Big Ten QBs: Nothing to Fear here, Move Along
Spring football is done and the long months of summer are upon us as we wait for the gates of Beaver Stadium to open up on September 5th. Podcasts are forthcoming but before Mark and I talk Blue White game as well as offseason storylines, here are a few thoughts on Penn State’s secondary and the Big Ten crop of quarterbacks.
With losses throughout the team, there are several major concerns that face the Nittany Lions during this offseason. However, as the Blue White game and history has shown us, several of the key personnel losses will not be major issues in the fall due to quality coaching and competent replacements. There is one consensus though; the secondary remains the glaring hiccup on the path to repeat as Big Ten Champions.
At the moment it would appear that the starters in the secondary will be AJ Wallace and Knowledge Timmons at the corner back spots, while Drew Astorino will partner with either Andrew Daily, Nick Sukay or true freshman Gerald Hodges at the safety positions.
Factor in the loss of all four starters and what seems to be a flawed scheme against quality passing opponents and there is legitimate reason for Nittany Lion fans to hold their breath when the ball is in the air this season.
But to assuage some of that worry, let’s take a look at the quarterback situation throughout the conference with the exception of Daryll Clark. Four starters return on teams other than PSU and only two of those quarterbacks passed for over 2,000 yards last season, the general mark that would designate a decent passing QB.
Which Big Ten quarterbacks, if any, should the Lions’ secondary fear?
Illinois: Juice Williams, Sr. – 2008: 3,173 yds, 22 TD, 57.5 %
If there is one quarterback that Kermit Buggs and the secondary will need to fret over it is going to be Juice Williams. A three year starter who has had sporadic success and put up solid numbers against the Nittany Lions last season (13-24 183 yds, 2 TD, INT). Williams also has a receiver in Arrelious Benn that would have been drafted before Darrius Heyward-Bay.
That being said, inconsistency has been the name of the game for Juice and after putting up 451 yds, 5 TDs against Missouri, he’ll have games like he did against Louisiana-Lafayette 147 yds, TD, INT.
Factor in the loss of arguably the three best players (LB Brit Miller, CB Vontae Davis and DE Will Davis) on an Illini defense that gave up 350 yards per game a year ago and the trip to Champaign for the Nittany Lions hardly seems as daunting.
Indiana: Ben Chappell, Jr. – 2008: 1,001, 4 TD, 3 INT, 52.3 %
No doubt that change is needed in Bloomington to make this team more competitive, but taking the ball out of the hands of the most athletic player on the team is hardly a winning strategy for Bill Lynch.
Former QB Kellen Lewis has moved to wide receiver after passing for over 6,000 yards in his career including a 2007 season where he threw 28 TDs and led IU to a bowl game. Lewis has had several off-field issues in his tenure and may not be a strong leader for the Hoosiers but any time your best player is getting fewer touches it rarely leads to more victories.
Ben Chappell will struggle with the lack of experience at wide receiver as Lewis is raw and the two top receivers (Means and Fisher) from a season ago have graduated and changed positions, respectively.
It is looking very unlikely that Penn State’s undefeated streak against Indiana will end this year.
Update: Lewis is out. Apparently the former QB was on a short leash and Lynch had enough, dismissing him from the team this week. It just got even more difficult for the Hoosiers this season.
Iowa: Ricky Stanzi, Jr.– 2008: 1,956 yds, 14 TD, 59 %
It’s a new world for Ricky Stanzi. How will he fare without defenses focusing every effort on stopping the freight train of Shonn Greene? Jewel Hampton will fill-in but is no Greene and the weight of the Iowa offense is going to be on the shoulders of Stanzi.
Top wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is back but he was hardly a game-changer (broken coverages change games, not DJK) last season. Reliable target Andy Brodell has moved on, but Tony Moeaki should be healthy this season giving Stanzi another option.
At this point I would say the jury is still out on Stanzi’s ability, last season he split reps with Jake Christensen before finally winning the starting job. However, here is another inconsistent Big Ten QB.
But as we saw, all it takes is one solid drive to change the course of two seasons.
(Bonus Note: Does anyone think that Stanzi and Iowa are coming to Beaver Stadium and putting together a solid performance against a team bent on inflicting revenge?)
Michigan: Tate Forcier, Fr./ Denard Robinson, Fr. /Towel Boy
The well publicized quarterback position at the University of Michigan, you just don’t know what you’re going to get this season.
Is it encouraging to Michigan fans that the team pursued Greg Paulus?
You would think that with Forcier’s ability and Robinson coming into the program in the next few months that the Wolverines would be content with the position. Satisfied, absolutely not, but content with the talent they have that those two could have more success than someone who has not played football in four years.
Hopefully from the Nittany Lion perspective, an inexperienced QB versus an inexperienced secondary would be a wash and if that is the case you would have to give PSU the advantage in this matchup.
Michigan State: Kirk Cousins, So. / Keith Nichol, So.
The state of Michigan is searching for quarterbacks, apply within. Departing quarterback Brian Hoyer saw the majority of time the past two seasons with the exception of blow-out mop up duty for Cousins who has been challenged by Keith Nichol for the starting job.
