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October 22, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive Radio PSU show ep. 12: Reasonable expectations for PSU?… Ohio State preview

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After being idle for 26 of the previous 27 days, Penn State returns to Beaver Stadium for what is the annually most-anticipated game on the schedule – the White Out, network-televised night game. Every other year, this typically takes place against Ohio State.

 

The optimism of the 4-0 Nittany Lions start has evaporated for a team that hasn’t won a game in more than a month. Now, everyone from fans to media to coach James Franklin seems to be doing everything they can to temper expectations – not only for the rest of the season, but for Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes.

 

To me, Franklin’s tact in this area is fascinating for a man who has a core value of “positive thinking” and generally displays a public persona somewhere on the spectrum between over-the-top bravado and self-confident. Remember, this is the guy who went out of his way during his PSU introductory news conference to promise sellouts at every single game and famously (infamously?) pledge to “dominate” the state/region in recruiting.

 

To have him publicly question if his team is good enough to show it through wins and losses in 2014 is, at very least, interesting.

 

Joining me to discuss that – and much more – were two reporters who combined for 35-plus years of experience covering Big Ten football: Mark Wogenrich of the Allentown Morning Call, who’s been on the Penn State beat since 1999; and Bucknuts.com senior writer Steve Helwagen, who’s covered Ohio State for 20 years.

 

 

Listen right from here:

 

 

Or download the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1022PSU14.mp3

 

 

 

Enjoy the rest of your week up through the game Saturday.

 

 

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October 17, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Bill O’Brien: ‘The biggest thing that I take from (my time at PSU) is the relationship with the players’

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Bill O’Brien snapped at me once after a game for having the audacity to ask why his running back that’d been averaging 23 carries a game had only seven for an early-season contest last season. Three weeks later, he was visibly annoyed I inquired if a lack of complementary wide receivers was a worry after one receiver had accounted for roughly two-thirds of the wideout catches through six weeks. During his two seasons at Penn State, it became clear that dealing with media questions – to be fair, oftentimes very mundane ones – was far from his favorite part of his vocation.

Ultimately, though, I respected O’Brien for his honesty and straightforwardness. Penn State’s players did, too. I reached out to several – some on the record, some off – over the past couple weeks in anticipation of knowing I’d have the opportunity to speak with him Thursday in advance of his Houston Texans playing at the Steelers on Monday night.

To a man, every Nittany Lions player I talked to was effusive in his praise of O’Brien. Part of that is likely attributable to some sort of psychological human reaction in which one develops a bond with someone with whom they experience a crisis with (after all, O’Brien navigated Penn State through what was easily the most trying time in its program’s history). But I have come to believe that players and others associated with the program also came to respect O’Brien for his no-nonsense, sincere approach.

The man had a classic New England Irish temper, no doubt. But for better or for worse, you always felt he was genuine. I only covered him for one season, so I sheepishly hesitate from drawing too much of a public conclusion, but I will say I also ultimately came to respect O’Brien for who he was.

That could be why there was no – at least as far as I had seen when it came to on-the-record comments – backlash against O’Brien from players when he left PSU to pursue an NFL coaching career 9 ½ months ago.

I was eager to talk with O’Brien this week. He was to be available to Pittsburgh media via a conference call – as all NFL coaches are to opponents’ media four days in advance of a game. As so often happens in these instances, a local media many times has little use for the opposing coach. Barring some kind of hot-button, locally-relevant or imminently-timely pressing issue, these conference calls are met with a figurative shrug, with perhaps only a couple questions asked by a scant number of media members.

In terms of Steelers-related relevance among the Pittsburgh media for O’Brien, that was the case Thursday. The result was a virtual one-on-one with me and the former Penn State coach – the only other outlet listening was the radio flagship for Pitt (unlikely his pro-PSU comments get broadcast there) and one other online reporter who asked one Steelers-related question before losing interest.

That meant almost eight consecutive minutes of a love letter from O’Brien to Penn State Nation.

A cynic would point out that O’Brien knew his audience (a Pennsylvania reporter) and catered his message as such. A fair point. Also, what would O’Brien have to gain by saying anything negative about a former employer? So that said, take his comments with a proverbial grain of salt — Who knows? This wouldn’t be the first time I’d be accused of being naive.

