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January 14, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive Radio ep. 23: Wrestling legend Cael Sanderson talks PSU striving for 5th straight national title, Cory Giger discusses Bob Shoop, Big Ten strength

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We made a splash with the first non-football foray on the weekly Penn State show (it took 23 episodes!), having on a man who has won eight NCAA wrestling championships (four as an athlete at Iowa State and four more as the coach of the Nittany Lions), Cael Sanderson.

 

 

With apologies to Bob Shoop, PSU football’s stellar defensive coordinator, Olympic gold medalist Sanderson easily and immediately becomes the most decorated guest we’ve had on the young history of the show. Sanderson talks about a week of practice after a defeat (he’s currently in the middle of only the fifth such week over the past five years), the pressure of winning on a four-time defending national championship team, the decision to redshirt Franklin Regional grad Nico Megaludis, the meat grinder that is the Lions’ schedule, the rich history of wrestling in Pennsylvania and also the challenges he faces as a truly elite former athlete in relating to wrestlers who – while extremely talented in their own rights for the NCAA Division I level – are not quite 159-0 in-their-careers-level of talents (yes, that is Sanderson’s career record!).

 

 

In the second half of the show, Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror and ESPN Radio brings his longtime perspective of covering Penn State. We discuss the importance to PSU of keeping Shoop around, the effect to the Lions program of neighboring Ohio State’s national title and the decisions of Donovan Smith, Deion Barnes and Jesse James to declare for the NFL draft a year early.

 

 

All in all, worth a listen, no?

 

 

Listen here with one click:

 

 

And here is the link to download the podcast:

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/114PSU15.mp3 

 

 

National Signing Day is less than three weeks away…

Have a good one.

 

 

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January 7, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive PSU show ep. 22: Recruiting storylines; Will Bob Shoop leave? Harbaugh hire impact on PSU

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What are the big recruiting storylines with National Signing Day just four weeks away?

 

What will former Big Ten assistant Pat Narduzzi’s hiring at Pitt mean – if anything – to Penn State and PSU recruiting?

 

What will the hire by Michigan of Jim Harbaugh mean over the longterm to the Nittany Lions?

 

How surprising were the early defections to the NFL of Deion Barnes, Donovan Smith and Jesse James, and how will their absences impact Penn State going forward?

 

Will WPIAL standouts Nick Bowers and John Petrishen decide to attend PSU?

 

 

 

We explore all these topics – and oh-so-much more – on this week’s edition of “Nittany Lion Nation” on TribLive Radio (http://sportstalk.triblive.com/).

 

Recruiting expert Ryan Snyder of BlueWhiteIllustrated.com and longtime Penn State beat writer Rich Scarcella of the Reading Eagle discuss with me.

 

Please listen, won’t you?

 

 

With one click here:

 

 

Or download the link to the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/107PSU14.mp3

 

 

Stay warm this weekend.

 

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January 1, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive PSU show ep. 21: Pinstripe Bowl recap, does it foretell good things for 2015?

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The weekly Penn State show on TribLive Radio was bumped up to Monday because of New Year’s Eve, but that worked out well to recap the Nittany Lions’ win against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl that ended roughly 36 hours prior.

 

I was joined by colleague Bill West, who’s been sharing the Penn State beat with me in recent weeks, and Derek Levarse of the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

 

We discuss what the improbable comeback win at Yankee Stadium means to the program, look ahead of the 2015 season and even touch on some recruiting storylines. Give it a listen, won’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen here with one click:

 

 

Or click here to download the podcast:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1229PSU14.mp3

 

 

Best wishes for 2015 to you and your family…

 

 

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January 1, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State’s offense: ‘You know what, we’re tired of (struggling)… We had our swagger back’

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(Note: A database crash erased from servers blog entries that were posted over a period of time last week. I typically type out my posts in a Word file and copy-and-paste them over, so I have the copies from the missing posts. Simply for the record and archival purposes, I am re-posting two lost blog posts here on 1/1/15. The original publish date for this content was 12/28/14. Slight editing might be missing from the original finished product.)

