Depth, energy a concern for PSU

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Defensive tackle Jordan Hill didn't hit the bars after the game. He didn't study or watch late-night TV either.

[+] EnlargeMichael Rocco
AP Photo/Alan DiazVirginia QB Michael Rocco will pose a tough test for Penn State.
After fighting against a no-huddle offense for 70-plus plays, sand bags might as well have been tied to his eyelids. He said he fell asleep by 10 p.m., early by his standards.

"We lost our energy in the second half," Hill acknowledged Tuesday. "We really have to keep that up the whole game."

Conditioning and depth won't become any easier against Virginia. Tight end Kyle Carter called the Cavaliers the better team over Ohio, and their passing game might push the ball upfield more efficiently -- causing another round of early bedtimes.

Quarterback Michael Rocco set a school record last season for passing yardage as a sophomore (2,671) , and he threw 149 more yards than Ohio's Tyler Tettleton over their last seven games. The running backs -- Perry Jones and Kevin Parks -- are among the best in the ACC.

"We have to stay pumped and don't lose our energy," Hill added.

With a roster short on experience and long on question marks, it's clear Penn State must rely more on veteran players like Hill. The senior, who boasts 18 career starts, didn't watch many plays from the sideline -- but he wasn't the only one.

Safety Malcolm Willis didn't have much time to grab one of those green Gatorade bottles on defense. His teammates called him the quarterback of the unit, and his backup was listed as preferred walk-on Ryan Keiser, who competed in about eight snaps a game last year.

"It's just the fact that we came out with so much energy and we have to sustain that energy," said Willis, who later added he didn't feel "too" tired.

Willis and other members of the secondary are expected to remain on the field because, well, there's just no one else.

When a golf cart chauffeured an injured Stephon Morris to the locker room, true freshman Da'Quan Davis stepped into his starting cornerback role. If Adrian Amos would've asked for a water break or for time to catch his breath, another cornerback who never registered a career solo tackle -- Jesse Della Valle -- would've replaced him.

"The depth is the depth," Willis said. "We have to deal with what we have."

Penn State has yet to even practice the nickel, a defense designed to better defend against the pass. Bill O'Brien insisted that had less to do with depth and more to do with faith in the linebackers but admitted the nickel hasn't moved past the discussion phase.

O'Brien plans to use a 4-3 defense to counter Virginia's pro-style offense, and Rocco said earlier this week four-receiver sets are a definite possibility.

"It's worked well against them in the past, so we'll see how we're going to attack them this week," he said.

Hill was short on answers when it came to stopping the passing game. Maybe they could get their hands up earlier for deflections, maybe they could force more turnovers. Maybe, somehow, they could keep that energy level up -- even with a lack of depth.

"We just have to make a better effort," Hill said.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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