Still, I have no reason to doubt he was genuine. Multiple times, he veered off from clumsy questions I asked to emphasize a positive sentiment toward Penn State. During my second-to-last question (it asked how often he got to watch PSU games), O’Brien began his answer by saying: “I haven’t been able to watch too many games. We were off last weekend so I was able to see the Michigan game and I know that was a tough game for them. I think, not that you asked me this question, but I just feel compelled to say that, Penn State will be back. Penn State is a tremendous place…”

I included the final two phrases of the above, along with the remainder of his thoughts, in the print article that ran in Friday’s editions. Look, those who – for whatever reason – don’t like O’Brien (be it Penn State partisans or Penn State haters alike), they aren’t going to buy into his kind words for the university and its program. (And I’ll admit I didn’t ask him about some of the more controversial aspects of his tenure).

But I’ve been surprised with how overwhelming the early feedback has been about the printed article. So, I thought I’d (after making you all endure reading this wordy introduction) present the remainder of the conversation here on The Blog.

(H/T to Steelers PR whiz Ryan Scarpino for his help in compiling this)

 

O’Brien, when asked if there was anything he’d miss about coaching in the college game…
“Those kids — the kids that we coached there — were tough, they were hard-nosed, they were winners. And certainly, my wife and I made great friends in State College that we still will stay in touch with and will for the rest of our lives. But I’d say just of the time at Penn State, the biggest thing that I take from that is the relationship with the players that I had there.”

 

O’Brien on his tighter-than-usual bond with his former players at Penn State…
“I think it was more because of what we went through as a team together there at Penn State for two years. Not what we went through, that’s probably a bad way to say that. It’s more about how we bonded together and won some games…”

 

O’Brien, asked if despite recent struggles if Christian Hackenberg – whom he was instrumental in bringing to Penn State – still projected as a quality NFL quarterback…
Christian Hackenberg, No. 1, is a special kid. He’s a tough kid, he’s smart (and) he’s a great teammate. He has everything that you’re looking for in a quarterback. He’s got a strong arm, he’s competitive and I know that he hasn’t even reached his potential yet. He’ll work very, very hard every single day and he’ll only get better and better because of his own work ethic. He’s a special kid.”

 

O’Brien on if it took any time to get re-assimilated into the pro game after his two years at Penn State….
“It’s always an adjustment coming back –especially having been (in the NFL) for five years but then not having been here for two, and especially with the new rules of the CBA and things like that. Those were a little bit different when I was here before and those types of things. There was an adjustment period but it looks like now, personally, just from the schedule and the day-to-day operation, (I’m) definitely back into the swing of things.”

 

 

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October 15, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive Radio show ep. 11: Penn State/Big Ten midseason report

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This week’s bye-week show delves into where Penn State stands at the season’s midpoint. If asked before the season if they’d take 4-2, I’d have to believe that any Nittany Lions fan, player or coach woulda signed up for that. But when it comes after a 4-0 start, it just doesn’t leave as good a taste in your mouth, does it?

 

The question now, going forward, is how many wins can an undermanned PSU team get out of the second half of its schedule? Two wins away from bowl eligibility, will the Lions get to six? What’s the ceiling?

 

Blue White Illustrated editor/columnist Nate Bauer was enlightening in talking about the struggles of Christian Hackenberg, the much-discussed troubles along the offensive line (hint: those two are highly intertwined) and in parsing through The Great Geno Lewis Mystery.

 

ESPN.com Big Ten reporter Mitch Sherman was next up, and he was quick to squelch any optimism I expressed that the Big Ten would get a team into the inaugural College Football Playoff.  On Hackenberg, Sherman said, “The guy’s got a ceiling and a talent level that probably exceeds just about any quarterback playing the college game right now” – but conceded that the circumstances are making it highly difficult for him to produce like one. Sherman also reveals his halfway-point Big Ten MVPs on offense and defense, and other superlatives in the conference through seven weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

Listen live here:

 

 

And download the link for the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1015PSU14.mp3

 

 

 

As always, thanks for listening and enjoy the week…

 

 

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October 12, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Annexes from Ann Arbor: More pontification on Penn State at midseason

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A REST STOP ON THE OHIO TURNPIKE – To supplement the published notes, some more assorted thoughts after Penn State lost its second in a row at Michigan on Saturday…

 

A nothing-to-lose attempt to shake things up a bit? An act of desperation? Or a new strategical outlook?

