Penn State Nittany Lions: Penn State football

Patience needed in PSU's QB race

August, 8, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Jesse James shook his head when asked about the quarterback competition.

He offered a blanket statement of "they're both doing good" before attempting to move on to the next question.

"What's the question you're most tired of today?" asked one reporter.

"The quarterback situation," the tight end said with a slight smile.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTyler Ferguson has the edge in Penn State's QB battle, but will he hold off Christian Hackenberg?
Defensive backs, offensive linemen, wide receivers -- everyone was posed questions about Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, the fresh-faced signal-callers who are battling for a starting job. No quarterback was made available to the media on a cool Thursday morning, so their teammates took the brunt of the prodding.

Did players prefer one quarterback to another? What was it like catching a Hackenberg pass compared to a Ferguson one? Who's harder to read? Who's the better leader? Better yet, who's going to start?

Bill O'Brien had an answer for fans and media alike after three practices: "Just hold your horses."

"They're both talented guys and I just want them to continue to grasp what we're trying to do and play the next play," O'Brien continued, adding he might -- or might not -- name a starter in about two weeks. "You're going to make mistakes. Matt McGloin made mistakes, but he's tough. He was resilient -- and that's what these guys need to do."

No position this season is more important than quarterback. McGloin helped lead a seemingly patchwork offense that averaged 29 points a game last season, a touchdown and field goal better than the previous season with such stars as Justin Brown and Silas Redd.

And with nearly the entire offense returning this season, big things are expected out of the new quarterback, whoever it is. So, not surprisingly, quarterback was the big storyline Thursday -- and it'll continue to be the big story until O'Brien does finally name the starter.

A pack of reporters followed the red jerseys like ants to a picnic basket during an afternoon practice. Neither appeared to throw a pass longer than 15 yards during the 45-minute open portion of practice, and few observations could really be made.

Hackenberg showed a strong arm during the short passes and made a nice roll-out throw at one point, garnering praise from O'Brien. But both quarterbacks also drew the ire of the head coach at different times.

"This is a review!" O'Brien yelled after one miscue.

The most surprising moment from Thursday's media day likely came from O'Brien himself. Last season's ESPN coach of the year acknowledged, after three practices, that Ferguson held the edge. That in itself wasn't surprising -- after all, Ferguson enrolled early while Hackenberg did not -- but it came as a slight shock that O'Brien chose to share that tidbit.

Ferguson could use the confidence boost after missing about a month of voluntary workouts and leaving the door a bit more open for Hackenberg.

Cornerback Jordan Lucas didn't pretend Ferguson had no cobwebs to shake off.
"That's with anything, though," Lucas added. "Like if you're coming back from a month of not interviewing anybody, you need to get your questions right and juice yourself back up a little bit. So, coming from a month off, you need to shake a bit off.

"But it's just like riding a bike. It never leaves."

Hopefully, for Ferguson, that comes back within the next two weeks. O'Brien said he's been impressed with just how quickly Hackenberg has improved from one practice to the next so, although Ferguson holds the edge, that definitely doesn't mean he's a lock to become the starter.

O'Brien will face questions about his quarterbacks every time he speaks with fans or the media. Ditto for any Penn State players. But, for now, the quarterbacks need to show one characteristic: resilience.

And for everybody else? Patience.
The Nittany Lions have just slid the last puzzle piece of the 2014 class right into place.

No, the class isn't quite finished yet -- PSU still has two spots left -- but defensive tackle was the final "need." And that's why the commitment of three-star DT Antoine White (Millville, N.J./Millville) is so important.

Four-star cornerback Troy Vincent Jr. (Baltimore/Gilman) became the Nittany Lions' 12th commitment of the 2014 class on Wednesday night. NittanyNation caught up with him today and talked with him at length about his reasons for committing, what separated PSU from other schools, how he'll represent the Lions at The Opening and more.

NittanyNation: Well, let me start of with the big question first, why did you decide to commit to Penn State?

Troy Vincent Jr.: Well, first off, all the other colleges that were recruiting me were great schools. But me and my family just felt Penn State was the right fit. It had a great mix of great academics and great football that you hope a school can embody.

