The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

October 31, 2012

Penn State offense looks for better communication

STATE COLLEGE — Playing at Beaver Stadium in front of loyal blue-and-white fans would seem to be the last place where Penn State would have a problem with noise.

It turns out that support was louder than even the Nittany Lions offense expected, leading to problems for the up-tempo offense against Ohio State’s front seven.

So quarterback Matt McGloin and the offensive line are focusing in part this week on improving communications when things get rough as Penn State (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) looks to get back on track with a visit Saturday to struggling Purdue.

“We’ve tried to really work on that with the music, and with the loud noise during practice,” coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday at Beaver Stadium. “It really starts with me and coaching ... we’ve tried to coach it better and be more detailed with it this week.”

Some perspective might be in order first, though, between Penn State, Purdue and their respective venues.

Until Saturday’s sellout crowd of more than 107,000 for the 35-23 loss to No. 6 Ohio State, Penn State had averaged about 97,000 this year – and that’s considered low. Beaver Stadium can be one of the loudest venues in the country.

“Saturday was probably the only place in the country where at home you use a silent cadence,” McGloin said. “We really weren’t expecting that.”

Contrast this to Purdue, which hasn’t had a crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium larger than the 50,105 fans who showed up for a 44-13 loss Oct. 6 to Michigan. It was the start of a four-game losing streak that seemingly has the Boilermakers desperate. Coach Danny Hope might be under even more pressure to get things turned around.

The Nittany Lions are determined to avoid becoming Purdue’s first Big Ten victim.

“We know it’s going to be a tough environment going out there. They could easily have a few more wins than they’ve had,” McGloin said. He was probably referring to the 29-22 overtime loss to the Buckeyes two weeks ago.

“We have to continue to move forward and match their intensity.”

There’s no real magic fix to communications issues. In Penn State’s own loss to Ohio State, that miscommunication up front in part led to poor protection of McGloin, the Big Ten’s leading passer (264.4 yards). That, in turn, disrupted Penn State’s high-scoring offense.

So at practice, the Nittany Lions will continue to practice with loud music and work on silent counts. It was part of a broader problem of uncharacteristic unforced errors that tripped up Penn State against the Buckeyes, which also included penalties.

Right guard John Urschel said part of the problem for him may have been being too excited for the big game against the Buckeyes. He’s not using any of it as an excuse, though.

“The burden is on us to get things done,” Urschel said. “We need to make sure that we communicate with each other ... and make sure that we’re precise about these things.”

Actually, Penn State has been playing well away from home of late. After a one-point loss to Virginia in September, the Nittany Lions have built big leads in back-to-back conference road wins in October at Illinois (35-7) and Iowa (38-14).

Sophomore defensive back Adrian Amos said the leadership established by seniors like linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges have helped keep the close-knit team focused on the road.

“It might be easier for us away from home,” Amos said. “You don’t know anybody but your teammates.”

NOTES: Tight end Kyle Carter is listed as probable on the injury report after injuring his left ankle late in last week’s game against Ohio State. O’Brien said Wednesday that Carter was day-to-day and coaches would check later in the week on how well he could cut in the open field to determine if his availability. The 6-foot-3 Carter (35 catches for 441 yards, 2 TDs) has turned into a top target in the passing game. ... K Sam Ficken (quad) has been limited in practice in recent weeks. “We have had to monitor his leg over the last couple of weeks, so that’s what we’re trying to do here leading into this game, too and hopefully by the end of the week we will have a better idea of what his range can be,” O’Brien said. ... Penn State has several players from the New York City area and New Jersey, which were hard hit by this week’s storm. O’Brien said he thinks the families of players from those areas are doing OK. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who dealing with the storm,” he said. “It’s a brutal deal.” Penn State practiced indoors earlier this week and pushed back it normal media availability back a day to Wednesday because of the storm.

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