TribLIVE
Blogs | Sports | News
Penn State Sports

« Font size »
Decrease | Reset |Increase

November 7, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Notes to get ready for Penn State-Indiana

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

 CHARLOTTE DOUGLAS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Because, why wouldn’t I go farther in a different direction than to my final destination merely to begin my trip to Indiana?

 

Just some random Penn State football-related thoughts as I have a bit of free time during my sojourn to the heart of the Midwest.

 

The first two notes actually will appear in the print edition Saturday on our GAMEDAY page (in a slightly cut-down form), but since we do not offer them with the online coverage, I included them in this blog post. (Probably a good idea for me to continue to do that in the future, because sometimes there’s some hidden gems here).

 

Enjoy the game Saturday. Give the TribLive PSU show podcast a listen, if you are so inclined.

 

 

**Youthful PSU roster just keeps getting younger**

As the season progresses, freshmen have earned the Penn State coaching staff’s trust and some upperclassmen have been unable to play because of injury. The result is the further erosion of the experience of the Nittany Lions’ already-youthful roster.

 

PSU began the season with the second-highest percentage of seniors and juniors of any FBS team in the country. But with junior linebacker Ben Kline, senior guard Mikes Dieffenbach, senior running back Zach Zwinak and senior safety Ryan Keiser all missing significant time because of injury (of that group, only Dieffenbach has a chance to play at all during the remainder of the season), the Lions’ youth is even more magnified.

 

Check some of the player-participation notes from this past Saturday’s game against Maryland:

 

  • The offense had exactly one senior play (running back Bill Belton, who gained 14 yards on his eight touches)
  • Four freshmen and four sophomores started on offense, in addition to three juniors
  • More freshmen (five) than seniors (four) were in the starting offensive and defensive lineups combined
  • Breakdown by class among the 22 starters: Four seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores, five freshmen
  • On opposite ends of the eligibility spectrum, there were two true freshmen who started and nine overall who played; there were two fifth-year seniors who started and three overall who played
  • Even forgetting fifth-year players, there were more true freshmen who played (nine) than seniors (eight) – when redshirt freshmen are counted, that former number swells to 14

 

 

**‘Genius’ turns around PSU defense**

Last season’s Penn State defense ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring and yardage, and was in the middle of the conference against the rush.

 

From it, four starters were subtracted – two of whom are currently in NFL rosters – heading into 2014. Any new additions to the roster are mostly freshmen who, while their impact is gradually growing, have generally played complementary roles over the first two-thirds of this season.

 

The result? The Nittany Lions rank No. 3 in total defense, No. 9 in scoring defense and No. 1 in rushing defense in the country.

 

How? Why?

 

“Coach Shoop is a genius,” sophomore defensive tackle Austin Johnson said, unsolicited, of PSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

 

Shoop, a Riverview High School graduate, also counts Yale among his alma maters.

 

“I think he’s just a genius,” said linebacker Brandon Bell when told of Johnson’s comment. “When he says things are going to happen (a particular) way, they do. It shows up.”

 

 

**Gattis-speak**

The current coaching staff has no shortage of candidates to be a future college head coach. For many of them, their youth suggests that, if their career ascension continues and success at PSU follows, it could be, in theory, within the realm of possibility.

 

Wide receivers coach/offensive recruiting coordinator/assistant special teams coordinator (these hyphenated titles kill my word counts) Josh Gattis is certainly among that group. Barely into his 30s, Gattis has a charisma that helps allure recruits, and he is well-spoken and intelligent enough to be the proverbial face of a program with the media.

 

That was on display Thursday, when Gattis was the one assistant that is available to the media weekly. (Don’t get me started on how they are doubling up on some coaches, while others – offensive coordinator John Donovan, anyone? – have been shielded… but that’s for another time).

 

Among the highlights was his opinion on the two true freshmen who are playing at receiver this season, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall: “I think those guys are really progressing. I’m really happy about Saeed and Chris. Those guys are playing really good ball. They are making some plays out there. It’s hard sometimes when you have a bunch of guys rotating in. Some of the opportunities they aren’t in for, they can’t make. But as far as their attempts, their completions and their targets, I’ve really been pleased with how they are playing as they continue to develop. This is a young group. DaeSean still has room to develop, but he has been playing really good football. Geno is a young player who is playing good football, but he still has a lot more room to grow. I think as a group, we have to continue to find ways to get those guys more active as far as Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin. We need to continue to get those guys more and more reps.”

