Five Issues Penn State Needs to Fix Before Virginia
If Penn State is to avoid its first 0-2 start to a football season since the 2001 campaign, several issues that derailed a strong start against the Ohio Bobcats must be eliminated next Saturday when the Nittany Lions head to Charlottesville to take on the Virginia Cavaliers.
Thankfully, for the blue and white, most of these mistakes are fixable.
Bill O’Brien was right to shoulder the blame after the loss saying, “I just gotta coach a lot better. I have to get this team ready to play.” While his players appreciate the accountability rather than being thrown under the bus, they know that there are miscues that need to be rectified.
“We have to learn what we did offensively and learn what we did defensively. We really have to execute for this week and that all begins on Monday,” said senior center Matt Stankiewitch. This sentiment was echoed by many others. Sure, the schemes and coaching need to improve, but regardless, players still need to execute.
Below is a look at five things the Nittany Lions must fix so the second half against the Bobcats does not become a regular occurrence.
- Special Teams — The first step here should be pretty easy. The Gerald Hodges kick and punt return experiment needs to end. Even if Hodges was a good kick returner, having him back there would still raise some red flags. This team cannot afford to have its best player hurt at a position where there is not much depth. The fact that he is not good at it only makes the argument easier. This is not Hodges fault either. 237 lb. linebackers just do not make good return men, and the fumble in the second quarter that gave Ohio a gift field goal showed that. This should be a quick fix. What might be more concerning is that in five attempts, punter Alex Butterworth failed to hit a punt of more than 39 yards and averaged 35.8. For comparison’s sake, Anthony Fera averaged 42 yards on his punts last season. Leading by four points in the third quarter, O’Brien made the decision to go for the first down on 4th and 5 from the Ohio 30 yard line. Would he have tried the field goal had the kicker been Fera and not Sam Ficken?
- Run-Pass Ratio — The Nittany Lions threw the ball forty eight times yesterday and only attempted twenty two runs. Only nine of those rushing attempts came in the second half. O’Brien became very pass happy, and the Nittany Lions will need to establish a better running game going forward in order to keep teams guessing.
- Third Down Defense — It sounds cliche to say games are decided on third down, but it’s also true. The Ohio offense converted eleven of twelve third down attempts in the second half after only being successful on two of nine tries in the first half. Four of those conversions came on the drive that gave Ohio a ten point lead and sealed the game. Nearly half of those second half third down attempts coming from three yards or less did not help.
- Pressure From the Front Four — Some of this would certainly help with putting teams in more third and long situations, not to mention generating turnovers. Aside from a Deion Barnes third quarter sack that resulted in a one yard loss, the defensive line generated little pressure on Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Tettleton was able to escape any pass rushers that did come his way and threw the Nittany Lions off with a a lot of quick releases. Ohio had a nice game plan here, but this unit provided much less than expected on Saturday.
- Ball Security and Dropped Passes — There are many culprits here between Hodges’ muffed punt, Belton’s fumble, and some drops from the wide receivers. The last unit mentioned is somewhat understandable. Youth plus inexperienced veterans starting for the first time will equate to some missed plays, but the fumbles were especially costly. Hodges’ mistake gave Ohio three points, and Belton’s fumble on the first drive halted a sharp series that likely would have led to at least three points.
These problems are the typical issues that can explain a loss. Everyone within the program believes they are fixable mistakes, and there isn’t much reason to think otherwise, but they were the difference between victory and defeat on Saturday. There must be improvement in these five areas to prevent Saturday from repeating itself over and over all year.