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DURING THE JOE PATERNO ERA, PENN STATE HAS USUALLY FOLLOWED a blueprint: Place the offense in the hands of a mistake-free quarterback and let the running game and the defense do the rest. That's when the Lions have been at their best, from the Kerry Collins--led Rose Bowl champs in 1995 to the Michael Robinson--led Orange Bowl victors in 2006.
In 2011, Penn State's quarterback situation is defined by uncertainty. And one of Paterno's signal-callers will have to step up for the team to thrive. Sophomore Rob Bolden and junior Matt McGloin will compete for the starting gig come fall, both looking to bounce back from error-laden seasons. Bolden ended '10 with more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five), and McGloin tossed five picks in the 37--24 Outback Bowl loss to Florida. Their main intended targets, at least, are proven playmakers: 6' 5", 202-pound senior Derek Moye and 6' 3", 214-pound junior Justin Brown, both tall, athletic receivers who pose matchup headaches for smaller Big Ten secondaries.
The running game also is unproven. "We're trying to get [it] back to where we need it," says Paterno. The biggest need is a feature back to replace alltime leading rusher Evan Royster. The top candidates are sophomore Silas Redd and senior Stephfon Green, who combined for 625 yards and three touchdowns in limited carries in 2010.
The defense poses no such concerns. A stout unit that was 16th best nationally in defending the pass (no mean feat playing in the Big Ten) is anchored by two seniors, safety Drew Astorino and cornerback D'Anton Lynn. They'll be bolstered by a linebacking corps headlined by junior Michael Mauti and a defensive line that has been battle-tested. Senior defensive tackle Devon Still is expected to continue to make a particularly disruptive impact. "He's a tireless worker," says longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley of the 6' 5" 305-pounder. "He takes up blocks up front that free up our linebackers to make plays."
In the end, though, plays have to come from McGloin or Bolden. If either makes the transition from game meddler to game manager, the blueprint could be golden.
COACH Joe Paterno (46th Year) 401-135-3 (90--54 in Big Ten)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Galen Hall
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Tom Bradley