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December 1, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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More on WHY Penn State was such a huge underdog

Can’t sleep in the Dairy State…


I wrote about Penn State’s historic underdog status as the preview for Saturday’s game. It became the major storyline afterwards when the 24 1/2-point Nittany Lions stunned Wisconsin, 31-24, Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Figured I’d go a little more in-depth as to the why Penn State was such a big underdog…


It had nothing to do with, as Bill O’Brien tried to insinuate, what the media thought. (Although I’m sure many publications’ beat writers and columnists do indeed publish predictions, I haven’t done it — not that there is necessarily anything wrong with doing so). Lines are set by professional oddsmakers who at first use a formula. After that, the betting public sets the line based on where they are putting their money.


Here is how’s Steve Merrill explained the PSU-Wisky line in an email to me:


“The early money has actually come in on Wisconsin this week, pushing the line from -23 to -24 and now -24.5 in some spots.  4 is a very key number, that recent move is significant.  I use several different sets of power ratings and most make Wisconsin about a -24 point favorite, so the line looks accurate.

Oddsmakers are also forced to set a high line because Wisconsin has been a pointspread covering machine this season.  They failed to cover the line for the first time all season last week, but are still 9-1-1 ATS (against the spread) this season.  More importantly, head coach Gary Anderson was an incredible 11-1-1 ATS last season as Utah State’s head coach with his only pointspread loss coming by 1 point as a 37-point favorite.  This year his only ATS loss was last week by just 2.5 points as a 13-point favorite.

Overall, Anderson is an amazing 20-2-2 ATS (against the spread) that pasttwo seasons as a head coach, so it appears he makes an effort to cover the pointspread.

I remember a similar situation back in the 1990′s with Bill Snyder at Kansas State as he always found a way to cover big numbers as well. Different theories on why this happens. Maybe he wants to help the alumni win their bets or maybe he feels winning by more than the pointspread is seen as a better victory (above average) by the computer systems that do the BCS rankings.  Either way, Gary Anderson’s current pointspread record the past two years (with 2 different schools) is amazing and it makes it risky to go against him as a favorite.”


Here is Merril explaining the “power ratings” as well as a more general peek at how lines are set:


Power ratings are a numerical ranking for each team, then you factor in approximately 3 points for home field advantage, so this would get you a pointspread for the game.  For example, if PSU is rated 10 and Wisconsin is 31 in a set of power ratings, then Wisconsin would be a 21-point favorite on a neutral field, 24 at home, or 18 on the road.

I use several different sets of data for my different power ratings such as statistics, scoring margins, strength of schedule, etc. to come with a numerical rating for each individual team.

Power ratings are the main way oddsmakers set the pointspread, and then they factor in home field, injuries, weather, matchups edges, etc. to fine tune the final pointspread number.“



More on Wisconsin’s propensity to “cover” from David Pemberton, the director of specialty games at the Rio Hotel:


“Wisconsin, I hate to say, but I think they like to run the scores up and they really try to pile it on whereas some other teams, once they get a big lead, they kind of stop and take it easy in the third and fourth quarter when the game is out of hand. But it’s like Wisconsin j’ust keeps going.  We had two games earlier this year when they were a (44 ½)-point favorite and they won by 45 and another 48. They just never really like turn it off and stick into ‘coast’ and say, ‘OK, we got the game in hand.’ They just keep on going.”



One last voice from Vegas, that of Jay Kornegay of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook:


“For us, it’s just a number. We look at a game and say, ‘Hey, that’s what power ratings rate.’ And we have it at 24 1/2 right now on it. But the teams don’t matter, it’s all objective — it could be Arkansas State and Western Kentucky. I know it’s a big-time news out there.”



Finally, what O’Brien said about the betting line on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. At that point, as you’ll see below, he said he both didn’t know about the pointspread and wasn’t going to use it as motivation for his team.


He either was lying — or he had a dramatic change of heart in the ensuing 72 hours.


