In PSU's case, numbers do lie
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Penn State has played two of the top teams in the country on the road in the first four weeks of the season, so having a 2-2 record into the second month of the season was not entirely unexpected.
Where the Nittany Lions go from here will largely be determined by the development of the offense, which to this point has been consistently inconsistent.
The statistics indicated Penn State is holding its own against every opponent it has played. The statistics also indicated the Lions are one of the top offenses in the Big Ten. The statistics point to hope.
But consider this as Penn State gets set to play Northwestern this week at Beaver Stadium: When was the most recent time Penn State's first-team offense scored a meaningful touchdown against a Division I-A opponent?
Answer: Early in the fourth quarter against Akron. In the past two games against I-A competition, the Lions have been unproductive as an offense. The Lions gained 383 yards against Notre Dame but did not score a touchdown until less than six minutes remained in a blowout loss. They gained 248 yards against Ohio State and failed to get in the end zone.
The blame can be laid mostly on the passing game. How bad has it been? Quarterback Anthony Morelli has thrown more touchdowns to the opposition than he has to his own team in the past three games (2 to 1), and one of those games was against Division I-AA Youngstown State.
"That's a tough question," Penn State sophomore receiver Jordan Norwood said. "We're out here every game leaving it all on the field. We'll just go look at the film and see exactly what it is."
In Saturday's loss to Ohio State, Penn State had the ball inside the Ohio State 25 three times and came away with only six points. The Lions had first-and-goal late in the first half, but Morelli went the wrong way on a running play and lost 5 yards, a running play gained a yard on second down and Morelli scrambled for 7 yards on third down.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Lions had two chances to score from the 1, but fullback BranDon Snow was stopped for no gain on third down. And on fourth down, guard Rich Ohrnberger was called for illegal procedure.
"You want to be able to make plays and get in the end zone," Norwood said. "I guess there is a little bit of frustration. We know it's on our shoulders. We were in a position where we could have made big plays and tied the score in the fourth quarter."
Morelli's longest pass play from scrimmage was 13 yards against the Buckeyes. The most productive receiver was Norwood, who had five receptions for 30 yards.
"I don't think anything is wrong with the offense," receiver Derrick Williams said. "We just need big plays. We have to look inside ourselves to see who makes the big play."
Ohio State defended Morelli by dropping seven defenders into pass coverage. They rarely blitzed, and by stopping Penn State's running game in the first half, forced the Nittany Lions to throw almost exclusively short patterns.
"Until we started running the football, it was going to be trouble passing the ball because they were only rushing four," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "We were fine as long as we were ahead. When we got behind, we had to run the football. We had a better chance of throwing. We didn't throw it as well as we would like. We didn't do a very good job of running early in the game. Once we started to run, we had a chance to get some consistency."
Penn State players remain confident that the offense will come around and capitalize on its many opportunities.
"We're close," running back Tony Hunt said. "I know it's fake to take a few plays out of a game. But if you take a few plays out of that game, we played a pretty good football game."
"We just have to tweak a few things," defensive lineman Ed Johnson said. "We're right there. We just have to make a few plays."
First Published September 25, 2006 12:00 am