 

 

**Zettel a playmaking machine**

Even the previous two seasons, when he was playing much more sparingly, Anthony Zettel was making an impact seemingly every time he was on the field. Now, in 2014 – at a different position, no less – Zettel is emerging as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive linemen.

 

Listen to opponents’ press conferences in the week leading up to playing Penn State. They invariably always mention the 6-4, 274-pound fourth-year junior. I expect a monster 2015 from him, after having had a full season to settle into playing on the interior and another year of experience and physical maturity to rely on.

 

Still, despite being among the Big Ten leaders among defensive tackles in sacks and tackles for loss (and interceptions and touchdowns, for that matter), Zettel doesn’t sound overly impressed with himself.

 

“Yeah, I’m pleased, but I also know I have a lot of stuff to improve,” he said. “I’ve left a lot of plays out on the field that if I could have done something simple or technique‑wise, I could have made more of a play.  So I know I have a lot to improve to be a great player.  I’m just going to keep striving to be that.”

 

 

**Not-so special**

Penn State’s special team rankings in the Big Ten: Kickoff returns (seventh), punt returns (13th), punting (12th), kickoff coverage (11th).

 

Good thing for Sam Ficken, who’s missed just two of 36 kicks all season (mid-range field goals against Rutgers and Northwestern in September) and has a respectable 18 touchbacks on 41 kickoffs this season.

 

Too bad he can’t punt.

 

Or can he?

 

“I did a little bit of that in the spring,” Ficken said Tuesday. “ But right now that’s something that I’m not focused on. We have faith in our guys right now, so I don’t think you’ll see me punting.”

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

November 5, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

TribLive show ep. 14: PSU-IU preview, Has the losing streak changed the perception of Franklin? Is it time to blame Hack?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The first thing James Franklin said as he sat down to begin his weekly news conference Tuesday – after his standard thanking of everyone for being there, anyway – was, “I’m in a great mood.”

 

Setting the narrative as he is so adept at doing, Franklin clearly wanted to keep a positive spin on things, as a man on the heels of a four-game losing streak (PSU’s longest in a single season in more than a decade) who hadn’t experienced a victory in 45 days to that point.

 

Franklin might be in a great mood… but are Penn State fans? Has this seven-week span of futility (a handful of high-profile recruiting losses have been part of it, too) changed your mindset and outlook for the program under Franklin going forward?

 

For what my opinion’s worth (not much), 4-4 is right about where everyone thought (or should have thought) this team would be at this point. And a top-15 (but not top-5) recruiting class is right about where everyone thought (or should have thought) this program would get. The disappointment comes in how it got to these places (from 4-0 to 4-4 and from a brief period as the No. 1 recruiting class down to what is now No. 13, per Rivals).

 

On whole: Not much has changed in how I view the ability of Franklin and his staff to carry the Nittany Lions to the proverbial “next level.”

 

Now, as for my opinion of Christian Hackenberg’s ability to do the same… well…

 

To discuss those issues and more, I was glad to have Travis Johnson and Mike Miller join me. Johnson is the PSU beat writer for its hometown paper, the Centre Daily Times; Miller the IU beat writer for its hometown paper, the Herald Times of Bloomington.

 

 

 

Listen with one click right here:

 

 

And download the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1105PSU14.mp3

 

 

Enjoy the rest of the week (and weekend)…

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 29, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

TribLive Radio PSU show ep. 13: How Saturday felt like a win, recruiting recap from Ohio State weekend

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

NORTH SHORE – Unlucky episode No. 13… during Halloween week?!

 

Not with Sean Fitz on this week’s Nittany Nation show on TribLive Radio. The editor of Lions247.com is connected and knowledgeable about Penn State’s team and its recruiting. He breaks down what this past Saturday’s Whiteout double-overtime loss to Ohio State means to the 100-plus high school prospects who were guests of the program that night. He also goes in-depth in what Nittany Lions recruiting storylines are for the rest of this winter for both the 2015 and ’16 classes and beyond.

 

For the weekly opponents’ viewpoint segment, Maryland beat writer Matt Zenitz  of the Baltimore Sun Media Group enlightened us on the state of the Terrapins’ program and its plight this season as well as sixth-year quarterback and Seneca Valley graduate C.J. Brown’s up-and-down Maryland career as it approaches its close.