First, I asked him a general question about how he finds motivation for his team on a week-to-week or game-to-game basis (I — erroneously, as you’ll see below — figured he’d never get close to being caught answering a direct question about the betting line):


“Certainly from a week‑to‑week basis, there are always different things that may come up within your team or outside of your team maybe on the other team or things like that that you may use to talk to your team about.  But, again, it comes down to what the keys to the game are, and being focused on those and making sure everybody understands their role in the gameplan.”


Later on, another reporter asked O’Brien specifically about the pointspread. I wrote his answer in my Saturday story, but here it is again. It bares repeating because, after the game, O’Brien (and his players) were rather upfront about how much they talked about the Vegas line and how much they used it as fuel against the Badgers.


O’Brien on Tuesday:

No, I wasn’t aware of (the 24-point underdog status).  You know, I’m aware that we’re probably an underdog.  We’re 6‑5, and they’re 9‑2, but I didn’t know it was a 20‑point underdog.  No, that wouldn’t be‑‑ now, if somebody from Wisconsin came out and said we’re going to beat these guys by 24 points, then maybe we’d use that.  But certainly not Vegas.”




Enjoy your win, Penn State fans. Will surely make the looooooooong wait (exactly nine months this year) between games feel that much sweeter.




November 30, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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Isolate on No. 26 in Blue & White on defense today

Good morning from Cheese Country. I just can’t spend a weekend in Wisconsin and come home without a Cheesehead, can I?



Anyway…. Something to watch for during today’s Penn State season finale? How about Brandon Bell? Bell joined the far-more-ballyhooed Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman as true freshmen who played the majority of at least one game’s snaps on offense or defense when he got significant playing time at linebacker last week against Nebraska.


Bell, a 6-1, 226-pound native of New Jersey, had a career-high six tackles against the Cornhuskers. More importantly, he seemed to pass the “eye test” – and not only with media hacks like me. Players and coach Bill O’Brien also sang his praises. And, although this is just a “feel” I get, they seem to be doing it genuinely. Rarely, if ever, does a player answer a question about a teammate without praise. But when teammates and O’Brien talked about Bell in the hours and days following the Nebraska game, they did so in detail – and effusively.


Here is a sample:


O’Brien: “Brandon played a really good football game.  He had been playing well on special teams, so we decided to get him more run at linebacker. He really played well. He had a really good tackle near the goal line on the quarterback. At the end of the game when they fumbled the shotgun snap, he almost recovered that – he instinctively took off and went after it and almost got that one, which would have been a huge play, obviously. And there were many plays throughout the game. He does a good job of understanding blocking schemes at a young age. He’s an instinctive player and does a good job.”


Junior linebacker Mike Hull: “I think he’s one of the most improved players on the team especially defensively.  Since he’s gotten here he’s just made a lot of strides and he’s made a lot of big plays for us in the past couple weeks, and we needed it.  So everyone’s pretty pleased with the way he’s coming along.”


Senior linebacker Glenn Carson: “It’s tough because there’s a lot on your plate (as a freshman) and there is a lot to learn. He’s a smart kid and is really football-savvy. He was able to step up and you saw that he made some really good plays (during last week’s game).”


Senior linebacker/safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong: “What I saw from him (against Nebraska) was what I saw for him all season – when he’s been given opportunities, he’s shown up. Bell is a smart guy; people don’t see it but he definitely knows what he’s doing, so that definitely helps as an advantage. Even though he’s a freshman and smaller than the rest of the linebackers, he uses the mental aspect of the game to help him out. That’s the good thing about Bell – and he’s only going to get better as time progresses.”


Sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas: “I think for a young guy, he’s doing a terrific job. In practice he comes out with energy and makes plays. One thing coach tells us is, ‘Go get the ball… Go get the ball during practice.’ He always does that; he’s always at the ball, always at the point of attack. And he’s physical. As a young guy, he’s improved so much. I’m just anxious to see how much more improvement he makes in the offseason and when he comes in competing for a starting job.”



