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Forget SJSU, Bring on Penn State

Consider the San Jose State game that first drink of cold water after making the torturous trek across the desert, but with our initial thirst quenched, it's time to get ready for some Newcastle. Penn State comes to town in six days, so let's take a quick look at the Nittany Lions in week one:

Not surprisingly, after a bit of a slow start, Penn State handled Youngstown State with relative ease, winning 44-14. Penn State had a slow start offensively in the first half, where Dominique Barnes took a short pass 80 yards for a touchdown that allowed Youngstown State to hold the lead until late in the second quarter. With under two minutes to go in the first half, the Penguins were clinging to a narrow 7-6 lead, but Penn State turned it on after that and easily put the game away. Ten points in the final 80 seconds of the first half regained the lead, and Chaz Powell took the opening kick-off of the second half back for a touchdown, effectively putting this one on ice.

Yesterday was also the debut of true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden for the Nittany Lions, and he had a solid day, going 20-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Considering that he threw the ball 29 times, while star tailback Evan Royster only had 11 carries, it's safe to say the Penn State coaching staff was trying to get his feet wet.

Black Shoe Diaries had the following take on his performance:

As we saw yesterday, Bolden has an absolute cannon for an arm and he is smart enough to go through his progressions, no small feat for an 18 year old. He seemed to make big throws all day. The most impressive throws were the post corner routes he threw to Zug (incomplete) Moye and Brackett (completed.) If you were at the game, you were able to see that Bolden threw those passes before the receiver made the break for the corner. That is some impressive stuff right there. It also looks like, at least early on, that the coaches are going to use screen passes and quick passes to get Bolden confidence early in games.

Another thing to keep your eye on, it seems, is the seemingly strong quality of special teams for the Nittany Lions. Kicker Collin Wagner hit three field goals from beyond 44 yards out, Anthony Ferra netted 45 yards on his only punt, Youngstown State averaged only 16 yards per kick return, and there was the aforementioned kick return for a touchdown by Powell. Never overestimate one game against a cupcake, of course, but admittedly that sounds indicative of strong special teams in every phase. Given our question marks on special teams, it seems like you have to give the early edge to PSU on that front.

A couple of encouraging things for Alabama, however. First and foremost, the offensive line didn't look particularly good, and seemingly confirmed some of the pre-season fears. BSD wasn't overly impressed, and graded them out as a C+ with the following rationale:

They were a concern in the summer, and they are still a concern today. Let's start with the good. The pass blocking was excellent for Robert Bolden all day long. He had plenty of time and was not sacked.

The run blocking, well that is a completely different story. With the exception of a few draw plays or delays, no holes were to be found. Much of the pressure came up the middle over center Doug Klopacz and left guard DeOn'tae Pannell. The coaches are obviously trying to find the right combination still, since Johnnie Troutman was subbed in during the third series of the game. In the end, it was the same result. Hopefully they can get this thing figured out before next Saturday, or else Bolden is going to be in for a long evening.

Interesting stuff. For what it's worth, Royster only picked up 40 yards on his 11 carries, and aside from a nice 13-yard scamper, it was basically three yards and a cloud of dust. Moving forward, I'm thinking the game this weekend will largely be decided by whether or not we can shut down the Penn State running game -- thereby forcing the true freshman to beat us through the air -- and the early showing by the Nittany Lion rushing attack has to be encouraging for those who bleed crimson and white.

Finally, while Penn State shut down the Youngstown State running game, I did find it interesting that the Penguins had some success through the air. Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess -- a redshirt freshman making his first career start -- went 21 of 25 for 189 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Now, that raw stat line is a tad bit deceiving because 80 yards came on the one pass, and if you factor that out he averaged only 5.45 yards per completion. Nevertheless, even while it was a short and intermediate passing attack, the fact that a freshman completed over 80% of his passes while Penn State was not able to come up with an interception does make you question the strength of their pass defense. Hopefully this portends good things for Greg McElroy and company.