January 1, 2010 by USA Post
Joe Paterno:The perception exists that Big Ten football teams are built for power and play a plodding, methodical style, and Southeastern Conference teams are built for speed with more wide-open varieties of offense.
Or maybe it doesn’t.
“I’ve never been a guy for generalizations,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said yesterday. “It’s a football game – who puts the football on the ground, who has penalties in key situations, things like that.”
Maybe Paterno is right. The differences in styles these days may not be as drastic as in the past. When the Nittany Lions and LSU finally get it on today in the Capital One Bowl, there will be fast players wearing blue and white, and powerful players wearing Tiger purple.
Even so, the Lions must play fundamentally sound football to make sure an LSU player doesn’t flash by them into the clear to make a big play that could decide the outcome.
“I think we have good speed on defense,” Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “Do we have great speed? Who knows? Playing this kind of speed, we have to make sure that we take the proper angles in pursuit.
“But the one thing is, we don’t get those looks from our scout team. The angles are going to change really quickly come 1 o’clock [today]. That’s where we really have to be careful. It’s going to come down to tackling well, no big plays, no dumb penalties.”
The Tigers have the fastest player in college football in 5-foot-5 Trindon Holliday, a versatile offensive player and outstanding return man, and one of the fastest in freshman Russell Shepard, a running back who also may see action in a Wildcat formation.
They also have speedy and tall receivers in Brandon LaFell and Terrance Tolliver, who combined for 99 catches and will put a lot of heat on Penn State’s secondary.
But the Lions love a challenge, and linebacker Navorro Bowman said they are more than up to it.
“The talk going around is that we can’t handle speed, or the Big Ten can’t handle speed,” Bowman said. “I beg to differ. I think our guys on defense can run with the best and we’re going to try to show them that.”
The Nittany Lions don’t lack for speed on offense, either. Receivers Derek Moye (a state high school track champion) and Chaz Powell and backup tailback Stephfon Green (recruited by LSU for track) can run with the best of them.
“I see speed on Penn State’s team, certainly at receiver and quarterback, and in their secondary,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think their linebackers are very capable.”
Of course, it also matters what happens in the trenches, and if statistics are any realistic indicator, Penn State could have an advantage there.
For all LSU’s speed and talent, the Tigers finished just 108th among 120 FBS schools in total offense. They suffered 35 sacks and 75 tackles for losses, as compared with 16 and 48 for the Nittany Lions.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who was praised by Paterno yesterday as “a very gifted athlete,” has a tendency to hold the football too long and take a sack. The Lions, who ranked in the Top 10 nationally in total defense and points allowed, hope to use that to their advantage.
Daryll Clark gives Penn State an experience edge at quarterback but Clark has played poorly in two games against ranked teams this season, going a combined 24 of 60 for 323 yards and four interceptions in losses to Iowa and Ohio State.
“It’s always been about the W,” Clark said. “If you’re able to move the ball well and put up points, and our defense is going to make plays for us as well, then you’re going to win the football games and let the opinions fall where they may.”
Another problem in the two losses were poor special-teams play. The Lions allowed a blocked punt to be returned for a touchdown against Iowa, and punt returns of 41 and 45 yards by Ohio State’s Ray Small, both of which led to TDs.
Paterno has stressed special teams during his team’s entire Florida stay. The Lions also have tried to shore up other areas to try to neutralize the LSU speed, which the coach acknowledges is a concern.
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