Pretty effusive and detailed praise from his teammates, no? And with buzzwords you love to hear repeated: “Instinctive.” “Smart.” “Around the ball.” Makes plays.” “Improving.” Not just your garden-variety, “He looked good out there… He’s a good player”-type of gibberish.


Building off what Lucas said, you’d have to think that Bell is a frontrunner to earn one of the two starting linebacker spots that are available heading into next season. Hull, if he remains healthy, potentially will be the leader and marquee member of the 2014 linebacking corps, as I wrote about earlier this week.

But after him, it’s a big question mark. Nyeen Wartman has been so-so as a redshirt freshman starting on the opposite side of Hull. For my money, Bell appears to be miles ahead in terms of instinctiveness. Wartman has, though, been part of the program for an extra 12 months.


Current redshirt sophomore Ben Kline, who battled injury much of this season, probably will be a default starter heading into spring practice. Other candidates to start at linebacker include current redshirt freshmen Gary Wooten and Adam Cole, although it would seem each has slipped in terms of their standing with the coaching staff as the season has progressed. Incoming freshman Troy Reeder is a darkhorse.


Bell was a fairly highly-regarded recruit (3 stars by Rivals), and his pedigree showed in earning a significant amount of playing time already, even as a freshman who enrolled in the summer.


At “Linebacker U,” there is plenty of uncertainty at the school’s marquee position heading into next season. Bell seemingly made a strong “first” impression (at least a first impression in terms of having a large quantity of snaps in which to form a sample size). Penn State fans would seemingly go into 2014 feeling markedly more comfortable about the future of their linebackers corps should Bell have another strong performance against Wisconsin today. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the main storylines worth watching today.




Enjoy the game – at least, if that’s possible, judging by what those who are paid to predict these things predict will happen to the Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium today.

November 29, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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Christian Hackenberg: Game manager?

Good morning!


Minutes after quarterback Christian Hackenberg earlier this week said that a primary focus for his freshman season was on becoming “a game manager,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien had a predictable response when asked about it.


“What’s that mean?” he said in a way that only O’Brien can. “You’ve got to define what a game manager is.”


OK, then, Coach, let’s ask your precocious young quarterback:


“I think, especially in this offense, you can do so much at the line of scrimmage,” Hackenberg said. “You have to understand not only the passing game but the running game. You have to understand protections. I think with the greater understanding I have of that, it helps put the team in those type of situations where we can be successful. That’s one thing I really focused on, and I’ve looked at is what the team needs to expect out of me is understanding those types of things and getting us into those right places. So that’s sort of how I refer to it as a game manager.”


Hackenberg, a five-star recruit, has numbers that suggest he’s been much more than the overused, cliché “game manager” moniker that usually comes with negative connotations. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is second in the Big Ten in completions (210) and passing yards (237.8 per game) and fourth in total offense.


A four-time conference freshman of the week honoree, has eight 200-yard passing efforts in 11 games this season and, barring injury early in Saturday’s game at Wisconsin, will finish the season at No. 3 on the Penn State single-season passing list.


“He’s definitely developed,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “Coach O’Brien does a great job… He takes great pride in that… This kid has gotten better and better and better throughout the year, which you would expect. He’s a competitor. He can throw all the balls. I think the offense has grown, as it’s gone through the season, to give him a little bit more as he’s progressed and developed. They’ve just got confidence in each other as a play caller and as a quarterback.


“He was very highly recruited for a reason. He’s a very talented young man. Great poise for a freshman. I know he really does. He hangs in there and doesn’t make a bunch of bad decisions. Takes it when it’s there, gets it to them, gives them a chance to move the ball down the field.”


While doing all he can to limit the pressure on the shoulders of a player who is viewed, in some ways, as The Savior who will lead Penn State out of its NCAA sanctions abyss, O’Brien has simultaneously also praised Hackenberg whenever possible. The two have a close relationship.