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PSU cookout, visit impresses OT Jenkins 

June, 27, 2013
2015 OT Sterling Jenkins (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) milled around the Lasch Football Building on Wednesday afternoon -- playing cornhole, eating some pulled pork and fruit salad and chatting with Penn State players like Donovan Smith.

After a long road trip to Ohio State, Jenkins enjoyed the low-stress event that he said was unlike any of his other college visits. He relaxed, got a better feel for the team and said Wednesday felt more like a family picnic.

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With a fresh-faced quarterback and a revamped defense, no one is going to confuse Penn State with a national-title caliber team this season.

True, the sanctions will prevent PSU from making a bowl game through the 2015 season anyway. But PSU's still striving to win, still aiming to be one of the country's best. The 2013 season might not be the season PSU knocks off the Alabamas of the college football world, but just how close are they?

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Reese Strickland/US PresswireBill O'Brien has Penn State headed in the right direction.
Better yet, what will PSU have to do to get there?

Michael Rothstein recently took a closer look at the eight characteristics the last seven national title winners shared. From 2006-2012, only three teams -- including the 2008 PSU Rose Bowl team -- met every criterion without adding the crystal football to their trophy cases.

Here's a closer look at the criteria PSU will have to meet to bring home that national title and/or compete with the country's best, and here's where it will likely stack up:

1. Rank 38th or better in rushing offense (all except Florida in 2006 ranked 16th or better and averaged more than 214 yards per game). Penn State ranked 83rd here last season, and it'll undoubtedly improve in 2013 -- but not by another 81 yards a game. PSU reached 214 yards just once last season, against Iowa (215 yards), but that number isn't completely impossible in future years. (Oklahoma State reached that last season and averaged less than one carry more a game than PSU.) They key is the offensive line -- something that'll improve greatly with the new strength and conditioning program -- and finding a second dependable tailback. And redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch is already turning some heads.

2. Rank 23rd or better in scoring offense (all except Florida in 2006 averaged more than 30 ppg). The good news? PSU scored an average of 29.08 points a game last year. The bad news? That ranked just 62nd overall, as scoring has increased since Florida's 2006 run. PSU's patchwork offense exceeded expectations last year, but it's debatable if PSU can improve those numbers with a first-year signal-caller. Regardless, if last year was an indicator, PSU should have no problem meeting this number in another season or two. It would need to average about 35 points per game to rank in the top 23, and Christian Hackenberg should be in top form by then.

3. Rank 15th or better in rushing defense. The Nittany Lions were oh-so-close last season, as they finished 23rd and allowed 128 yards a game. With three or four new faces on the front-seven, that'll be a hard number to top this season. But PSU has historically been a strong rushing defense team -- it met this criterion from 2005 through 2009.

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2015 OL Burrell talks Penn State, offer 

June, 13, 2013
2015 OL Matt Burrell Jr. (Fredericksburg, Va./Chancellor) thought long and hard about attending a Penn State camp last week, but his plans changed when he suffered a minor injury and decided to rest instead.

The 6-foot-4, 278-pound prospect hoped to show the staff his ability up-close this summer, but Burrell wasn't too disappointed about missing his chance. After all, the Nittany Lions already liked what they saw on film because they called to offer more than a month ago.

"It was a great feeling," said Burrell, who received the offer from DL coach Larry Johnson. "I was very excited. I love Penn State; it's always been a big thing. I've always wanted to see a 'White Out,' and I think I'm going to go to the one this fall."

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Bill O'BrienEvan Habeeb/US PresswireWith a year of head coaching experience behind him, Penn State's Bill O'Brien is excited to kick off his second season.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- At the end of every day, whether it followed a busy practice or a lazy afternoon with players off campus, Bill O'Brien would sit down at his computer and open an Excel file.

There he'd type in the date before writing away, preserving the mistakes he made, the lessons he learned and the ideas he conceived. He didn't share the file with his assistant coaches. It's private, a journal just for him that helps the Penn State coach look into the past and prepare for the future.