 

 

THIRTY-THOUSAND FEET ABOVE PENNSYLVANIA – My random thoughts, quotes and observations about the Penn State offense following the Nittany Lions’ emotional 31-30 win against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday at Yankee Stadium…

 

 

Break up that PSU offense, no? Let’s not sugarcoat things – if “awful” is too strong a word to describe its performance and production during the Big Ten season, it’s (no pun intended) awfully close to being an accurate adjective. Let’s face it: Its scoring (14.0 points per game) and yardage (267.5 per game) outputs in conference play would have ranked them 124th in each among 125 FBS teams for the season.

 

That said, wow, did Penn State’s offense look like a well-oiled machine Saturday: 453 yards, 31 points, 9-for-17 third-down efficiency, nine of 13 drives traveling at least 30 yards. And that was not a poor Boston College defense (13th nationally), either. Just goes to prove that, when you have a quarterback as talented as Christian Hackenberg, when he’s on, good things will happen.

 

“Christian was the (bowl) MVP for a reason,” running back Akeel Lynch said. “He commanded the huddle and showed what he’s always had – that ability. There’s a reason why he’s our captain and our quarterback. You saw it on the field.

 

On the offense as a whole, Lynch said, “We were just tired of being so close… I think this time we had to win the game; our defense held us up all year. We were in the mindset that we’ve got to score points and we’ve got to win this for our team… We just said, ‘You know what, we’re tired of this. We’re tired of being too short.’ And I think that’s just the mindset switch. We were able to get out with a W.”

 

Added receiver DaeSean Hamilton, succinctly: “We just came out, and we had our swagger back.”

 

With virtually no seniors playing significant roles (guard Miles Dieffenbach played only one quarter before being lost to injury; running back Bill Belton was ineffective and rarely used in lieu of Lynch), could that mean a better 2015 for the Lions offense? Putting aside that, statistically, it has to be better just because it can’t be worse, there is reason to believe that it can be much better next season. The receiving corps figures to be deep. The tight ends, even if Jesse James happens to turn pro, will also be deep (Adam Breneman will be back to join Kyle Carter, Mike Gesicki and, perhaps, James). Lynch has proven he can be no worse than a capable Big Ten-level featured back. Hackenberg, while inconsistent as a sophomore, showed signs of the brilliance that’s been forecasted for him. Having a year under the system of coordinator John Donovan should only help.

 

Which means it all comes down to the offensive line. Again, it has to be better simply because it can’t be worse. Plus, everyone who played (outside of the equivalent of about three games worth of Dieffenbach) is back and figures to be bigger, stronger, smarter. Add in Paris Palmer – arguably the top junior-college lineman in the country – and there’s reason to believe that, just maybe, the line won’t weigh down the offense next season.

 

“I’ve been saying since day one,” coach James Franklin said, “if we can give (Hackenberg) time and give our receivers a little time to work their routes, I think we can be pretty good on offense.”

 

 

A happy and healthy 2015 to everyone.

 

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January 1, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State in the Big Apple: Franklin’s idea of PSU’s ‘family’ and what it’d mean to win

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(Note: A database crash erased from servers blog entries that were posted over a period of time last week. I typically type out my posts in a Word file and copy-and-paste them over, so I have the copies from the missing posts. Simply for the record and archival purposes, I am re-posting two lost blog posts here on 1/1/15. The original publish date for this content was 12/26/14. Slight editing might be missing from the original finished product.)

 

 

 

A SEVENTH-FLOOR HOTEL ROOM IN QUEENS – Fifteen hours into my day since awakening in my palatial Carnegie estate and heading off to New York City for coverage of Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl, here are some notes…

 

 

—-Penn State coach James Franklin often talks about “family” in regards to the program. He’s repeatedly discussed how he’ll miss the unity of the current team (rightly mentioning how it will never be together as one again after this weekend), even though he’s only had one season as part of it.