 

Whatever the impetus, Penn State offensive John Donovan elected to carry out his in-game duties on the field for the contest at Michigan. Donovan previously expressed a preference to watch games from the pressbox.

 

“Just trying to change it up a little bit,” head coach James Franklin said. “On the sidelines… he can interact with those guys, talk, solve problems.”

 

The Nittany Lions’ meager 214-yard output against the Wolverines suggest not much was solved. At one point, TV cameras even caught Franklin apparently angry with Donovan.

 

One prominent player, though, wholeheartedly endorses having Donovan on the sidelines.

 

“I like it a lot more,” running back Bill Belton said. “I think he gets a feel for the game being down there and I think it makes the offense better too, in my opinion. With him down there we did some things different this week and I think that’s something that should be done from now on.”

 

 

**Punting woes**

 

Franklin acknowledged after the game that, “We have not been punting well.” Poor punting might not have been what cost the Lions the game Saturday, but it didn’t help.

 

The eventual winning points came after Michigan took over in PSU territory following a 29-yard Chris Gulla punt. That meant the Wolverines were in field goal range after executing one 24-yard pass play.

 

Gulla’s final three punts of the game went for 26, 29 and 34 yards.

 

Penn State ranks 13th in the Big Ten in net punting (33.1 yards) and last in gross punting (35.9).

 

Gulla has handled all but four of the Lions’ punts this season. Hackenberg has one quick kick, and freshman Daniel Pasquariello – a native of Australia – has averaged 42.3 gross yards on three punts. Franklin confirmed there remains a “competition” for the job.

 

Franklin had been emphatic throughout the offseason that special teams will be improved. So far, the statistics belie that: In addition to the punting woes, Penn State is 13th in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage, 11th in punt return average and sixth in kickoff return average.

 

 

**More on the lack of Lewis**

 

And finally… The notebook for the newsprint led with the great mystery surrounding Geno Lewis’ sudden disappearance from the offense. It’s downright bewildering not just because of Lewis’ obvious talents and remarkable production – but also because of how much the PSU offense is struggling and how unready the freshmen who are taking Lewis’ place appear.

 

So I personally find it inconceivable that the evaluation was made, for the gameplan, to elevate Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin above Lewis. The two talented freshmen have great futures… but it’s just not quite their time yet to stand out.

 

Assuming Godwin and Blacknall didn’t scale Lewis on the depth chart, that leaves three possibilities (albeit the latter two are parsing through some gray area):

 

  • Lewis is injured
  • Lewis was/is being disciplined
  • Lewis is in the proverbial doghouse

 

The third seems most likely, although that doesn’t make it any less puzzling.

 

Option No. 2 seems the least likely… If Lewis really was being disciplined in the truest sense of the word, he’d likely have, what, sat out the first half? A quarter? The sitting out the first series fits that criteria perfectly… but then why have Lewis off the field for the 3rd and 10 and 3rd and 11 PSU had during the game (Hackenberg threw incomplete to Blacknall during such situations)?

 

Lewis being injured carries some weight, based on the in-game facts alone (It’s logical, in theory, Lewis’ snaps would be limited). But Franklin’s words suggest that’s not it.

 

Yes, PSU’s coach steadfastly refuses to talk about injuries under almost any circumstance (a shortsighted policy, if you ask me – but that’s a different discussion for a different time), so it’s exhausting trying to de-code any of his words when it comes to possible ones. Still, here was Franklin’s answer when asked point-blank Saturday night if Lewis was injured:

 

“I don’t get into injuries, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it – film grades, practice, a lot of things that went into it.”

 

Pressed even FURTHER… “Based on the games all season long, looking at the grades and how guys have been playing, missed assignments, execution, practice habits. There’s always some health things that get into those things, as well, this time of year. There’s a lot of factors. We also feel like some of those young guys deserved an opportunity.”

 

Who knows what to make of that? But, if I had to guess, I’d say the vast bulk of what I take away is that Lewis is NOT injured (or at least not injured to any significant degree).

 

So… that leaves a hybrid “discipline” – i.e., the “doghouse.”

