<
>
Insider

Analysis: Looking forward

9/9/2012

Penn State tried some new things this week -- more runs, more fourth-down gambles, more shots at the QB -- but still wound up with the same result.

The defense needs to find a solution against the pass, and the offense must find a tailback who can consistently gain 4 yards a carry. Both will be tall orders on this patchwork team.

NittanyNation takes a closer look at what to expect this season:

Who we should see more of going forward: DE Deion Barnes. He recorded his first career sack last week in limited time and broke out Saturday by forcing a fumble and collecting another two sacks. Barnes showed a good motor and might be the best pass-rushing lineman on the defense. You'll see a whole lot more of him on Saturdays from now on.

Who we should see less of going forward: K Sam Ficken. When you miss a 20-yard field goal, can't hit an extra point (even if tight end Jesse James didn't block well) and go 1-for-5 on the day, it should be hard to keep your starting position. Even if Ficken remains the starter, you can bet Bill O'Brien will use him a whole lot less.

What we should see more of going forward: A balanced offense. O'Brien remarked how he needed to pass a little less against Virginia, and he was a man of his word Saturday. Penn State had 43 passes to 42 rushes, even with a former walk-on at tailback. When Bill Belton recovers, O'Brien might even run a little more -- so that pass-happy Week 1 offense likely isn't something you'll see again.

What we should see less of going forward: Conservative defensive play-calling on third downs. Ted Roof tried to focus on coverage, but this secondary didn't respond well. Virginia converted 7-of-9 third downs in the second half, and Ohio converted 11-of-12 third downs in last week's second half. Penn State can't let up with the pressure, so expect a few more blitzes.

Biggest question mark going forward: Safeties. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Jake Fagnano have not fared well so far this season, but there's really nowhere else to turn. Virginia's Jake McGee burned Obeng-Agyapong for a 44-yard completion, and the redshirt junior's tipped ball last week led to a long touchdown play by Ohio.

Biggest strength going forward: Front seven. If there was a lingering question about this squad's dominance, it was put to rest Saturday. Jordan Hill and Barnes sparked the line, while linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges seemed to be in four places at once. Virginia averaged just 1.3 yards per carry, and future opponents should struggle running the ball.

Position battle to watch: Backup QB. True freshman Steven Bench practiced with the second-string last week, and O'Brien didn't hesitate putting him in Saturday over the more-experienced Paul Jones. Whoever winds up as the backup at the end of the season will be the favorite to become the spring starter. The knock on Jones is he can't read a defense, and Bench has apparently done enough to surpass him -- for now. This year's battle could go a long way in determining Penn State's success next year.