 

During a news conference Friday at Yankee Stadium, Franklin was asked if he felt as if he and his staff have been able to aptly assimilate into that family atmosphere he so speaks of. Franklin said, “I hope we have,” and then went into a longer answer:

 

“Penn State a place where we had the same coach for 100 years, and we have tremendous respect for our history and our past – but I can’t be anybody but James Franklin.

 

“I think I’m probably very different in a lot of ways than the last two coaches who sat in this role. I hope we already have shown respect of the past… If it hasn’t happened already, I hope it’ll happen over time that we’re building and earning everybody’s trust and respect. This is a very, very important position at Penn State and its history, and you’ve got coaches and a coaching staff here that understands that and are just as proud to be here and part of the (university) community as anyone else… It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And every single day we wake up trying our best.”

 

 
—-Franklin relayed an anecdote from a practice earlier this month. According to Franklin, fifth-year senior guard Miles Dieffenbach told him that when he was a true freshman (in 2010, when he arrived at University Park as a four-star recruit) he was “on the fifth team” and often would “watch” practice and not get any reps.

 

This season, the Nittany Lions opened the season with three true freshmen on the second team – out of necessity. Franklin called the lack of competition (via the lack of depth, a result of NCAA sanctions) his “biggest challenge” in returning the program to its former lofty status.

 

The offensive line is where depth concerns have stung PSU the most this season. That perhaps won’t be more apparent than it will be against Boston College on Saturday. The Eagles’ five starters on their offensive line are all seniors who have already graduated. They combine for 129 career starts – the Lions opened the season with just one player who’d had any career starts.

 

The (sort of) good news? With Dieffenbach back from injury late in the season, Penn State’s five starters on the line had almost a full month to practice together to gain continuity for the first time this year.

 

 

 

—-Yes, these news conferences are glorified publicity machines-slash-pep rallies. The opposing coach is sitting an arm’s length away; do you really think one of the coaches is going to say anything remotely negative about the other team?

 

Under that context, take this for what it’s worth. Still, I took what Boston College coach Steve Addazio said about the Penn State defense as genuine. Asked about the unit, Addazio reminded that the Lions rank first nationally in rushing defense and second in total defense (it also is second in pass efficiency defense and seventh in scoring defense.

 

“You have the stats, and you watch the film,” Addazio said, suggesting that sometimes the former and latter do not match up.

 

“In this case, the film backs up the stats

 

 

 

—-Perhaps (for far different reasons; sanctions vs. a general mediocre malaise) Penn State will treat next season’s bowl experience (if there is one) the way Boston College is treating its this season. The Eagles are in their second consecutive bowl after sitting out the previous two seasons. The NCAA kept the Nittany Lions from participating in the postseason in 2012 and ’13.

“Last year, the goal was to get to a bowl,” Eagles coach Steve Addazio said. “That’s certainly not the goal this year. We did that (last year), but now we’re here to win these. They’re launching pads for the program.”

 

 

 

—I’ll leave you with Franklin’s thoughts on the meaning of Saturday’s game:

 

“The emotion for us isn’t necessarily about the bowl; it’s about our family being together. The 2014 football team will never be together again after this game. We’ve talked about that all week long. To me, that’s what special about bowl games is being able to keep the family together for a few more weeks.

 

All the members of the teams will get bowl rings, but there’s something special about being able to put ‘bowl champions’ on that ring. They’re going to look down and see that ring for the rest of their lives.
For us, there’s probably a little bit more significance in terms of sending these seniors out that have been through so much in their careers and sending them out on a real positive note and laying the foundation for the expectation moving forward.”

 

 

 

Enjoy this lovely week between Christmas and New Year’s…

 

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December 18, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive ep. 20: How much meaning does Pinstripe Bowl game have to program?

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This week’s episode will have to last two weeks, what with Christmas Eve falling on a Wednesday meaning no show on 12/24. So we tried to squeeze in as much talk as we could this week. Guests were the Trib’s own Bill West – who’s handling much of the Penn State coverage this month – and Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times Leader. Scranton being Ground Zero for the melding of Penn State fans and New York City partisans.