 

Asked three times about Lewis, Franklin all three times used the word “practice.” Twice, he referenced “film.” Each answer included the phrase “a lot of factors.”

 

That leads me to believe the best theory is that Lewis must have shown some lazy tendencies either in his in-game performance or on the practice field (or both). (Which seems out of character for him, at least from my observations and in hearing from those who know him).

 

But if it’s true, it must be significant. Because Penn State really doesn’t have many other options at receiver right now. And the offense has so little margin for error that subtracting arguably its best receiver is a striking move.

 

Then again, if it’s true, do you have to respect the move? It’s a very principled one, you have to admit. If Lewis isn’t pulling his weight in some way, doesn’t this show a firm grasp of leadership of the team as a coaching staff?

 

If Lewis is, say, injured, though, and Franklin isn’t saying, isn’t it terribly unfair to him for media to be forced to speculate, even on some small level, that he’s some sort of locker-room cancer?

 

Lewis, as you might expect, was not made available to media after the game. His only public comment since Saturday postgame was a tweet that read: “My Lord Jesus Christ going to get me thru this”

 

Hopefully, clarity will come to the situation soon.

 

 

 

 

Have a lovely day…

 

 

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October 10, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State hockey embarks on Year 3 of D-I: “There’s no more excuses”

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Gymnastics Championship

 

 

The 2012-13 season was defined by a jump to the NCAA.

Last year at this time, it was the birth of Big Ten hockey and the inaugural season in the sparkling new Pegula Ice Arena that was getting all the attention.

All the “firsts” out of the way, now it’s time for the Nittany Lions to focus on winning.

Penn State hockey opens its third Division I season 7 p.m. Friday at home against UConn.

“This year there’s no more excuses, there’s no more growing pains,” Nittany Lions captain Patrick Koudys said. “We’ve got most of our guys back from last year, and everyone’s on the same page now so we’ll just hit the ground running and have a good start here.”

Playing with a roster that was extremely bottom-heavy with underclassmen, Penn State went 8-26-2 last season and won just three of 20 Big Ten games. The Lions, though, were peaking at the end of the campaign, beating Ohio State in the regular-season finale and upsetting Michigan in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals before a tight 2-1 loss to Wisconsin in the semis.

Penn State had a highly-successful club hockey program that was a regular national championship contender for decades prior to the move to varsity competition in 2012-13. Playing a much weaker schedule than what they’d face when the Big Ten was formed, the Lions went 13-14. (They did, however, beat Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State that season).

This season represents another step of the assimilation into big-time college hockey.

“We’re still in our infancy, obviously, so it’s very much about the process, not the results we get,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “There was one report that we wouldn’t win a game until our third year in the Big Ten, so we certainly haven’t had the experiences enough and the foundations that, ‘This what we’ve seen, this is what we are’ and ‘This is what we expect.’ We’re still in the early stages. We feel we’re well ahead of schedule, so we do have expectations to improve, for sure, but we’re we not judging our performances by wins and losses. We’re judging our performance on the process and how well we improve and continue moving forward.”

Among the top returnees for Penn State are junior goalie Matt Skoff, junior forwards Eric Sheid and David Glen and senior defensemen Koudys and Nate Jensen.

Jensen and Glen were elected alternate captains; Scheid led the Lions in goals (11) and points (20) last season.

In reality, though, the vast majority of last season’s team is back and should, theoretically at least, be better after a year of maturity and experience playing together. Three freshmen were added to the roster.

“I think our biggest strength is having everyone basically know each other; we’re only adding three more kids to our team and other than that we all learned lessons last year that we can all remember and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes now,” said Skoff, who went to Montour High School. “I think that huge as far as experience-wise. I think that’s our greatest asset, to be honest.”

Skoff entered last season as part of a three-goalie rotation but seized the starting job by the stretch run. He was the goalie of record in all of PSU’s wins and had the best goals-against average (2.95) and save percentage (.906) on the team.

Over the season’s final three games (two of them in the Big Ten tournament), Skoff went 2-1 with a 1.41 GAA and .957 save percentage.

“What I think is important is he has the great respect of the team,” Gadowsky said. “He’s a tremendous teammate, he has tremendous work ethic, he’s very much committed to Penn State University, our program, himself as an athlete and the team. He absolutely no question earned the right to be called the starter to start the year.”