“I tell you what, I think he’s done a good job,” O’Brien said. “Overall, when you look at being 18 years old and coming in here and playing pretty much every snap of every game, I think he’s gotten better and better at doing that.”


Finally, O’Brien gave his interpretation of Hackenberg’s “game manager” self-label.
“Game manager is somebody that understands when to run the ball, that does a good job of using the clock at the end of the half and using the clock at the end of a game, understands coverage reads and when to throw it, when to check to a run, things like that,” O’Brien said. “He, overall, has gotten better and better at that throughout the year.  I think as time goes on, he’ll be even better at it.”


Perhaps even “manage” his way into the NFL or “manage” the Nittany Lions into a major bowl before getting there.



Enjoy your holiday weekend!

November 27, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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Told it gets cold in Wisconsin in November, PSU players react!

In my view, there haven’t been any players who signed up to attend Penn State (whether they were going to be playing football for the Nittany Lions or not) who are caught off-guard when, come late November, it is cold outside.


According to Accuweather, the historical average for today (Nov. 27) in State College is a low temperature of 31.  The 51 Pennsylvania players I see on the Penn State roster, presumably, have been outside in the cold.


From my (very) quick analysis of the Lions’ roster, I judge just nine players to be natives of what I would consider to be warm-weather states (even then, it does snow on occasion in Tennessee and North Carolina). Among those nine, it is likely just two will be in uniform Saturday at Wisconsin – center Ty Howle and backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson, who probably won’t play.


Howle, incidentally, is in the midset of his SIXTH winter in Central Pennsylvania. So I think he’s adjusted to it by now — even if the North Carolina native wasn’t when he first arrived (last week, he admitted he wasn’t when he enrolled in January 2009).


Most of all, though, whether these players grew up in the Maldives or are natives of Edmonton, they are share a commonality that they chose to play football at a Big Ten school. As college-eligible young men, one would imagine they understood that it might get a little cold against those teams late in the season.


Also, of course, Penn State regularly practices outdoors and has been doing so in recent weeks.


The point of all this? The weather being cold, in my humble opinion, isn’t much worth discussing and won’t be much of a factor in the game.


Still, players and coach Bill O’Brien – at the behesting of media – talked about it at length this week. As such, I deliver their comments to you.


FYI: Projected weather for Saturday’s Penn State-Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI: 36 degrees and mostly cloudy.


Happy Thanksgiving!


DE C.J. Olaniyan: “Being cold is a mental thing. Once we get out there for warm-ups and once I let the cold hit me and let the wind hit me, I’m ready to go.”


TE Jesse James: “You really don’t do anything different (when it’s cold). You get to practice in the cold, so that helps a lot. You get the feel for it. It won’t be a big adjustment for anyone.”


QB Christian Hackenberg: “I just try not to think about it.  I just keep my hands warm and go out there and just throw the football.  At the end of the day, you’ve got to deal with the elements, it’s part of the game.  So the less you think about it, I think the better it helps.”


LB Mike Hull: “Your adrenaline’s going so much and you’re just thinking about the game that it doesn’t really faze you at all.”



In an added twist to the weather, an unscientific straw poll was taken on whether players wear sleeves in cold weather.


Hull does during practice – but not during a game: “It’s kind of like a toughness thing that we have going.  (Linebackers Glenn) Carson, myself, Nyeem (Wartman), we don’t really want to show any weakness.  So we kind of go bare skinned.”


Hackenberg, by that logic, apparently is showing weakness. He wears sleeves during games: “Yeah, Howle jokes with me about it a lot, but it’s just something I do.  They really don’t pay much attention to it.”


Olaniyan does not we sleeves.



One man in the program who surely isn’t affected by the weather is director of strength and conditioning Craig Fitzgerald.


Said Hull, “I don’t know if I could do it if I wasn’t playing.  He’s kind of standing there the whole game.  I don’t know how he does it with the short sleeves and shorts.”




So there you have it. The requisite cold-weather update for a pair of Big Ten teams playing a Nov. 30 game. It kind of reminds me of the Pittsburgh local TV news showing the ubiquitous salt trucks and empty supermarket shelves every time we get 1-3 inches.