 

We talk PSU’s outstanding ticket-buying support for the game, how much a win or loss in it could mean to the Nittany Lions in 2015 and beyond and also touch on newest Lion Paris Palmer and other recruiting news…

 

 

 

Listen directly from here:

 

 

Download the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1217PSU14.mp3

 

 

 

Have a merry Christmas.

 

 

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December 3, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive ep. 18: Penn State recruiting notes, regular-season wrapup, bowl lookahead

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The first post-regular season episode of the Nittany Nation show on TribLive Radio is heavy on recruiting talk, with looks back at the regular season and lessons on expectations.

 

Sean Fitz, the editor of Lions247.com, is on top of Penn State recruiting as much as anybody. We discussed the recent verbal commitments of four-star cornerback Garrett Taylor and four-star junior quarterback Jake Zembiec. He also touched on PSU WPIAL targets John Petrishen and Nick Bowers  and on other possible incoming recruits such as Paris Palmer and Christian Wilkins.

 

Frank Bodani of the York Daily Record provided his insights on Penn State’s possible bowl destination, on how to view this 6-6 regular season and on what the future holds for the Nittany Lions in the coming few years as the James Franklin Era takes off.

 

 

 

Click here to listen live:

 

 

And here is a link to download the podcast:

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/1203PSU14.mp3

 

 

Enjoy the rest of your week and the conference championship weekend.

 

 

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December 1, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Franco Harris on request for Freeh Report documents: ‘We’re not on defense anymore’

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I ran into former Penn State great Franco Harris on Sunday while at Heinz Field covering the reunion for the 1974 Super Bowl champion Steelers that Harris was such a big part of.

 

He was gregarious and happy to be around his former teammates. I asked him a few questions about those Super Steelers (as can be seen in the article I link to above), and I listened to him answer a few others’ questions having to do with the current Steelers.

 

But as much as Harris enjoys talking about those dynastic Steelers, his face lit up most when I told him I covered Penn State. I wanted to get his opinion on the request by nine alumni-elected Board of Trustees members for access to documents related to the Freeh Report. If you’re reading this, by now you probably know what the Freeh Report is, why it was commissioned, what it said, what it resulted in and why so many people have a problem with it.

 

Anyway, here is Harris’ answer in its entirety:

 

 

“First of all, they [the at-large trustees] have a right to access that information. They have a fiduciary duty to do what is in the best interests of Penn State. They have to respect that, and sending something to the chairman [Keith Masser], he should respect other board of trustees members doing their jobs. And if Louis Freeh said he had 3 million documents, well, we want to see 3 million documents. Do you think he had 3 million documents? And he read all of them?

 

“So, I’m just saying that when you look at that, put up or shut up. And that’s exactly the way it is – we were told one thing and they [Freeh and his subordinates] said certain things happened, they said we have a cultural problem at Penn State, they said this and that. Well, come on with it. You know what I mean? People [at Penn State] are done backing up. We talk about defense and offense – we’re not on defense anymore. And so we’re moving forward. And they [alumni-elected trustees] are asking the right questions and demanding the right stuff, and the important thing is they have a right to do it. That, to me, makes a big difference.”

 

 

 

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November 26, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive show ep. 17: The PSU defense’s toughest challenge yet; Senior Day preview; recruiting notes

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While you’re enjoying turkey or cranberry sauce — or even a pre-holiday (or pregame tailgate) libation — why not add the best fixin’ of them all: The Nittany Nation show podcast!

 

In previewing the Senior Day game against Michigan State (Land Grant Trophy on the line!), we talk to Greg Pickel, who covers Penn State and recruiting, and Graham Couch, a columnist in Lansing, Mich., who covers Michigan State.

 

Pickel, of PennLive.com and FightOnState.com, discussed the recent scholarship offer to Central Catholic defensive back John Petrishen from Penn State, and he also delved into other Lions recruiting storylines for heading into Signing Day in February. Pickel views Petrishen’s decision of one between Pitt and Penn State and calls it “a coin flip.” And in terms of the James Franklin recruiting machine losing its luster over the past few months, Pickel says, “There’s no way that momentum (from the spring and summer) was going to sustain itself. It wasn’t going to be possible.”