Just as Penn State absolutely has earned the right to be called a legitimate Division I hockey program. The success didn’t come last year, but the facilities and fan support (student season tickets sold out in 3 minutes early one summer morning) proved it.

“And it shows at the games,” Koudys said. “We’re only getting more and more fans, only getting stronger, only getting more into it –and I love it. I love it. It’s a factor when teams come into our building. I’ve talked to some guys I know on other teams. I don’t want to say it’s scary, but there’s an intimidation factor when you have fans who are there cheering and giving them a hard time. It’s great, we love playing in front of them.

“Hopefully we can reward them with some wins.”

 

 

 

 

Photo at top: Former Montour High School goalie Matt Skoff is Penn State’s unquestioned starter entering the program’s third season at the NCAA Division I level. (Mark Selders/PSU Athletic Communications)

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October 8, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive Radio ep. 10: How much does losing Wimbush hurt PSU? How much of a mess is Michigan?

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In the return-to-work edition of the Nittany Nation show, we discuss the current crash-and-burn nature of the Michigan football program, the impact of the de-committal of a highly-regarded quarterback recruit and even how reporting has changed over the past quarter century with a man who’s been doing it this whole time.

 

Our first guest was Rich Scarcella of the Reading Eagle, who’s been on the Penn State football beat since 1989.

 

Then for the opponents’ perspective, Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com talked all things Michigan Wolverines.

 

 

To download the podcast, click here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1008PSU14.mp3

 

 

To simply listen, click here:

 

 

As always, Thanks for listening. Have a lovely day.

 

 

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October 1, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive Radio ep. 9: PSU recruiting, the pending Jordan Whitehead announcement

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I’m off from my day job this week — being Penn State’s bye week and all, it’s a good a chance as any to take some time away.

 

But the Nittany Nation show knows no weeks off. It’ll broadcast 52 Wednesdays a year from 9-10 a.m., with the podcast, of course, available for download any time (see below).

 

The bye week spares us from having to talk about the Nittany Lions’ humiliating 29-6 loss to Northwestern this past Saturday. And with no opponent this Saturday, what better time than to talk Penn State recruiting?

 

To do so, we had a couple guests able to break it all down better than anyone — Greg Pickel of PennLive.com and FightOnState.com and Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals.com.

 

Pickel broke down the pending announcement Friday of Central Valley senior Jordan Whitehead, who is one of the state’s top 2015 prospects. He also shed some light on James Franklin & Co.’s intentions in regards to getting to a full 25-man 2015 incoming class (or not), the remaining targets to fill those spots as well as 2016 beyond in Penn State recruiting.

 

Farrell illuminated us not only on some national and Big Ten big-picture recruiting storylines to watch, but also on Penn State’s longterm recruiting prospects and, of most immediate concern, a prediction for Whitehead.

 

According to Farrell, among Whitehead’s four finalists, he’s heard that Ohio State has been eliminated. That, in itself, is a victory for Penn State — keeping him away from the only other conference rival. Farrell is under the impression that although Whitehead’s visit to Pitt went well, Whitehead will choose either West Virginia or Penn State.

 

Whitehead is a player who is very important to Penn State’s coaching staff — not only because of his talent and ability, but because his locale (in-state and, more tellingly, from the WPIAL), the fact he plays a valuable position and the fact PSU would be winning a “battle” with regional rivals Pitt and WVU and a conference (and regional) rival in Ohio State. To get where they want to go, Penn State/James Franklin will need to beat Ohio State/Urban Meyer for prospects.

 

In my mind, Whitehead is one of the most intriguing and anticipated announcements in the WPIAL in recent years — perhaps since Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette was the No. 1 recruit in the country in 2008. Rushel Shell captured the imagination of the region with his gaudy rushing totals. Players such as Dorian Johnson, Alex Bookser, Montae Nicholson, Robert Foster, Paul Jones, Todd Thomas, Dorian Bell, Sterling Jenkins and many others over the past half-decade or so had very high consensus ratings from the recruiting services.

