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Q&A with Black Shoe Diaries.

A pregame discussion with SB Nation's Penn State site.


Devon Edwards of Black Shoe Diaries was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

1. Give us your nutshell thoughts on the first year of the Bill O'Brien era and how you feel about him as the long-term leader of your program.

O'Brien has done a lot of things extremely well, none moreso than simply calming things down when the sanctions first hit. Only a few players did transfer, despite the warnings of a mass exodus, and this season has, to a large degree, felt like football as normal at Penn State, and for BOB to have brought that sense of normalcy back so quickly is nothing short of miraculous. In terms of his actual coaching, I love that he's been more aggressive, especially in road games, than the past regime, and while there have been a lot of growing pains, you can tell that he's squeezing as much as he can out of a thin, undermanned team that nobody expected much out of even before the NCAA effectively crippled the program. What he's done with Matt McGloin, especially, is remarkably encouraging, given that one 5-star blue-chip QB has already signed on to play for O'Brien, and you can imagine that trend continuing for as long as he's here.

Your season began with disappointing losses to Ohio and Virginia, but you have bounced back nicely since then, losing to two very good teams and beating everyone else. What is your explanation for the turnaround?

If those games are played after the first couple weeks, Penn State wins, and pretty comfortably, too. Penn State still wasn't sure what it wanted to be--defensively, Ted Roof hadn't yet developed a scheme that maximized his talent at linebacker (seriously, against spread-offense Ohio, he had Hodges and Mauti blitzing every other down off the edge!), offensively, the hurry-up "NASCAR" package hadn't been installed yet, and all that said, it took Sam Ficken missing 4 field goals and an extra point for Penn State to lose at UVA. It doesn't help that the Big Ten's really down this year, but the reason Penn State's looked so much better is that O'Brien and Roof and the rest of the staff have figured out how to put their playmakers in the best position to succeed--and at times, discovered who those playmakers are (RB Zach Zwinak didn't touch the ball the first few weeks, and he's been virtually unstoppable the last few).

3. How is recruiting going? I see that Rivals ranks Penn State #41. Do you have any reason to think that the reality is going to be better than that? Worse?

Recruiting is still a mixed bags. Many of the top prospects who'd committed to Penn State before the NCAA came down on us with the sanctions have been steadfast in their commitments, and when that includes a pair of blue-chip guys in TE Adam Breneman and QB Christian Hackenberg, it brings the whole class up. It would be a lie to say that this won't hurt Penn State's ability to recruit, and considering that Penn State can only take 15 kids per class makes it all the more imperative that the staff not miss on too many scholarships. I think there will always be a couple kids who are willing to stick out the next few dark years (and after this year, they should get incrementally better, since that's 1 fewer lost bowl game for the recruits), but it's tough and weird to be fighting with Purdue and Minnesota rather than Michigan and Ohio State for prospects; still, before the sanctions, O'Brien had been a monster on the recruiting trail, and if anyone could do a good job with the cards he's been dealt, it's BOB.

4. One thing that hasn't changed is that Penn State's defense is very good. Which defenders should cause IU particular concern?

Linebacker Michael Mauti is the heart and soul of this Penn State defense, but Gerald Hodges is just as good. Honestly, Penn State doesn't just have the best pair of outside linebackers in the nation, they've probably got 2 of the top 5 players in the country at the position. Indiana's quick passing game will likely neutralize the pass
rush, but keep an eye out for DE Deion Barnes. He's only a redshirt freshman, but he's undoubtedly the best rush lineman on the team, and a nice pair for DT Jordan Hill, who's a run stuffer. The secondary is the thinnest and weakest unit on the team, especially with the loss of starting FS Malcolm Willis, but watch out for do- verything DB Adrian Amos, who can make plays in the pass rush, run support, or coverage.

5. Finally, a basketball question. What can we expect from Pat Chambers and his team in his second season?

Well, they'll try their darnedest. That was the theme for PennState last year, and what kept the Lions in way more games than their level of talent deserved. It's still going to be a whole lot of Tim Frazier--who's got to be one of the most underrated players in the country--getting no help and having to do it all on his own, but the hope is that in DJ Newbill, a transfer from Southern Miss., will be the Robin to his Batman, and help form one of the better guard pairings in the Big Ten. Chambers lost a number of players due to transfers in the offseason, so depth will be an issue, especially in the frontcourt, where neither Jon Graham nor Sasa Borovnjak has been particularly inspiring. If Penn State makes a little noise (and it won't be much more than "a little"), it'll be because F Ross Travis took a big step forward from "glue guy" to "all around contributor", because Newbill becomes a solid second option, and because at least one of the big men steps up. Otherwise, it'll be more of the same, another 3- or 4-conference-win season for the cagers.