 

Couch, who co-hosts a talk show in Michigan and writes for the Lansing State Journal, provided some insights on where the Michigan State program sits after being on the verge of four 10-win seasons in five years. Couch calls the Spartans’ current offense “the best they’ve ever had,” and gushes over the athleticism of Gateway High School graduate Montae Nicholson, who is making an impact for MSU as a true freshman defensive back.

 

 

 

Give it a listen with one click here:

 

 

 

And download the podcast here:

http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/1126PSU14.mp3

 

 

 

A heartfelt wish for everyone to enjoy the holiday with his or her families…

 

 

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November 23, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Musings from a post-Champaign Penn State hangover

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O’HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – A few thoughts/observations/leftover notes from what was, for my money, arguably the most humiliating Penn State loss of the past decade:

 

—-It was, perhaps, a throw-away comment from James Franklin, who generally ensures his remarks to the media are well-orchestrated.  Or was it?

 

At the end of a long answer to a question that was originally about the coaching staff’s confidence level in quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Franklin initially explained that Penn State was so run-heavy (47 rushes; 16 pass attempts) against Illinois, quite simply, (paraphrasing) because the Illini have such a poor rush defense.

 

Then, Franklin meandered into talking about the dangers of being too predictable on third-and-longs. But what caught my attention was what he said at the end of his answer to this question about two-thirds of the way through an approximately 11 ½-minute postgame session with the media.

 

Another reporter was about to ask another question, but Franklin talked over him to make sure he said this (the context is the season-long struggles on offense and what the cause is):

 

“Our consistency in protection, our consistency in hitting the open receivers – our consistency is probably more an issue of being able to separate in our route ruining.

 

OK, again, forgive me if I read too much into this. But like I said, I am convinced Franklin usually calculates exactly what he wants to say. (Which, most times, isn’t much in terms of substance because he believes he’s protecting the program – which is fine). I found it interesting that, essentially, Franklin is “blaming” (that’s an awful word he would never use, but bare with me) the wide receivers more than he is the offensive line and quarterback for the offense’s ineptitude.

 

That would seem to make sense he would say that, based on his actions this season. Plus, after all, for as much attention as the lack of experience of the offensive line gets, remember that the wide receivers as a group entered this season with 24 catches. Total. Ever in college. The depth chart stands as such: Redshirt freshman-sophomore-true freshman-true freshman.

 

The wide receivers caught three passes for 33 yards – total, as a group – against Illinois. Recall also that Geno Lewis – by far the group’s most accomplished (despite having only 18 career catches entering the season) player as of the summer – was all but benched during the midseason. The reasoning remains vague, but… is it possible that he just isn’t getting open?

 

Hamilton, either? And who can blame true freshman (although Illinois’ Mike Dudek certainly doesn’t appear as if he needed a period of adjustment), but Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, as well?

 

The four wide receivers were targeted a total of eight times Saturday (Lewis’ only catch was on the desperate hook-and-ladder at the end), a day in which Hackenberg avoided an interception for the first time in a game in which he played a full four quarters this season. Is that a complete coincidence?

 

We have definitely seen several cases of Hackenberg and the receivers not being on the same page in their routes. We’ve also seen some drops. I’m not a real knowledgeable football film buff, but my untrained eye can at least notice at times that these receivers are, indeed, are having trouble creating separation from defenders. And I will say that people whom I respect who have a much more keen eye that me assert that it is absolutely the case.

 

Franklin’s public treatment of Hackenberg has been intriguing. It’s obvious that Hackenberg’s stat-based production has been downright ugly this season. Two camps seem to be forming on him: One believes that, as an uber-talented future high NFL draft pick, Hackenberg is being done in by his line, his receivers and his coaches. Another faction of PSU observers is labeling him a bust who needs benched.

