Inside Penn State: 'It's an offensive-minded team now'
Marcus Jackson's conversation with Jeff Rice, the 247Sports and Lions247 writer
There were a lot of empty seats at the Temple game. Are the days of 100,000-plus fans at Beaver Stadium over?
They might be for a while, and that probably has more to do with the increase in ticket prices Penn State implemented a couple of years ago than it does with the sanctions and Sandusky shroud. There is still a lot of pride in and enthusiasm for this team but there are a lot of people who can no longer find room in their budgets for season tickets.
What has been the response from the fans and general public toward the current players at Penn State?
The only road game they’ve had so far has been at Virginia and the crowd cheered the players as they came out (not to the level they cheered the Cavaliers, of course, but a nice ovation). I think the fans and the public are angry at the officials involved in the Sandusky affair (including Paterno) and obviously, Penn State fans have no love for Mark Emmert, but the players have been supported and embraced by just about everyone.
What’s the biggest difference you see in the style of play under O’Brien as opposed to the years under Joe Paterno?
It’s an offensive-minded team now. That might be oversimplifying things a bit, but you’ve got an offensive coach with a pro-style attack who wants to move the ball and run no-huddle and go for it on fourth down, and it’s up to the defense to follow that. It’s a complete 180 from the previous regime and one I think could be very effective in the Big Ten once O’Brien is able to get some more talent to campus (which could take some time).
Are there hard feelings toward Silas Redd, Ryan Nowicki and the other players who left the program?
I’m a little surprised at how quickly some of Penn State’s fans turned on players who left the program, but the players who stayed with the team don’t have big issues with it. They were disappointed, yes, but they’ve been friends with some of those guys for years and I think genuinely want to see them do well.
On the field, what’s been the most impressive aspect of the team’s play?
The front seven has been very good, which most of us expected, but I think the sophistication of the passing game has been what’s impressed me most so far, especially considering the inexperience at wide receiver and along the offensive line. Penn State is using the tight ends, throwing to every part of the field and, though the offense has been inconsistent in finishing drives, it’s moved the ball with both the big play and with long, time-consuming drives. If the running game, which has been plagued by injuries, catches up, this offense could blossom rapidly.
Give us a prediction.
I’m going to say 20-17 Illinois. I think both teams are struggling right now but I think Penn State is still a few games away from learning to win on the road, and the troubles in the kicking game could catch up with Penn State again. I think Illinois will struggle to move the ball for the most part but has the athletes to break one or two important big plays against Penn State’s shaky secondary. It should be a closely contested game, if not a beautifully played one.