 

 

Listen with one click here:

 

 

And download the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1029PSU14.mp3

 

 

Until we chat again, enjoy the rest of your week.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 27, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Nittany notes: Where’s Geno? DaeSean the new A-Rob? Recruiting rundown

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I’m done trying to decipher what, exactly, has gone sour with Geno Lewis’ season.

Penn State trotted out Geno Lewis as the lone player available at the podium during the weekly news conference Tuesday. Trust me, PSU would not have done that if it didn’t want to, or if it was a sensitive situation with his status on the team or if it didn’t want him talking.

 

Lewis then started Saturday. All is forgotten for the player who entered the season as by far the Lions’ most accomplished receiver and began it with 25 catches for 462 yards over its first four games but then quickly (inexplicably?) became an afterthought in the offense, right?

 

Wrong. Lewis was targeted just three times (once each during the first half, second half and overtime). He ended up with one reception for 11 yards (it came during the tying drive late in the fourth quarter).

 

For whatever reason, freshmen Saeed Blacknall (six targets) and Chris Godwin (four targets) both have surpassed Lewis on the depth chart and/or in the minds’ of the playcallers and/or in terms of the trust quarterback Christian Hackenberg has in him.

 

After being cryptic about the reasons for Lewis’ apparent demotion following the Michigan game, Franklin said Tuesday that Lewis is “back to feeling 100 percent” and that the two had a meeting that “went extremely well.”

 

**Spreading the wealth?**

Lewis’ near-disappearance from the offense helped contribute to DaeSean Hamilton being targeted 22 times by Christian Hackenberg on Saturday – accounting for almost half of Hackenberg’s 49 attempts. The rest of the wide receivers accounted for 12 targets, the tight ends eight (four to Jesse James and two each to Mike Gesicki and Kyle Carter) and the running backs four (Akeel Lynch, 2; Bill Belton, 2). Two others were intercepted and one a spike.

 

Penn State’s offense is in danger (if that’s the right word) of emulating the 2013 version in which the passing game became Allen Robinson… and then, everyone else.

 

Robinson, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, had 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season. He had 40 percent of the Lions’ overall receptions and 60 percent of the wide receivers’ share.

 

Over the past three games (since Lewis went AWOL), Hamilton has 36 percent of all PSU catches and 60 percent of the wide receivers’ catches.

 

 

**Recruit-out **

As I’ve said in this space before, I never was a recruiting kinda guy – as a consumer. I totally get it and why it’s interesting to some people and why so many people are so hyped to track it. And more ppower to them, to each his own, etc., etc. I just, in my mind, have always wanted to draw a line somewhere (again, as a consumer/fan). I’ll start tracking athletes once they get to a certain level – not before it (I have similar thoughts about the NFL Draft).

 

Anyway… without getting too deep into this tangent, what I’m getting at is that Saturday was my first visit to a pregame field to mingle with the bevy of prospective recruits (and their guests) who are there for a game. The annual Whiteout game at PSU, more than most, draws people. It’s the “showcase game” (for lack of a better way of putting it) for the program.

 

What struck me was how festive the atmosphere is. The mood is celebratory – and this is pregame. Coaches – who have to be weighed down mentally from countless hours of game prep that is about to be put to use at kick off – are enthusiastically greeting kid after kid after kid.

 

Nobody made a verbal commitment, but there are plenty of other reasons to celebrate. Some – like Gateway lineman Robert Hainsey – have a reason to celebrate in receiving a scholarship offer. Others are happy just to be invited (let’s face it: Of the roughly 100 high school players who are invitees of the program, most will never receive a scholarship offer. And while there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with playing for a Division II or I-AA or, say, MAC school, some of these kids just get to get a kick out of being in a 107,000-seat stadium – even if just to watch). Then, there’s the families. Little brothers and sisters are in heaven. Heck, BIG brothers and sisters, too. Dads, moms, grandpa and grandma? Yep.

 

What I’m saying, basically, is that everyone is jovial and the mood is festive. Throw in a couple of juiced-up teams about to embark on a nationally-televised game, a growing number of tens of thousands of (many-intoxicated) revved-up fans… and, of course, a DJ blasting tunes… and it’s quite the scene.

 

Just wanted to share. When it comes to actual useful takeaways? Baldwin’s Sterling Jenkins (whose family was there; it was his official visit) seemed like one of the VIPs of the VIPs. Seemingly always at the center of attention.

 

Often next to him? Matthew Burrell. Burrell, another one of the top linemen in the country in the 2015 class (he has dozens of scholarship offers), was hanging with Jenkins throughout most of the roughly 90 minutes I was on the field.