Once again we are looking at the unknown, so let us focus on what we do know that could keep either one of these players from having success against the Lions’ secondary.
Several talented targets return for the Spartans including Mark Dell, BJ Cunningham, Blair White and TE Charlie Gantt but this group was plagued by a case of the drops for most of the season. This unit should improve, aiding either one of these quarterbacks but how will they fare without a work horse running back to lean on?
Much like the Hawkeyes, the Spartans must find someone or someone’s to fill the void left by Javon Ringer and his nearly 400 carries from last season. How will MSU adjust from being a run dependent team to a pass-happy program?
Michigan State will have plenty of time to figure it out and if they have not become a prolific passing attack by the time these two teams meet in East Lansing, don’t bet against the Lions.
Minnesota: Adam Weber, Jr. – 2008: 2,761 yds, 15 TD, 62.2 %
Minnesota has been off the schedule for two years and the Lions have yet to face the new look Gophers with head coach Tim Brewster at the helm. If you have not been keeping an eye on them, both you and the Nittany Lions could get a surprise out of what has been an above average passing attack since Brewster took over.
Minnesota is arguably the second best passing team the Lions will face this season and the combination of Weber to Eric Decker is one of the most prolific combos in the nation, that’s right, nation. With Decker healthy the Gophers started 7-1. Without Decker at 100 percent, Minny lost its final four games of the regular season.
Decker’s 2008 numbers: 84 rec, 1,074 yds, 7 TD.
The Gophers should fare well against the Penn State secondary unless there is some massive improvement during the non-conference slate. However, defensively Minnesota still leaves a lot to be desired and Brewster has had to replace both coordinators which should result in some growing pains. Oh and the game is at Beaver Stadium.
Northwestern: Mike Kafka, Sr. – 2008: 330 yds, 2 TD, 69 %
The up and coming Wildcats led by Pat Fitzgerald must fill more gaping holes on offense than virtually any other Big Ten team. Northwestern’s starter at quarterback, running back and all three top receivers are gone after a year in which NU was a missed field goal away from winning its first bowl game since 1949.
In steps Mike Kafka to replace the unpredictable CJ Bacher and though Kafka has the foot speed to cause problems for opposing defenses (217 rush yds vs. MINN) his ability as a passer leaves something to be desired. Add to that the breaking in of several new receivers and this campaign may be a step backward for a Northwestern program that looked like it might have finally turned a corner.
With that in mind, let us not forget the last trip to Evanston for the Lions. A 4th and 15 completion to Issac Smolko and the first career touchdown for Derrick Williams in the waning moments carried Penn State to a come from behind victory.
Ohio State: Terrelle Pryor, So. – 2008: 1,311 yds, 12 TD, 60.6 %
At this point we have all become well acquainted with Mr. Pryor. The question remains as to how effective he can be as a passer as clearly his deficiencies in that area led to the Buckeyes only two losses with him at the helm. 13-6.
Apparently his arm has become overworked in the spring and he is still having issues with deep passes despite having a solid performance in the Scarlet & Gray game where he threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Again, take what you will from spring numbers.
Terrelle will also have to adjust to a group of wide receivers that is talented but still miles behind the more seasoned core he had a year ago. Nevertheless, believing that Pryor won’t improve his technique from year one to year two would be naïve and if he lives up to all the hype, PSU could have their hands full come November 7th.
The pressure may have gotten to young Pryor a year ago in the favorable confines of the Shoe; do you think things will be any different in the most hostile environment he will face as a college athlete?
Welcome back to Pennsylvania, Terrelle.
Purdue & Wisconsin: Not on the schedule but a few thoughts.
Though the Nittany Lions do not face either one of these teams this upcoming season, unless JoePa can force the immediate addition of a 12th team to the league and give us a much desired title game, here are a few thoughts on each teams’ QB situation.
The Boilermakers are going to be raw in just about every area with new coach Danny Hope taking over for Joe Tiller, though who would notice a difference between the two besides the weight. Purdue will have to fill in for Curtis Painter with Joey Elliott and not mobile QB Justin Siller who was dismissed from the team for off-field issues.
It likely will be a long first season for Hope and it is unfortunate that the Lions will not get a chance to notch likely easy conference win over them.
Wisconsin, much like Michigan State, has a quarterback competition which has come down to two similar style players. Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips will square off to see who gets to hand the ball off to John Clay and Zach Brown.
The Badgers will continue their “pass only if necessary” offense and must make some type of run this season for Bielema to hold onto his job. See what happens when you finish off a half due to a rules technicality, you get blown out two years in a row and now your job is on the line.
Can many of these criticisms be applied to the Nittany Lions? Absolutely. But strictly looking at how the Penn State secondary will fare against the quarterbacks of the Big Ten and the circumstances those players will find themselves in, I am confident in the Lions chances of success for their back four.
As for their chances against an eventual top tier bowl opponent from outside the Big Ten conference, that’s another story.