"It's something that helps you get going into your second year," O'Brien said. "It's like, 'Oh man, I need to do this better.' Or, right before the first game, I have to anticipate that this happened."

Like O'Brien himself, the journal is no frills. It's a just-the-facts rundown of the 1,000 things a Big Ten coach must keep track of but can't juggle in his mind. During June, for example, when he conducts four camps for high schoolers, when can he schedule meetings with his staff? And what kind of time can he devote to recruiting?

Confidence couldn’t replace experience last season, when the first-time head coach learned simply by doing. More than anything, O'Brien's first year has given him a better understanding of, well, a little of everything. Now, the longtime assistant can refer back to that document whenever his mind struggles recalling those minute details that seem to have happened a lifetime ago. After all, O'Brien's endured a lifetime of change in just one short season.

He watched as NCAA president Mark Emmert slammed the university with unprecedented sanctions -- and then saw others file multiple lawsuits against the NCAA in hopes of a repeal. He looked on as several players, such as senior Justin Brown, left the program, while others, such as senior Michael Mauti, helped pull the team together.

And he stood on the sideline and watched his Nittany Lions struggle to an 0-2 start before shocking the country by finishing the season at 8-4. Yes, it's Year 2 for O'Brien now. But for some fans, it sure feels longer. And O'Brien swears he's not about to grow complacent.

"I think if you're going to stay the same from year to year, then that's a mistake," he said. "I just think the foundation of the program is always the same, that we want kids to go to class and play tough football."

ESPN's Coach of the Year isn't overhauling his program or its success. He's just fine-tuned a lot of elements, such as installing new equipment in the weight room and examining different ways to recruit. There will be some changes in the offense and defense, but in typical O'Brien fashion, he added: "But you'll have to wait to see what I mean by that."

Instead of four assistants coaching special teams, for example, now there'll be just two -- Charles London and Ron Vanderlinden. And then there's time management, something he's able to improve upon now that he has one season of head coaching experience under his belt -- and that journal he can refer back to.

"I think I'm a lot more organized than last year," he added. "I can anticipate what's going to happen in training camp, that our kids are still in class and how the schedule's going to go. I can anticipate all that now. I know how to be more prepared.

"I understand the players a lot better and I understand their skill-set athletically, their academic schedules, their personalities -- and I think our staff understands each other better. It's change, but in the way that I'm more comfortable."

He knows better now when to slow down practice and when to speed it up, how to manage a game and how to squeeze the most out of his players. He still walks around campus for some exercise, waving to students who might recognize him. And he still dislikes posing for photographs -- but he'll do that anyway, to show fans his appreciation.

He's the same person but, he hopes, a better coach. And the season can't come soon enough.

"I can't wait to coach these guys in training camp," he said. "We're always going to go out there and focus on every game we play. We're going to play 12 one-game seasons, and we're going to be prepared for every single game."

Week in review: NittanyNation

January, 20, 2013
NittanyNation takes a look at this week’s Penn State football news and what you might have missed:
  • Three-star LB Jonathan Walton explained why he decommitted and said PSU hadn't been in contact with him all that much since his official visit.

NittanyNation mailbag: Replacing McGloin 

January, 18, 2013
Welcome to NittanyNation's bi-weekly mailbag! We asked you to tweet your questions this week, and we've selected three to answer in-depth -- starting with the question we received most.

Scott Reading (@7reading7) writes:
What will be the biggest challenge for O'Brien this upcoming season? I feel it'll be the secondary.

Josh Moyer: Well, the secondary certainly isn't a bad choice. But with both safeties returning and another year under Adrian Amos' belt, I think we can all agree they should be improved overall from last season. But it's definitely far from a strength.

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Bill O'Brien added yet another national coaching honor to his resume Thursday night, becoming the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year.

Joe Paterno won the first-ever Bear Bryant Award after leading the Nittany Lions to the 1986 national championship. Penn State and Auburn are now the only schools with multiple recipients of the award.

"This is a huge honor for the Penn State program, for a great group of players and a great coaching staff," O'Brien said in a news release. "The other coaches here are phenomenal coaches who have done this for a long time. I've only done this for a year.