 

Players who I ran into who have scholarship offers from Penn State included Central Catholic junior Damar Hamlin, Kittanning tight end Nick Bowers (a Pitt verbal recruit), junior receiver Trevon Diggs, and cornerback Julian Briscoe.

 

Additionally, several players who have made verbal commitments to PSU were on hand – among them were Jenkins, Sanders, Jonathan Holland, Andre Robinson, Ruan Buchholz, Brandon Polk, Adam McLean, Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles.

 

Aiden Howard (Gateway), Malik Mathis (Penn Hills), Aaron Matthews (Clairton), Khaleke Hudson (McKeesport), Darius Wise (Beaver Area) were among the WPIAL players I came across, in addition to Hamlin, Jenkins and dynamic Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders.

 

Speaking of the WPIAL:

 

 

**Nittany notes**

Left tackle Donovan Smith left late during Saturday’s game with an apparent undisclosed injury. Smith was the only returning starter entering the season. … An injury to safety Ryan Keiser meant only four seniors were in the Penn State starting lineup. … The Lions’ tying field-goal drive late Saturday lasted 19 plays – their longest in five years. … Penn State’s 16 net yards rushing were its fewest since having minus-14 against Michigan in 2006.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 23, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

More from one-on-one with Miles Dieffenbach as his anticipated return to action nears

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Will he or won’t he? It’s the biggest on-field storyline mystery heading into Saturday night’s Whiteout Penn State game against Ohio State.

 

Will Fox Chapel’s Miles Dieffenbach be in uniform? Will he play? How much? Will he start? Can he be the beleaguered offensive line’s savior?

 

Dieffenbach, who sustained a torn ACL in his left knee in March, is nearing the seven-month mark in his rehab. He will play again this season – but in how many games? Six remain. Evidence is mounting that the fifth-year senior left guard will play in all six of ‘em, returning for the Buckeyes game this Saturday.

 

Other than at the annual Lift For Life charity event in July – a worthy cause, by the way  – Dieffenbach’s only public comments since his March injury were in a phone interview late last week.

 

With Dieffenbach seemingly getting closer to playing by the day, here is some more of that conversation:

 

 

 

His overall feelings on what he went through not being able to play so far this season…

The tough part is not being out there with my brothers, out there on the field. That’s something that you work for every year and that’s what you train for – you want to be out there battling with your guys. So it’s hard standing on the sidelines like that. I’m just trying to help my guys out as much as I can.

But it’s been rewarding. I know I’m going to come back stronger and faster than I was before. My trainers and strength coach have done a great job of bringing me back, so it’s been rewarding because it’s kind of not only helped me understand the game more but also appreciate the game, realizing how much I missed being out there and practicing with the guys and playing in the games. I’ve been able to do a lot of film study, really study defenses, study our offense and really try to focus on the mental side of the game while I can’t be physically out there playing.

 

 

On how he’d describe his overall rehab experience…

I’ve never had a major injury, so this is my first one and … At first, it’s tough. But you realize, though, that you only option is get up every day and work as hard as you can and win the day. That’s something we take pride in everyday just doing the best job you can. So for me the best job was rehabbing and working out as hard as I could and watching film as hard as I could and helping my teammates out as much as I could. And so I took that role and I’ve embraced it.

 

 

On why he stayed so ubiquitous around the team, in meetings, at practice, etc…

I just figured, really, that was my only option – to stay around and help these guys out as much as I could. You know, we have a young offensive line, and I realized I could definitely help them with the mental side of the game so I knew I wanted to help in that way and also in the physical part, helping coach those guys when Coach Hand couldn’t.

(Offensive line coach Herb Hand) had been awesome; he’s really been helping me out along the way, kind of learning the ropes of the other side of football – coaching, and learning how to help these guys out. So it’s been very rewarding.

 

 

On what a typical day entailed for him since sustaining the injury…

I’d wake up, I’d come in and I’d ice up and I’d do a little stuff to get the legs moving, I’d go to class and I’d come back and we’d either have practice or film, so I’d be there with the film watching with the guys, helping them out there and with the drills. And then all day I’d lift and rehab. Lift, rehab – that’s basically all the rest of the day what I’d do. So when we did have meetings I’d be in there helping with the guys.

So it was hard right in the beginning of spring practice because during practice I’d be in there rehabbing so I couldn’t be out there practicing with the guys and be out there. But it’s obviously different now that fall has rolled around I can be out there for every practice and helping the guys out there.

