It all began at Indiana.
Three seasons ago, in the midst of a 4-7 campaign – the second of two straight losing seasons – a gritty Penn State defense stepped onto the field holding loosely to a 22-18 lead during the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
A lesser known Paul Posluszny set back in his linebacker position and the underappreciated, almost unnoticed defense gave everything they could against a Hoosiers program looking for its first defeat of a Penn State team.
First and goal from the Penn State one yard line: stuffed for a loss. Repeat times two. Now, on a fourth and goal all the Hoosiers had to do was cross the goal line and they would be assured of a victory over the lowly Nittany Lions.
It never happened.Fast forward now three seasons and the Nittany Lions find themselves with a respectable 5-2 (2-2) record. But at the current moment Lion Power is at a height many haven’t seen since 1994.
After an early season 14-9 loss on the road to Michigan, Joe Paterno’s ninth straight loss to the Wolverines, the legendary coach and his staff decided to finally open up an offense full of big time playmakers, while at the same time dumping the conventional power, power, power run Big Ten game.
The initial result? A 27-20 loss to Illinois the week after. Ever since that loss, however, Anthony Morelli has finally shown consistent progress with an offense designed to exploit his strengths and the Nittany Lions offense has cruised to two straight victories over Iowa and then #15 Wisconsin last weekend in State College.
Other factors have played into the Nittany Lions second resurgence of the season. Austin Scott, a highly touted running back out of high school, and a prime suspect every season in Joe Paterno’s doghouse, was suspended indefinitely on October 5 for his part in an alleged rape case.
This has allowed fifth year senior, Rodney Kinlaw to step in and show great progress in two short weeks as a starter. Another surprise has come from freshman Evan Royster, who just very well may be the future running back for the Nittany Lions.
With an established running game, Morelli has shined and is finally making use of what he calls `the best wide receiver core in the nation.’ Terrell Golden, also a fifth year senior, has been a favorite target of Morelli in 2007, leaving the door open for Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams to all have more open routes and less double coverage.
Tom Bradley’s defense, always a constant, has been superb almost all season long. The Lions rank sixth in total defense in the nation, according to SI.com, and fourth overall in total points allowed.
Future first round pick Justin King has held his ground at cornerback and Dan Conner is twenty-eight tackles away from becoming the all-time tackle leader at Linebacker U. Anthony Scirrotto has overcome some off field problems to once again be a threat in the backfield for the Nittany Lions.
The special teams play has also been a pleasant surprise in 2007. Jeremy Boone has filled in very nicely for the graduated Jeremy Kapinos, while Williams and Scirrotto remain threats to return any kick and/or punt. Kevin Kelley repeatedly kicks balls into the endzone on kickoffs, something he could never do ten yards closer for the past two seasons.
For all the off-field problems that Joe Paterno’s team has encountered over the past season, at the time being, it does not seem to have that much of an effect on the Lions. They are clicking on all cylinders and playing some of their best overall football of the season.
On Saturday, three years after the game saving, program turning goal line stop, the Nittany Lions return to Indiana for the first time. With so much left to prove during a season of craziness, the Nittany Lions cannot be caught sleeping.
The Hoosiers program has also recovered nicely since the goal line stand that left them with an ugly loss instead of a much needed win. With big-time playmaker James Hardy, and Kellen Lewis playing very well at quarterback, Indiana will be sure to make a strong push to send the Nittany Lions back to Happy Valley with three losses.
If Penn State plays well and defeats the Hoosiers, they will be headed home at 6-2 (3-2), likely ranked, playing host to the #1 team in the country: rival Ohio State.
Things for the most part have been very happy in Happy Valley over the past few seasons. A win Saturday at Indiana will assure a big-time nationally televised game on October 27. A win Saturday will give Penn State a serious chance at a run back to a BCS game in 2007.
A win Saturday and the program can look back a smile about a win that seemed so meaningless three seasons ago, and look forward to what will surely be a fun weekend in Pennsylvania.
For more on Penn State football please visit GoPSUSports.com.
Copyright ©2007 Colin Cerniglia. All Rights Reserved.