COMMENTARY: Why OSU will beat Penn State

JOE PATERNO

THE MARQUEE GAME on Oregon State's non-conference schedule this season comes in Week 2, when the Beavers travel to happy Valley to take on Penn State. Most of the national punditry will be picking the Nittany Lions -- expected to be in the Top 15 in both preseason polls -- to win at home. I am not. And here's why...

Much of the fanfare surrounding Penn State is based on the premise they return so many players (9 offense, 8 defense by some counts) from a 9-4 bowl team.

But a closer look at their record shows they lost to a 7-6 Michigan State team, barely beat average Purdue and Indiana squads and needed late heroics to hold off a Texas A&M team in disarray after season long controversy.

And the '08 Penn State offense has a number of rather large question marks surrounding it heading into the fall. First and foremost, the uncertainty at quarterback.

Neither Daryll Clark, (31 career passes) nor Pat Devlin (1 career pass) could win the starting job outright this spring. And neither could unseat former QB Anthony Morelli, a whipping boy for many Penn State fans the past two seasons, as the starter.

Perhaps more telling is that Penn State is looking to implement some spread offense this season. More specifically, a hybrid shotgun spread with split backs.

The problem with all this is that teams who are successful the first year of an offensive overhaul are few, and those that are have the right personnel to make it work. The current makeup on the Penn State offense, for the most part, doesn't fit the spread.

Indeed, as much as Penn State has tried each and every year since 2004 to open up their offense, (when OC Galen Hall came on board), as much as the offseason talk last season reached a fever pitch on how the PSU receivers were the best in the Big 10 and poised to take off, the numbers don't lie.

PENN STATE LAST SEASON ran the ball 528 times, with 415 passing attempts. And in looking at play selection in the opening 15 minutes and adding it all up, Penn State ran it more than they passed it in the first quarter. The passing game ranked No. 75 out of 119 teams.

Bottom line, outside of Happy Valley, all the talk this offseason about the spread smacks more of desperation than it does innovation. If Oregon State brings pressure to slow the Nittany Lion running game, if they dare Penn State's quarterback beat them, things augur well for the black and orange.

OSU was No. 1 in the nation in run defense last year. But that was last year, and they lost a lot off that D -- the entire starting front seven to be specific.

But keep in mind that Mike Riley and Mark Banker used a rotation of 10 -- yes, 10 -- players on the line last year. Returnees Slade Norris and Victor Butler looked like world beaters this spring, and tackle Pernnell Booth is expected at full strength for fall camp.

JC transfer defensive tackle Stephen Paea was one of the best and biggest surprises of the Beavs' spring. And Kevin Frahm and Carl Sommer showed they could be ready to join this year's rotation up front and do some of what the depth did last year.

Meanwhile, The Men in Black have been cranking out All Pac-10 linebackers the past decade and this spring showed the Beavs again have some real playmakers at 'backer. Detractors will note, correctly, that they do not however have starting experience. But they sure didn't look like it this spring.

And the Beavs do still need Simi Kuli, along with Ben Terry for good measure, to come in and produce quickly if they're going to be consistent against Penn State. But both have also offered up evidence they could be ready to do just that.

THE PENN STATE RECEIVERS are a good bunch, but the amount of superlatives being tossed their way this offseason might be a stretch. For starters, the WR talk was similarly buoyant last year, and it failed resoundingly to pan out.

They're a fairly solid group, don't get me wrong. But WR Derrick Williams, who will move back to the slot this year, has never fulfilled the promise of a 5-star prospect rated No. 3 in the nation. You might expect such a highly rated player to lead his team in receiving yards by his junior year but that honor went to Deon Butler in '07 -- and he had only 633 receiving hashes.

The Beaver secondary recently lost Bryan Payton but OSU, frankly, still matches up very well here.

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