 

 

On what his gameday duties have been so far this season…

Getting the calls in, and I just really look at our offensive line and serve as extra eyes on the offensive line. We obviously have Coach Hand on the field, we have our GA, Tyler Bowen, who’s up in the box looking at our offensive line, so we’re just trying to see what defenses they’re running and what kind of stunts they’re doing and how our offensive line is playing and…  helping with adjustments on the sideline and helping guys read defenses and see what (the opponent) is doing.

 

 

On how he’s been able to keep the positive attitude that so many have said he has throughout his rehab…

You know, there really is no other option when something like this happens… Everything happens for a reason – my only option was to work hard. You can’t really sulk about it. That’s only going to bring you down and bring the guys around you down. And I like to stay upbeat, I’m a positive guy, so that was my only option.

 

 

On what his immediate initial feelings and thoughts were when the injury occurred…

It was pretty painful. Right away I think I knew something was definitely wrong and then you end up getting the MRI and you actually see what was wrong with the knee.

 

 

On getting to play in live scrimmages last week…

That was great to get those reps in… You’ve got to start getting some live reps at some point, so this was a great week (last week) to get some live reps with the young guys and try to get back into the swing of things, and it felt great. The knee feels awesome, just getting out there kind of getting the rust off and trying to get my game back to where it was and playing my best.

 

 

On the original diagnosis was given to him by doctors…

At the time, really, for a knee 5-7 months is fast, 7-9 months normal and 9-12 is long. They said it all depends, everybody’s different in how they recover from these types of surgeries. And so I obviously wanted to choose to be in the fast, 5-7 months, so that was my mindset and I worked my butt off as hard as I could to get in that category so I could try to be back for my guys and playing in some games.

 

 

On if he will be playing in a game this season…

Yeah, definitely.

 

 

On if medical personnel have told him that his rehabilitation has been ahead of schedule throughout this process…

Our team doctor, Dr. (Scott) Lynch checks me out weekly. He’s been saying good things about the knee. Everything’s been going well, so I have been pleased with it. I couldn’t ask for a better support staff, the strength coach, the doctors, our athletic trainers, really have just helped me out so much along the process of getting my knee back to playing strength and being able to obviously do all that stuff on it. So couldn’t ask for a better support staff.

 

 

On if he’s looking forward to chasing a professional career after the season ends…

Yeah, definitely going to pursue an NFL career when I’m done. But I’m just taking it day by day. That’s all you can do. You can’t really focus on the future – just get at it everyday, work as hard as you can and on the future will take care of itself.

 

 

When asked what the toughest part of his rehab/physical therapy was, Dieffenbach took a more positive approach for the answer…

Our training staff, strength staff and doctors had put together a world-class rehabilitation for my knee so they … so they made it an awesome experience.  Obviously you’ve got to put a lot of hard work in and it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort – a lot of effort. But they couldn’t have been better with my knee or helped me out anymore.

 

 

On how difficult it is to pull off moving from the defensive line to being a starter on the offensive line in a six-month span like teammates Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey did…

Oh yeah, that’s really had, when you’ve been trained, really, in your mind, to be a defensive lineman, specific movements for all that time, (and) it’s completely different to play offensive line so you’ve got to commend those guys for how well they have adjusted to that and all the hard work and time they’ve put in to become Division I starting offensive linemen.

 

 

On if there are any remaining hurdles or milestones to clear before returning to game action…

Not really, it’s just kind of comes down to playing well and getting the movement back. We’ve been doing lateral movement – really, every type of movement – for a long time now. So just doing the strength stuff, getting the movement back, playing well and just being ready to play… There’s really no exact date, it’s more of a day-by-day thing, you’ve got to take it day-by-day, work as hard as you can – and when the time comes, we’ll know. It’ll be a group decision with myself and my family and the doctors.

 

 

 

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 22, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 17, 2014
by Chris Adamski


One comment so far - add yours!

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.”

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 15, 2014
by Chris Adamski


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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…

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 12, 2014
by Chris Adamski


2 comments so far - add yours!

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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…

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

October 10, 2014
by Chris Adamski


One comment so far - add yours!

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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)

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
 
Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: This Just In | Trib List | ICycle | Flow Back | Stories Behind Trib Stories  


» Top TribLIVE.com Sports
» Top TribLIVE.com News
» Top TribLIVE.com Breaking News