"It shows what type of coaching staff and the type of players we had this year. It is a program award."

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Ferguson files: Breaking down juco QB

January, 17, 2013
Tyler Ferguson accepted his Penn State offer a little more than a month ago, and he's already set to compete for the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback job.

The three-star juco QB is a bit of a wild card and not much is known about the man who could potentially lead this team. So, NittanyNation decided to speak with five of the 10 coaches he faced in the 2012 season to find out their impressions and ask about Ferguson's strengths and weaknesses.

Click here to read the story.

Ex-PSU WR Kersey transfers to Marshall

January, 15, 2013
Former Penn State wideout Shawney Kersey has transferred to Marshall, according to a Marshall spokesman.

[+] EnlargePenn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Shawney Kersey
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIREShawney Kersey made four starts in his career at Penn State, including two in 2012 before leaving the team.
Kersey left the Penn State football team for "personal reasons" after the second game of the season. Through those games, both of which he started, he finished with six catches for 44 yards.

Although he's a rising redshirt senior, he doesn't have to sit out a season as a result of Penn State's NCAA sanctions, which allow players to transfer without penalty until preseason camp opens in August.

Kersey came into Happy Valley as a high-level three-star recruit, but he struggled to find meaningful playing time. In three seasons, he played in 23 games and garnered four starts. But he finished his career with just 12 catches for 154 yards.

His absence didn't hurt a Penn State offense in which Matt McGloin finished with a school-best 3,266 passing yards and Allen Robinson set the single-season receptions record with 77 catches. He should compete for immediate playing time at Marshall, however, and becomes the third Penn State player to transfer to the Conference USA school.

Cornerback Derrick Thomas and wideout Devon Smith transferred there last year.

Week in review: NittanyNation

January, 13, 2013
NittanyNation takes a look at this week’s Penn State football news and what you might have missed:
  • Should college athletes be paid? ESPN asked several of the nation's top seniors, including Christian Hackenberg, that very question. Video
  • The postgraduate coach of PSU walk-on Austin Whipple talked about what made him a special quarterback and when he really impressed in 2012.
  • Penn State commit Curtis Cothran said he found PSU games much more enjoyable than NFL games in an extensive Q&A.
  • High school freshman Rahshaun Smith is just 15 years old, but he added a PSU scholarship offer on Friday. He talked with NittanyNation about the honor.

Chat wrap: Josh Moyer transcript

January, 11, 2013
NittanyNation reporter Josh Moyer stopped by SportsNation on Friday to chat about the state of Penn State football and answer your questions.

5 Questions: Former OL Tim Freeman

January, 11, 2013
Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is Tim Freeman, a PSU offensive tackle from 1985 to 1989. This week's edition of "5 Questions" is slightly different, in that Freeman will answer five questions based around one theme: Gov. Tom Corbett's lawsuit against the NCAA.

Freeman drove from New Jersey last week to stand behind Corbett during the announcement of the lawsuit. The PSU alum, a youth coach, has three children of his own and feels strongly about the sanctions.

NittanyNation: We talked before, and you told me you didn't think the NCAA should have brought these sanctions against Penn State -- so why do you think they chose to do so in the first place?

Tim Freeman: I think there was a huge reaction as a result of children being harmed -- and the reaction was exactly what it should have been, in terms of people being outraged. So I think that's why the NCAA acted the way they did.

But I would say they actually had a tremendous amount to gain. If you have a very powerful institution and one of the members has an issue, that trade organization can gain a significant amount of power they might not have necessarily been delegated. ... I feel strongly this is a criminal matter, and this is a matter that can only be handled by our judicial system. This is not a matter that the NCAA is capable of handling. They don't have the people who are capable of sorting this out.

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PSU's 46-Hour Dance Marathon Raises $13 Million
Penn State students participated in a fully student-run dance marathon, raising $13 million for families with kids fighting pediatric cancer, and ESPN's John Buccigross gave a nod to all the effort put forth for his 'Bucci's Star' segment.