9 things to watch

8/31/2012

NittanyNation takes a look at nine things -- matchups, players, positions and game aspects -- fans should keep track of for Saturday's season opener against Ohio:

1. Tyler Tettleton vs. PSU linebackers

If Tettleton has an open running lane, he's going to take off. The Ohio signal-caller averaged about 50 rushing yards a game last year, and he'll take whatever defenses give him. The secondary could have everyone covered but, if the linebackers don't stand their ground, Tettleton's going to frustrate with some first-down scampers. This isn't a challenge Penn State's linebackers have to worry about often, and it's been an overlooked matchup this week.

2. Ohio's tackling

During a film session, Bill O'Brien pointed to a replay and remarked: "These kids have no interest in tackling."

That shouldn't come as a big surprise. Ohio's defense is athletic and quick, but they're small. The Bobcats' average starting linebacker is 25 pounds lighter than Penn State's, and they have a defensive tackle that weighs in at just 245 pounds. With bruising backs such as Michael Zordich, Zach Zwinak and Curtis Dukes, Ohio's tackling could definitely be put to the test.

3. Penn State's tight ends

Kyle Carter had one of the team's most impressive camps, and he has the ability to make some acrobatic catches. With O'Brien borrowing a few pages from the New England Patriots' tight end-centric playbook, this group could be the most dynamic part of the offense.

Three other tight ends --- Garry Gilliam, Matt Lehman, Jesse James --- are all 6-foot-6 and taller. Ohio's tallest defensive back is 6-1 Gerald Moore; the tallest linebacker is 6-2 Jelani Woseley. Can you say matchup problems?

4. Big plays

O'Brien isn't afraid to go deep with speedy wideouts like Evan Lewis and Alex Kenney. Gilliam said Penn State has specific plays, once it crosses the 50, to make it into the end zone. And this offense is ready to break out of its conservative shell.

On the flip side, Penn State's new defense figures to take more chances and produce more turnovers. By doing so, it could end up allowing a few big plays of its own.

5. Secondaries

For Penn State, four starters graduated and three other DBs left in the offseason. This secondary's thin and could struggle when Ohio lines up more than three receivers.

But Ohio's not in much better shape. Its best cornerback, Travis Carrie, is out for the season and the No. 2 CB spot wasn't settled on the official depth chart. Both passing games will have opportunites here, so the secondaries will have to be on their toes.

6. Matt McGloin

Can O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher fix the quarterback problem in one short offseason? If McGloin plays well here, it could bode well for the future.

Just think: If an unheralded walk-on can greatly improve in one short offseason, what could No.1-rated passer Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union) do with four years of O'Brien and Fisher?

7. Stadium noise

Ohio's quarterback tried to deflect any notion the crowd might become a factor. He's been to places like Tennessee and Rutgers, he said, and didn't see how Beaver Stadium could be much different.

After an emotional offseason, the crowd likely won't keep quiet. Tettleton said he normally doesn't audible so, if he wants to, he could have some trouble. The noise at Beaver Stadium could surprise him; it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts.

8. PSU special teams

This hasn't been a historically strong unit for PSU and has its own set of question marks: How accurate is kicker Sam Ficken? Can punter Alex Butterworth remain consistent? And who the heck are the returners?

Outside of the Blue-White Game, there hasn't been much time to watch these players. Saturday should offer a glimpse into whether this unit will be a strength or liability this season.

9. Bill Belton

He could see 20-25 carries a game and should be the workhorse of the offense. Unlike Silas Redd, he should be very involved in the passing game and it'll be interesting to see how Belton plays in his debut.

He'll have two more seasons after this one, so he could make a statement and give a lot of fans hope with a solid performance.