Strong Rushing Attacks on Display This Weekend as Penn State Faces Eastern Michigan

Story posted September 23, 2011 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

Following a lackluster 14-10 victory last Saturday over Temple, Penn State (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) returns home this weekend to take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-1, 0-0 MAC). The Eagles are coached by former Michigan Wolverine defensive coordinator Ron English, who is in his third year at the program.

Penn State enters this week once again without a definitive answer at the quarterback position. Junior Matt McGloin and sophomore Rob Bolden have been splitting snaps, combining for only 474 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions this season. All indications are that head coach Joe Paterno will continue with the quarterback rotation this week, before possibly naming a starter at the opening of Big Ten play next week against Indiana.

The other major question mark that the Lions hope to work on this week is at the place kicking position. Through the first three games, starting place kicker Evan Lewis is 1-5 on field goals including two crucial misses in the game against Temple. Lewis also missed an extra point the opening week against Indiana State.

True freshman kicker Sam Ficken attempted his first career field goal last week and had his 49-yard attempt blocked. Together, Ficken and Lewis are 1-6 on field goals this year. Sophomore Anthony Fera has regained his full-time kickoff and punting duties following his two game suspension, but it is still unclear when, or if, Fera will take over the place kicking job as well.

In last week’s win over Temple, the defense picked up the slack for an offense that could just not get anything going all afternoon. The Owls managed only 197 total yards, nearly half of which came on their opening drive that resulted in their only touchdown.

Junior Michael Mauti led the way with six tackles, three of which were behind the line of scrimmage, as well as an interception. Mauti’s interception in the 4th quarter with Penn State trailing 10-7 set the Lions up at the Temple 40. But they were unable to cut into the deficit after Lewis missed a 35-yard field goal.

The very next defensive possession, senior Chaz Powell picked off a pass and returned it 26 yards to the Owls’ 30. Bolden entered the game, and his 4th down completion to Derek Moye proved to be the most important play of the game. Brandon Beachum scored on a 1-yard run which ultimately served as the game winning score.

This weekend’s matchup features two of the worst passing offenses in college football. Penn State enters this week ranked 95th in the country in total offense (301 ypg) and 100th in passing offense (158 ypg). Conversely, the Eagles are next to last in Division 1 averaging only 65 passing yards per game.

On the other hand, Eastern Michigan does possess a potent rushing attack. Their 286 yards per game on the ground ranks 4th in college football. The Eagles ground attack is headed by sophomore running back Javonti Greene who enters with 346 rushing yards over his first three games.

English also gets a lot of production on the ground from junior quarterback Alex Gillet. Gillet is averaging 70 yards per game rushing, which is more than he averages threw the air. With Gillet’s tendencies to get outside the pocket and run, it is important for Penn State defensive ends Jack Crawford, Eric Lattimore and Sean Stanley to hold their lanes and keep Gillet in the pocket.

It was reported this week that Paterno had greatly diminished the size of the offensive playbook last week against Temple in order to allow Bolden and McGloin to master a select set of plays. This almost turned out to be disastrous as the offense was unable to consistently move the ball. Against Eastern Michigan Saturday, Penn State could put up 300 yards on the ground if they really wanted to. The offensive line is really beginning to gel and sophomore running back Silas Redd has lived up to the his preseason hype.

But having the quarterbacks simply hand the ball off to Redd will not help them or the team as a whole. If the Lions want to have any success once the Big Ten schedule starts up next, the passing game is going to have to come together. This weekend’s game would be a great way for the both quarterbacks to begin to get in a rhythm with the receivers. Whether or not Paterno and the rest of the coaching staff will take advantage of this is the question.

Matt Lawrence is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email mdl5249@psu.edu.