 

I would never suggest benching Hackenberg, but other than that, I go back and forth on him between these camps. I understand – I really do – all the explanations: He has no time to throw, he has precious few weapons, he has a new system that is not tailored to his skills, he’s still quite young, etc. But I also think everyone has to acknowledge that Hackenberg has missed open receivers and made poor decisions at times.

 

Franklin hasn’t once thrown Hackenberg under the proverbial bus, and no one expects him to. But Franklin also hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to prop up the budding superstar quarterback he inherited, either. His “Christian Hackenberg is our quarterback, and we love him,” answer to a recent question asking if Hackenberg could be benched, quite frankly, was weak and came across as a tacit acknowledgment on Franklin’s behalf that Hackenberg hasn’t been good. We’re all still trying to learn Franklin’s style in dealing with media questions, but is it notable that Franklin hasn’t come out in no uncertain and unambiguous terms and lauded the single most talented player on his team? One who just happens to play the most important position on the field?

 

That is a big reason why my eyebrows figuratively raised when I heard Franklin’s ever-so-subtle allusion to receivers not getting open.

 

One last thing on this subject: By all indications from coaches, analysts, scouting types and NFL personnel, Hackenberg’s status as a future first-round pick and pro quarterback remain safely intact. For all that’s ailed Hackenberg this season, that arm is still there – just about once a game, he’ll show off a reminder (Saturday, it was his touchdown pass to Godwin, along with another bullet of a throw that came while he was running and off his back foot). For what it’s worth, the intangibles are still there, too.

 

To borrow one of Franklin’s colloquialisms, pro scouts still “have a man-crush” on Hackenberg. The question is, will he ever again perform well enough for Penn State that Nittany Lions fans return to having that kind of affection for him, as well?

 

 

 

—-Another rare in-team target for Franklin on Saturday: The defense. Especially, its tackling.

 

Check out some Franklin quotes:

 

“We weren’t able to get pressure on the quarterback, probably less than we have all year long. Our tackling was not good – throwing shoulders. A lot of broken tackles, a lot of missed tackles, especially late in the game.

 

“We’re throwing shoulders. We’re not wrapping up; we’re throwing the shoulder and going for big hits. We were not fundamentally sound in tackling. “

 

Defensive players that were made available to the media postgame (C.J Olaniyan, Brad Bars, Nyeem Wartman, Jordan Lucas) acknowledged that it wasn’t their best tackling day.

 

“We definitely left a lot of plays out there where we didn’t wrap up and they got extra yards,” Lucas said.

 

Being down Brandon Bell (the team’s third-leading tackler) and Christian Campbell (a cornerback who’s shown his tackling acumen on special teams) didn’t help. And Franklin cited fatigue (both the late-game and late-season types) as a factor.

 

 

 

—-Penn State’s running game, statistically at least, wasn’t bad Saturday. Akeel Lynch amassed a 137-yard day and the team ran for 172 yards (third-most this season) in all. But it must be remembered that PSU was playing a downright awful run defense in Illinois (330 yards per game allowed to Big Ten opponents!). And Franklin didn’t sound like the running game passed the ol’ eye test.

 

“You look at the running game, we were able to block it pretty well, and then the safety was down there in attack,” Franklin said. “The (previous) couple weeks, we made safeties miss, we’d broken tackles. That didn’t happen today.”

 

It especially didn’t happen when the Lions needed it most. Here are Penn State’s carries over its final two full drives, when it was nursing a lead and desperate to run clock:

 

Lynch 3 yards, Lynch 6 yards, Lynch 2 yards, (punt… next possession:) Lynch 3 yards, Lynch 2 yards, (Hackenberg scramble, 4 yards… punt).

 

On the bright side locally, walk-in Cole Chiappialle of Blackhawk was given carries outside of proverbial “garbage time” for the first time in his career. An early-game injury to Bill Belton pressed Chiappialle into duty. He had 8 yards on three carries.

 

 

 

Enjoy your week. I think this is the part where I’m supposed to compel you to be nice (or something) to each other, right?

 

 

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