Maybe I’m just too cynical.


Enjoy your turkey!


November 27, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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Bill O’Brien opens up on the state of the Penn State program


It’s rare to get Bill O’Brien to speak on anything beyond the immediate upcoming game. (Incidentally, it’s difficult to get him to look back, either). But as he approaches the end of his second season as a head coach with a tough game at Wisconsin on Saturday, O’Brien was in a good enough mood for his final weekly press conference of the season to offer up a big-picture assessment on the status of the Penn State football program:


“I feel really good about where the program’s at. I think that recruiting has gone well. I think if you look at the ’13 class that we brought in here recruiting‑wise, from what I can see right off the bat, I don’t think there are any “busts.” I think there are role players and guys that will continue to have roles for us and I think there are some really good players that nobody’s even seen yet that are redshirting. And then obviously the guys that played this year for us, the Brandon Bells, the (Christian) Hackenbergs, the (Adam) Brenemans and those guys. We feel good about the future.


“We feel good about where we’re headed recruiting‑wise. Every single home game here we’ve had a lot of great prospects here. I can’t really get into the details of that because that’s an NCAA violation, but we feel good about the ’14 class, and we feel good about the ’15 class. – because you’re always trying to stay one step ahead. So we’re recruiting hard with the 2015 class.


“We’ve got a bunch of guys on this football team that gained a lot of experience this year which I think will really help them. Some guys were playing college football for the first time like Geno Lewis who redshirted last year and was playing in a college football game for the first time. You know, Jordan Lucas didn’t play a lot for us his first year. Now he comes in and he’s one of our better players. We have a lot of veteran players that have played a lot of football for us, that are coming back next year that we feel really, really good about.


“Look, I’m not going to get into predictions or anything like that. That’s not what I’m saying.  But I think our program with the two‑year sanctions that we’ve been under and things like that with the limited amount of guys we could offer and guy that’s left the program, I think our program stands on pretty solid ground right now.”




On a related tact, O’Brien also uncharacteristically offered an assessment of the as-yet-completed season:


“It hasn’t been a consistent season, but I do think there’s been a lot of positives.  I think the fact that we’ve been able to play a freshman quarterback in every game and he’s stayed healthy, and I believe he’s gotten better and better, I think that is a real positive. I believe that for the most part we’ve run the ball pretty well on offense – I think that’s a positive. We’ve been able to get our younger players a lot of work in practice with the Monday night developmental scrimmages. – that’s a positive.
“I believe our defense has improved every single week, and I think the last three weeks our defense has played well and a lot of younger players or guys that have years left here at Penn State have played a lot of football for us on defense. We’ve got to make improvement on special teams – everybody who watches Penn State knows that special teams has been a struggle at times, and at other times it’s been OK. But it’s been too inconsistent, and that is a big area, especially in the world that we live in right now, that’s where you have to do a better job of special teams. So we’ll look to do that.


“Whether I think of the season as a success or not a success, I’m not getting into that. But I think that there’s been a lot of positives from the season so far.”


November 21, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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PSU players: Forgetting scandal/sanctions was ‘only means of survival’

I learned very early in my days on the Penn State beat that asking players or coaches about the large elephants in the proverbial room was fruitless. Those first couple weeks this late summer, any question about the Jerry Sandusky scandal or the resulting crippling NCAA sanctions was met with an evasive answer. Clearly, the edict had been sent in no uncertain terms from coach Bill O’Brien: We’re not talking about that anymore. We only look forward.


But with the second full season since *everything* happened about to close, Nittany Lions players are in a more reflective mood. Senior Day will do that, particularly for the upperclassmen. Among the many things the three prominent seniors who were made available to the media at large this week were asked to look back on, Glenn Carson, Malcolm Willis and Ty Howle commented on the team’s/program’s/school’s/community’s remarkable recovery from the, well… you know what the events of the past two years have been. Here are their answers.



