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5 Storylines: Penn State

9/5/2012

Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 2 storylines:

1. Former walk-on could start at tailback. It's looking more doubtful that Bill Belton will be able to start Saturday. If he can't go, Derek Day -- an unheralded, 193-pound back -- will take his place. Day came in as a preferred walk-on and earned a scholarship as a special teams player before the 2011 season. Even he didn't think he'd make it this far when he first stepped foot on campus, and a lot could be riding on his legs this weekend.

2. Defense currently riding awful streak of performances. In Penn State's last three games, the defense has allowed the following: 450 yards, 600 yards, 499 yards. Is this the end of Penn State's defensive dominance, or were those three games just exceptions for a good D? Defensive tackle Jordan Hill swore Saturday that wouldn't happen again and, if it occurs against Virginia, Penn State's defensive reputation will almost certainly take a hit.

3. Youth, inexperience could limit PSU's ability this season. Eight players made their first career start Saturday, and nearly every player who touched the ball on offense set a career high -- such as Belton (13-53) and Day (8-36) in rushing attempts and yards. Penn State is a young team, and it could take more than a few games for the talent to outshine the inexperience. Four true freshman saw time Saturday, and only one offensive player (center Matt Stankiewitch) started more than half of last year's games.

4. Secondary could be a big liability. Cornerback Stephon Morris returned to practice and seems fully recovered from a sprained ankle, but that might not be enough. Penn State hasn't installed the nickel, and it could struggle if Virginia starts showing four-receiver sets. Penn State allowed three pass plays 28 yards or longer and, if Morris' ankle flares up again, it will be forced to start a true freshman in Da'Quan Davis.

5. Is this a pass-first offense? Bill O'Brien seemed to flip-flop Penn State's offensive philosophy Saturday by calling pass plays 68.5 percent of the time. Last season, that number hovered around 42 percent. O'Brien said he hopes to call a more-balanced game, so Saturday will go a long way in determining whether quick, short passes are PSU's identity this season -- or whether it actually has the ability to find balance.