Offensive Production, Stopping the Run Are Key for Penn State in Showdown with Alabama

Story posted September 8, 2011 in Sports, CommRadio by Mike Esse

When most people looked at the Penn State (1-0) football schedule for the 2011 season, there was a tendency to look ahead to this weekend’s contest against number three ranked Alabama (1-0).  The Crimson Tide come into Happy Valley Saturday hoping to sweep the home and home series against the Nittany Lions after winning last year’s game 24-3.

Intriguingly, Alabama will be facing a similar task sophomore quarterback Rob Bolden faced a year ago for Penn State in Tuscaloosa. No matter who Alabama decides to start at quarterback, either redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, they will be making their first career road start in one of the toughest places to play in the country, just as Bolden did in last year’s loss. How each quarterback responds to the atmosphere and pressure they will receive at Beaver Stadium on Saturday will be pivotal to the Crimson Tide offense.

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said that the Nittany Lion defense will simply have to be ready for both quarterbacks on Saturday.

“We will just have to play it literally down by down and if they alternate quarterbacks, or whichever way they decide to go, we are going to have to be ready to handle whatever problems they give us,” Paterno said in Tuesday’s press conference at Beaver Stadium.

Both teams do not have a clear-cut starter going into Saturday, which has been the main storyline this week, but there is one interesting part of the game that has been slightly over looked. Alabama obviously brings in one of the perennial running backs in the country in Trent Richardson, but on the other side, Penn State’s Silas Redd looks to get some of Richardson’s spotlight on a national level this weekend against the Tide.

Richardson emerged as an elite running back last season after his 190 yard performance against State and this year could be a similar opportunity for Redd. The sophomore running back rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 carries against Indiana State and looks to have an even better performance this weekend, which could help either Bolden or Matt McGloin become more comfortable under center.

Defensively for Alabama, they look to continue to be stellar in their rush defense against Redd and try to have a game similar to last week’s against Kent State where they held the Golden Flashes to minus five yards rushing. Their star-studded defense led by linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be pivotal in order for Alabama to get a road victory this weekend at Beaver Stadium.

Their defense finished ranked fifth in overall defense and fourth in red zone defense a year ago. Red zone defense will be a key part of the game due to Penn State’s running ability in the red zone with Redd and Brandon Beachum. In the defensive backfield, Alabama returns all of its starters from a year ago and will be a tough task for the Penn State quarterbacks to get the ball consistently to their receivers.

With the passing game far from stellar against weak FCS opponent Indiana State, it has potentially become a major hole for Joe Paterno’s 23rd ranked team. Bolden and McGloin combined only for 114 passing yards and zero passing touchdowns. If the Lions have to rely solely on the running game, it will be nearly an impossible task to beat Alabama.

Another tough job for Penn State will be stopping the Alabama running game. The afore mentioned Richardson ran all over the Lion defense last year and has hopes to have a repeat performance this weekend. State defenders know it might be hard to completely stop Richardson, but have tried to prepare for his skills by going against Silas Redd in practice.

“He is definitely an elite running back in college football and will be tough to control on Saturday,” said captain and defensive linemen Devon Still at Tuesday’s press conference. “Going against Silas Redd in practice, who I think will be one of the best running backs in the country, prepares you for Trent Richardson. I think we will be prepared for Saturday.”

In the defensive backfield, senior cornerback Drew Astorino had an outstanding game with an interception and two broken up passes. The combination of Astorino and fellow captain Still will present difficulty for both Alabama quarterbacks to produce and could be a determining factor in Saturday’s outcome.

Overall, the Nittany Lions will need to get production from both sides of the football, especially in the passing game in order to knock off the Crimson Tide. A win on Saturday would not only give the Lions a 2-0 record, but could propel them into the national spotlight.

Mike Esse is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him email mje5164@psu.edu.