C Howle:


“We’ve put that behind us. This whole season we’ve been focused on the next game and this season. So I mean, honestly, we don’t ever really talk about it. We don’t ever mention it. But I know going through it it’s shaped a lot of us and made us stronger. So we’re happy for the opportunity we’ve had here at Penn State.”



LB Carson:


(Asked if he still thinks about it) “Not so much. I think for so long I’ve just been trying to block it out – that was kind of the only means of survival at a point. I’m sure one day I’ll look back and really realize how crazy of a time that was for me, but for now and until I’m done it’s just something we went through and just pushed through and we just kind of looked at football and always kind of stayed on task. We have saying… ‘Continue the mission.’ That’s what we’ve done here so far. We really haven’t thought about it too much.”
DB Willis:


“I like to think that we’ve moved on. We’ve tried to regain ourselves. Just try to take every day one day at a time.  We’re at the end of the season this year and it’s flown by. It seems like it was so long ago that everything happened.  So we’re really just trying to take it one day at a time, like I said.”




As I wrote last week, the fact this team has gone 14-8 and 9-5 in the Big Ten over these first two seasons post-sanctions is nothing short of remarkable. I think Carson might have said it best: There will be a point when all these players will be able to look back and let it sink in just how bizarre/unprecedented/trying times those were to endure. Remember, none of these players had even one shred of a connection to the truly horrific acts that led to the events of Nov. 2011 through July 2010. But they will likely forever shape their lives and their legacies.



November 20, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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Remembering Nebraska’s most recent visit to Beaver Stadium

It was a game played under circumstances unlike any other in the history of Penn State — and arguably in the history of college football.


When Nebraska faced Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Nov. 12, 2011, it was supposed to have been a celebration of the first conference meeting between two tradition-rich powerhouses that had shared a history. It was supposed to be a meeting of top-20 teams. It was supposed to be a game with Big Ten division title implications on the line.


It ended up being a game that was almost never played. But it was played under a specter that few who were there will ever forget.


The details of which do not need to be delved into yet again. But seven days after Jerry Sandusky was indicted and three days after Joe Paterno was fired, what was a pretty good 8-1, No. 12-ranked Penn State team played No. 19 Nebraska (7-2). The Cornhuskers won, 17-14, in Tom Bradley’s debut as interim coach,  but that seemed almost secondary to the those who took in the eerie scene. It was a heart-wrenching week in State College (and across all of Penn State nation as well as the country at large).


A few of the people who were there in 2011 were asked this week to recall their memories of that most recent home game against Nebraska.


PSU senior safety Malcolm Willis:


“I just remember the pregame prayer.  That is really the only thing I remember from the pregame.  But the main thing I remember from playing Nebraska we haven’t won a game in the last two years that I’ve played.  So we need to, like I said, have a good week of practice and come out on Saturday ready to go.”



PSU senior fullback Pat Zerbe, referencing Nebraska and the pregame prayer and moment of silence:


“ It was a pretty incredible situation by them and their team to come out there and perform that right before the game. They’re top class guys, and we respect them very much.”



PSU senior linebacker Glenn Carson:


“It definitely was (an emotional time). We’d obviously gone through a lot in that game, and there were a lot of distractions going on at that point. But we are just looking forward to this game without really thinking a lot about previous years.”



Nebraska coach Bo Pelini (told to reporters at his weekly press conference, courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer):


“Obviously, that was a crazy and unfortunate situation. No one wants to be a part of something like that. It was a crazy week for us but I can’t imagine what they went through that week. I think that’s one of the powers of sport. You saw two different schools and teams come together and fan bases that came to understand that day what the big picture was, that there was a much bigger picture than a football game. I think everyone was able to put it aside for a couple of hours and come together, which I thought was pretty special – not just the prayer beforehand but the whole football game. . . . There were a lot of people – the kids, the players, the coaches – who were obviously in a very unfortunate situation that really they had nothing to do with.”



