The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 19th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions lift the lid on the 2010 season against FCS foe Youngstown State in what appears to be one of college football's most obvious mismatches of opening weekend.
A new era officially begins on Saturday for Youngstown State, as new head coach Eric Wolford will make his debut. Wolford is the sixth head coach in program history and earned the job by working 16 years as a collegiate assistant, including 12 at the FBS level. The Penguins finished 6-5 a year ago, including 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and are unranked among FCS schools heading into this new campaign. Wolford's squad figures to be overmatched on Saturday, but the new leader looks forward to the challenge.
"I think its exciting," says Wolford of the Penn State game. "It's a great opportunity. Penn State is obviously an outstanding football team and we're looking forward to it."
It is certainly ironic that in his first game, Wolford is opposed by Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college football history. Paterno will coach his 527th contest on Saturday in what is his 45th season as the leader of the Nittany Lions. Paterno guided his squad to a second consecutive 11-2 record last season, and 13 starters are back from the 2009 campaign. Penn State has won its last eight season openers and is 102-19-2 all-time in lidlifters.
Penn State won the only previous meeting with Youngstown State by a 37-3 final back in 2006.
Youngstown State is expected by many to finish in the middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley Conference, or perhaps even closer to the bottom of the standings. The main reason for the lack of optimism is the loss of QB Brandon Summers. Kurt Hess enters as the starter, but the redshirt freshman is certainly green. Should he struggle early on, don't be surprised to see fellow redshirt freshman Najee Tyler get some snaps. Tyler is a transfer from Purdue, so he brings Big Ten talent to the table.
Fortunately, both signal callers will benefit from the return of wideout Dominique Barnes. A dynamic kick returner as well, Barnes made 60 catches for 762 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago. The running game lost its lead back, so players such as Jamaine Cook and Torrian Pace will have to step up in front of a solid offensive line.
Defensively, the player to watch for Youngstown State is Andre Elliott, a senior free safety who is one of the top players at his position in the MVC. Elliott posted 63 total tackles a year ago, and the fact that he can both rush the quarterback and cover receivers makes him invaluable. Brandian Ross has started 22 games in his YSU career, one more than Elliott, and those two players will be the glue of the defense. Add Nick Gooden and Randy Louis to the mix and the secondary is set.
The linebackers are somewhat experienced, especially with Deonta Tate back in the fold, but they haven't proven much. Up front, Torrance Nicholson and Luke Matelan are solid contributors. There will be six juniors and five seniors starting on the defensive side of the ball for the Penguins.
The biggest question entering this season for Penn State is who will line up under center to replace All-Big Ten signal caller Daryll Clark. The competition between sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, and freshman Robert Bolden has failed to yield a clear winner, so the depth chart for this opener lists all three as potential starters. The fact is that more than one quarterback will likely see action against YSU, so it seems that the most important question is not who starts the game but who finishes it.
"We try to put them in situations where they have to make something happen," said Paterno during camp when asked to speak about the quarterback competition. "They have to be able to do some things in the clutch, get a little confidence, get the football team to get some confidence in them so that they can get in the huddle and say to their team, hey, come on, let's go."
Fortunately, there is plenty of stability at the tailback position, as Evan Royster will attempt to post his third consecutive 1,100-yard rushing season. He is complemented by speedster Stephfon Green, who has averaged 5.1 ypc in his first two seasons. Top receivers Derek Moye (48 rec, 785 yds, six TDs) and Graham Zug (46 rec, 600 yds, seven TDs) are back, so the quarterbacks have plenty of skill around them.
'Linebacker U.' took a hit with the all three of last year's starting linebackers now in the NFL. While that certainly presents some question marks entering Saturday's tilt, Penn State hasn't earned its nickname by accident, as there is ample talent ready to fill the voids.
"Hopefully we have a couple of kids that are going to make some plays in the clutch because of their ability," says Paterno. "But we do have four or five pretty good linebackers."
Starting safeties Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino are back, as are cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell to fill out what should be a strong secondary. On the defensive line, the biggest hole to fill was the one left by departed defensive tackle Jared Odrick, last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. That job has been passed on to redshirt junior Devon Still.
Youngstown State is a respectable 19-23-1 against FBS schools, but another loss will be added on Saturday. There is simply no way that the Penguins will even stay close in this contest.