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Analysis: Looking forward

9/2/2012
Allen Robinson had nine receptions on Saturday, a bright spot for the offense. Andrew Weber/US Presswire

If Saturday showed anything, it's that this is a completely different Penn State team.

Penn State's multiple-personnel looks and complicated offensive playbook stood in stark contrast to its past old-school, run-up-the-gut philosophy. And its aggressive defense resembled little of the 2011 squad that finished No. 20 nationally in yards allowed.

The Nittany Lions flashed some potential in Saturday's first half, but the 24-14 loss to Ohio raised more questions than answers about what the future might hold. NittanyNation takes a closer look at what's in store:

Who we should see more of going forward: Allen Robinson at wide receiver. He led all players with nine catches for 97 yards and showed why so many of his teammates have been praising his work over the offseason. He flashed some good after-the-catch skills in the first half but appears to be mainly a possession receiver. His hands looked good, and his route-running is the best on the team. Robinson should lead the team in receptions.

Who we should see less of going forward: Gerald Hodges on kick returns. This experiment has to be over. The linebacker caught one punt with his hands above his head, he fumbled another and made a questionable decision by running the opening kickoff out of the end zone. (He made it to the 12-yard line.)

What we should see more of going forward: More runs early on. O'Brien likes to use misdirection plays and play-actions, so it stands to reason he'll want to set those up by calling a few more running plays. Penn State passed twice for every rushing attempt Saturday, and McGloin can't win a game by himself. Without an established run game, PSU struggled.

What we should see less of going forward: Man-to-man coverage. Ohio picked Penn State apart on slant routes, and a big reason was because the Nittany Lions didn't play inside often enough. Penn State might not have the personnel necessary for coordinator Ted Roof's scheme, so something has to give here.

Formations/packages that worked: Four- and five-receiver sets. The recipe here seemed simple enough: Matt McGloin found the most success when he had the most options. The fifth-year senior progressed through his reads well and seemed to find the open man on most of these plays. Tight end Kyle Carter sometimes lined up as a wideout, and he was one of McGloin's favorite targets.

What changed from last year (offense): Pass:Run ratio. PSU was always a run-first team, even when Kerry Collins guided it to a 12-0 record in 1994. Last season, Penn State even ran about 58 percent of the time. On Saturday, that number hovered around 31 percent. O'Brien turned to what worked -- short, quick passes -- and that passing game might become the Lions' new offensive identity.

What changed from last year (defense): Aggressiveness. Former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley's relatively conservative defense didn't take a lot of chances. But Roof is making sure PSU tries to force more turnovers by gambling more often -- and big plays appear to be the risk. Penn State allowed four plays of longer than 25 yards Saturday, something unusual for a defense in Happy Valley.