Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Penn State seeks better balance on offense
By Adam Rittenberg
According to coach Bill O'Brien, Penn State's offensive line graded out as the best unit on the team in Saturday's opener against Ohio.
It's up to O'Brien, the team's offensive play-caller, to put the line to full use in the weeks ahead.
Although the front five protected quarterback Matt McGloin well in the team's 24-14 loss, allowing no sacks and only one tackle for loss, the line probably earned an incomplete for its run-blocking efforts. That's because Penn State rushed the ball only 22 times, while passing it 48 times against the Bobcats.
Only four FBS teams -- Tulane, Miami (Ohio), Washington State and Western Michigan -- attempted fewer rushes in their season opener than the Nittany Lions.
Although O'Brien orchestrated the NFL's No. 2 pass offense last season with the New England Patriots and had one of the game's top quarterbacks at his disposal in Tom Brady, he knows Penn State will need better offensive balance going forward, beginning Saturday at Virginia.
"Would you like to have a 50-50 run-pass ratio? Sure," O'Brien said Tuesday. "But at the end of the day, you're trying to do whatever it takes to win the game. In the Ohio game, I need to do a better job there of calling some more runs, that's for sure."
The challenge is who will handle those runs for Penn State in Charlottesville. Top running back Bill Belton is questionable for the game after leaving the Ohio contest with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
Belton, who was on crutches after the game, doesn't have a long-term injury but likely will need to practice by Thursday to have a chance of playing against Virginia. The sophomore recorded 53 rush yards on 13 carries against Ohio.
If Belton can't go, Derek Day likely would get the start. True freshman Akeel Lynch, who somewhat surprisingly didn't play in the opener, also will be in the mix, O'Brien said, along with Curtis Dukes, Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich.
"We have a lot of guys at the running back position that are good players," O'Brien said. "If Billy can't go, somebody else will step up. We have confidence in those guys."
O'Brien singled out center Matt Stankiewitch for his play up front in leading a line including mostly unproven players. Although Penn State had some success in the short-passing game, it struggled to finish drives and needs to show defenses both a vertical passing threat and a more formidable run threat.
"We've got to be more balanced," O'Brien said, "and that starts with me."