Nebraska senior offensive tackle Brent Qvale:


“It was just different. All the things that had come out, it was on all the fans’ minds. You want to say that it didn’t affect the players, but I think it affected the players. But [the scandal] is in their past and they’ve moved on from it.”




November 16, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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The future of Penn State’s WR corps

Good morning! About to leave for my second-to-last picturesque gameday to State College this season. Just a post to supplement the other morning reading…



There’s a decent chance Penn State will go into next season with a group of wide receivers that, through nine games this season, have combined for 29 catches. Starter (and No. 2 receiver) Brandon Felder is going to graduate, and Allen Robinson has a decision to make about jumping to the NFL.


While the thought of life without Robinson is daunting for Nittany Lions fans, true freshman Richy Anderson and redshirt freshman Geno Lewis are the future of the position, at least how it stands now. Each player has 11 receptions this season. Coach Bill O’Brien indicated both could have a more prominent role over the final three games.


Here is what O’Brien had to say about the young duo when asked about them earlier this week:


“Richy and Geno, you know, those guys are young receivers, and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to come in here and just play receiver right away in any offense, not just the offenses that we run. And they’ve improved every week.  They work extremely hard.  I think for Richy, when you’re a true freshman, it’s hard.  You’ve got to get your classes straight, you’ve got a lot of things going on, and it’s hard to always focus on improving on the field.  You’ve got to get your outside stuff straight, too.  So I think you’ll see a lot of improvement in the off‑season with those guys.  Geno is a guy that will play more against Purdue, and I think he’s a guy that we need to continue to try to get the ball to, and he’s got to continue to be a better route runner and really work on that, and I know he’ll do that.”



On a side note, as much as what O’Brien has to say about true freshman receivers is absolutely true, it’s interesting the juxtaposition of Anderson and Pitt’s Tyler Boyd. Boyd has already become one of the top receivers in the ACC, and he’s also in a pro-style offense.


It really makes you wonder what Boyd could be doing across from Robinson and catching passes from Christian Hackenberg (the two had become friends playing together at high school all-star games). Boyd was very interested in attending Penn State, although that interest waned when the NCAA dropped its sanctions hammer. With Boyd at Penn State, you’d have to think O’Brien would feel much more comfortable about the future of the Hackenberg-led offense.



November 15, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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More from Bobby Engram, who’s making a (coaching) name for self

I truly believe Bobby Engram has a bright future in the coaching profession. That opinion comes from talking to those involved with an/or covering the Pitt program; from the vibe you get from talking to both Engram himself and to those who are coached by him; and by the quantitative on-field results we’re seeing from some of Engram’s pupils.


The former Penn State star receiver is just in his third year as a coach; this season he has turned a raw true freshman into a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Make no mistake, Tyler Boyd is quite the talented athlete. But Engram deserves at least some of the credit for the remarkable seamless transition Boyd has made to high-level college football.


The realities of the newspaper industry limit the amount of space a story can take up, and I wanted to . But via the magic of Blogging, here are some of the other things Engram, Boyd and Pitt senior receiver Devin Street had to say early Wednesday evening:


Engram on the player who is breaking his Penn State records, Allen Robinson: “What I’ve seen –I’ve seen him play a couple times and I’ve seen some film – and he seems like a talented guy. I thought he had good athleticism, he caught the ball well. He attacked the ball, and he seemed pretty fast, so you like to see guys go out and have success like that.”


Engram on if he always wanted to coach: “I thought I did for a long time but I wasn’t sure, You think one thing then you retire and things change. But I took a year off and it was something I had a desire to do. I had a football camp for quite a while when I was playing, and that was one of the things I enjoyed to do was go out and coach and work with the kids.”


Engram on his role in the rapid development of Boyd: “I think first of all it wasn’t just me; it was a lot of guys in this building. I mean I probably talk to him more than anybody, but (offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph), (head coach Paul Chryst), (quarterback coach Brooks Bollinger). We had all hands on deck. I think you just tell him exactly what’s going to be expected, you tell him what to expect and you just paint a picture. You give him a vision and he believed in what we were saying and in what our vision is for Pitt and where we want to take this football program. And if you like a challenge and you’re a competitor, then you come on board and has worked to make this right and has accepted the challenge.”