 

But what makes Whitehead so interesting are a couple things: First, his finalists are the three so-called “local” schools (Pitt, PSU, WVU) and the closest “national power”-like school to Pittsburgh (Ohio State). Not only is Whitehead a local product — where he ends up will likely be a local D-I school. Secondly, Whitehead, a 5-10, 165-pound cornerback, has kept his intentions extremely close to the vest. I’ve been in semi-regular contact with him and his coach (just the occasional check-in) over the past few months, but generally he’s just polite and short. He doesn’t give any hints (and neither does his affable and helpful coach at Central Valley, Mark Lyons, give anything away). I’m far from the biggest recruiting guru around, but other outlets seem just as in the dark. I’ll say this, too: Those in the Penn State program don’t know much more than the media does. They are optimistic and they believe they have a good shot Whitehead picks Blue and White — but it’s far, far from certain.

 

Whitehead has been a target of the Penn State staff since they took over in January. Franklin & Co. have won their share of recruiting battles — and accolades — to this point on the job. Securing Whitehead (because of the circumstances) would represent as big a win as any they’ve gotten so far. No matter what Whitehead decides, it’ll impact area college football. Throw in the whole Tom Bradley-vs.-Penn State storyline, and it all makes for a captivating announcement being made Friday (At least inasumch as any recruiting announcement can be, if you happen to be into that sort of thing and all…).

 

Anyway, to the TribLive Radio show

 

Download the podcast link here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1001PSU14.mp3

 

Or listen live right here:

 

 

Now, back to my paternity leave. Talk to you next Wednesday with a preview of Penn State-Michigan. Until then, have a lovely week.

 

 

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September 24, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Nittany Nation TribLive Radio episode No. 8: Northwestern preview, How good is PSU?

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A full hour Wednesday morning for the Nittany Nation Show on TribLive Radio.

 

Per the subject of the printed product in Wednesday’s Trib, we discuss just how good Penn State really is. A third of the way through the season, the Nittany Lions are undefeated – but considering who they’ve played and how they’ve looked, do we know what that means?

 

Our first guest was Frank Bodani, who’s been covering PSU football since 1994 for the York Daily Record.

 

Also on was Seth Gruen, who covers Big Ten football in general and the Northwestern Wildcats in particular for the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

 

Listen with one click right here:

 

 

Or download the link for podcasting use later by clicking here.

 

 

As always, thanks for listening.

 

 

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September 24, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Della Valle on getting a feel for, fielding and fair-catching punts

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In a trademark surprise unannounced move by Penn State, Jesse Della Valle was brought out to the dais in the Beaver Stadium media room following the conclusion of James Franklin’s weekly news conference Tuesday. (Cornerback Trevor Williams had previously been announced as a player available for comment).

 

No matter, it’s always a pleasure to hear from Della Valle, a gregarious Shaler native, former walk-on and fifth-year senior. The major topic of conversation was Della Valle’s punt returning, for which he’s developed a reputation for fair catches. Lots and lots of fair catches. He addressed that multiple times:

 

 

“I haven’t been able to return quite as many punts as I would have liked, but at the same time I don’t want to put the team in a position where I’m fielding punts that I shouldn’t be or I’m trying to return punts that I shouldn’t be, so I’ve been fair catching a lot of balls, which like I said, I’d like to return more.  But that’s something that I’ve got to work on, too.”

 

“Mainly, all my punt returns come from just making smart decisions. And that’s what I have to do is decide if a fair catch is the best decision or if a return is the best decision. For me to catch every ball and try to return every ball is not a smart decision for the football team, so that’s why I’ve made fair caught so many balls that I have is because I’ve felt personally that it would be best for the team that I retain that field position and just fair catch the ball and get it to our offense, get it to (QB Christian Hackenberg) and those guys.”

 

“There is a timetable (to the decision of a fair catch or not). If I feel like it’s hanging up there a lot, I know if it’s shorter I’m probably going to have to fair catch it… You kind of get a feel for where your pressure is coming from or if it’s a low kick, if it’s a high kick. Definitely something I’ll be working on and trying to keep returning more punts.”

 

 

In four games, Della Valle has returned four punts. He has nine fair catches.

 

 

Coach James Franklin said he’d like to see more of the former than the latter – but not so much so that he’s looking to replace Della Valle with someone he can’t trust as much to be both surehanded and smart:

 

“He’s been really successful in catching the ball and making great decisions, but we would like a little bit more play making.

 

“If that comes from him, great.  But we have some other guys that we’re working back there at practice every single day and they may be catching it consistently, but their fundamentals and techniques aren’t great or their fundamentals and techniques aren’t great, but they’re not catching the ball as consistently as they need to and things like that.  So, No. 1, they’ve got to catch the ball.  And then No. 2, if you can find somebody that has the ability to be electric with the ball in their hands and make some plays, then you’ve got the whole package and you’ve got something special. But I’m not going to give up the consistency of catching the ball for the play making at this point.”

 

 

Della Valle indicated he’s still working on mastering the change in strategy from having two punt return men deep – as former coach Bill O’Brien did last season – to him being the only guy back this season:

 

“For me. it’s just kind of an adjustment of detecting where that first pressure is going to come from, knowing that I don’t have that off returner to pick up the first guy.”

 

 

Though Della Valle has been the Lions’ primary punt returner over the past three games, he was finally placed atop the depth chart at the position in the weekly list that was released Tuesday. For the time being, Della Valle and former Quad North conference rival Gregg Garrity of North Allegheny appear to be the Nittany Lions’ top two punt return options.

 

 

 

Enjoy your week leading up to Penn State’s Homecoming game against Northwestern noon Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

 

 

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September 19, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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James Franklin & Co.’s busy Friday recruiting in Pittsburgh

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Penn State coach James Franklin is spending much of his Friday in the Pittsburgh area as part of his weekly recruiting tours, Nittany Lions cornerbacks coach/defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith said Thursday. More details of the planned itinerary have emerged.

 

Smith and Franklin plan on visiting Woodland Hills, Baldwin, Central Catholic and Central Valley high schools early in the day, it was confirmed by a coach and/or player at each school. It doesn’t take too much digging to understand why those schools are of interest:

 

Woody High junior Miles Sanders was Penn State’s first 2016 verbal commitment, offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins is a 6-foot-8 four-star recruit from Baldwin, there are multiple Central Catholic players who will be Division I recruits (including defensive back Damar Hamlin, who is one of the top Class of 2016 prospects in Pennsylvania) and Central Valley defensive back Jordan Whitehead is the consensus top-rated uncommitted 2015 prospect in the state.

 

The plan for Franklin and Smith is to attend parts of both the Baldwin-Woodland Hills game and the Central Valley-Moon games.

 

“It’s an active day,” Smith said during a conference call with media Thursday. “Coach Franklin will go back and forth for the morning and come back (to State College) to handle our team for practice and then come back (to Pittsburgh) so he can see a couple games there as well. Then we’ll fly back late at night, get up with the team and get things done. Each week a different guy on staff does that.”

 

In addition, wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis will be in town, expected to visit Clairton to touch base with Aaron Matthews and Lamont Wade. Mathews is a junior receiver and Wade a sophomore running back prospect. The Bears, 3-0 and outscoring opponents 130-0 this season, plays at Springdale on Friday.

 

Though Franklin has been to Pittsburgh for speaking engagements and other reasons, this is believed to be no more than his third visit to the area for purely recruiting purposes since being hired as Penn State coach in January.

 

Franklin’s WPIAL recruiting exploits already include wrapping up Mt. Lebanon receiver (now safety) Troy Apke (a Bill O’Brien recruit who’s on the current roster), getting Jenkins and Sanders verbally committed to future classes and making scholarship offers out to now-seniors Whitehead and Kittanning tight end Nick Bowers (who made a verbal commitment to Pitt in January).

 

Any time a head coach visits a high school, it creates a buzz. As Central Catholic coach Terry Totten put it, “It’s a red-letter day around here, you know?”

 

It’s also a big day for Smith, the longtime successful coach at WPIAL Class AAAA power Gateway, to strut his recruiting stuff. As Smith told the Trib’s Kevin Gorman upon being hired in January: “My role is to secure Pittsburgh and Western PA. Any top talent there, I’ve got to get it. That’s my responsibility. I’m a diligent worker, and I’m going to work hard to establish the boundaries of Western Pa. so that Penn State gets the chosen ones.

 

Bringing one of the country’s hottest young head coaches with him is one way to aid in that cause.

 

 

 

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