Engram, sheepishly, after being asked about showing his players his own highlights (Street and Boyd said they watch them): “They may Google some stuff or some highlights I think of a couple ancient footages out there but it’s really about them at this point. I’ll pull up some stuff here and there just to show them a route or show them a release. But mostly I’ll show them other guys. I’ll show them the NFL, try to really focus on the guys who I saw do it at a high level – Jerry Rice and you look at the guys who are playing now, a guy like Andrew Johnson, a guy like Greg Jennings… they can see our style is a pro-style offense, so they can look at these guys and see them run the same releases, they can see them run the same routes. And it energizes the meeting – I know I get boring at times; I’ve got to keep them on edge somehow.”




Street on his relationship with Engram: “He’s just meant so much and taught me so much about life and so much about the game. And I think we crossed paths for reason.

I think that’s just how he is (with everyone), too. But I think we developed a bond just because of where I was at in that point in time in my career and our interests and our faith and stuff like that. He’s just a great guy; I can’t say enough about him.”



Boyd on Engram: “I feel like he’s blood to me. I’m real comfortable being around him from when he first started recruited me until this game coming up. I never felt differently about him.”

November 11, 2013
by Chris Adamski

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Up next for Penn State: A team that is not very good

Penn State is struggling, having lost four of its past seven. But the Nittany Lions figure to continue their trend of loss-win-loss-win-loss-win that they’ve held since starting out 2-0. Why? Purdue is up next on the schedule.


The Boilermakers are among the worst Big Ten teams in recent memory. At 1-8 and 0-5 in the conference, Purdue has lost to teams from the American Athletic and Mid-American conferences this season. Only one of its losses has come by fewer than 14 points, and its lone win was by six points to a FCS opponent that is 1-9 with its only win coming against a Division II opponent that is 2-8. That would be Quincy, a 2-8 D-II team that beat an NAIA opponent for one of its wins.


You get the idea after that silly chain: Purdue is, to be kind, not a very good football team. How bad? Penn State, a team averaging 13.7 points in regulation of its past three games, is a 21-point favorite against the Boilers.


So cheer up, Penn State fans. To get you in a better mood after a listless loss at Minnesota the other day, I present Big Ten rankings for Purdue in a variety of relevant categories. The Boilermakers are no better than 10th at any of them (the only relevant stat they are “good” at is pass defense — fourth — but that is merely a result of them facing by far the least number of passing attempts against, a function of opponents always having such big leads and sitting on the ball in lieu of running up the score)…



Scoring offense: Last (11.8 points/game)


Scoring defense: Second-to-last (37.2)


Total offense: Last (259.1 yards/game)


Total defense: Third-to-last (438.4)


Rushing offense: Last (68.1)


Rushing defense: Second-to-last (239.6)


Pass offense: Third-to-last (191.0)


Pass efficiency: Last (99.4)


Pass efficiency defense: Third-to-last (141.8)


Time of possession: Second-to-last (24:20 average)


Turnover margin: Second-to-last (the only team worse: Penn State!)


Red-zone offense: Last


Red-zone defense: Last


First downs: Last (14.7/game)


Third-down conversion rate: Last (at 30.6 percent, it’s actually worse than even Penn State’s!),


Opponents’ third-down conversions: Last (50.4 percent)



And, just for good measure, I’ll throw in that Purdue is also last in the conference in kickoff coverage and field goal percentage (5 of 10), and second-to-last in sacks (12) and sacks against (28).



But hey, the Boilermakers do lead the Big Ten in one category: Punting! They average 44.2 yards per punt gross and 42.5 net.


It should come as no surprise that Purdue has punted more often than any team in the conference. Its 58 punts are more than twice as many as Ohio State’s.

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