CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Five things to look for as Penn State tries to build some confidence and avoid the disappointment of an 0-2 start at Virginia.
No. 1: Stay on the field
As safety Malcolm Willis said this week, "The depth is the depth. We have to deal with what we have."
It's only week two, but it's already obvious the Nittany Lions don't have enough quality players to overcome even a few injuries. They have to keep the starters on the field to have a chance.
Bill O'Brien said the team is in good condition and that the players weren't worked too hard in training camp. But for whatever reason, Ohio's players didn't have the same issues PSU's guys did on a hot day at Beaver Stadium.
It will be hot again today (80 degrees), so cramping and hamstrings could be an issue for either team. We've heard so much about PSU's new strength and conditioning program, and now we need to see it be effective on the field.
There's good news and bad news on the injury front. Cornerback Stephon Morris (ankle) has been practicing and is expected to play, but tailback Bill Belton (ankle) did not make the trip. Derek Day, a former walk-on, will get the start at tailback
No. 2: Get off the field
Penn State's defense couldn't do this on third down against Ohio, which converted 11-of-12 chances in the second half.
It's almost impossible to win giving up that kind of ratio.
Reason No. 1 above was part of the reason for the defensive troubles as Morris and linebacker Gerald Hodges (leg) missed time with injuries. So while it's easy to say the defense has to get stops, it needs to be pointed out that a defense playing backups probably will have a tough time doing that.
Were the injuries a case of fatigue? Maybe not. But the fatigue definitely was brought on because injuries depleted the defense.
No. 3: Pressure the QB
The front seven must get to Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, which will be tough to do against a massive offensive line that averages 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds.
Rocco doesn't do as many three-step drops, which give PSU trouble, so the rushers should have a bit more time to pressure him. Any decent quarterback who has a lot of time to throw should be able to have success against the Lions' secondary, so the front seven can't allow that to happen.
No. 4: Make adjustments
Ohio outcoached Penn State last week.
O'Brien made it clear immediately after the game that he and his staff need to do a better job of coaching, and while he may have been a little hard on himself -- the players were the ones not making plays -- the Bobcats' coaches put their players in better position with good adjustments in the second half.
The short passing game worked in the first half for Matt McGloin, but when Ohio took those routes away, the Lions struggled. Look for Virginia to concentrate on jamming the receivers or at least playing tighter coverage and forcing McGloin to look downfield more.
If that takes away what O'Brien wants to do offensively, he will have to come up with a plan B, something that did not happen last week.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof didn't appear to make any adjustments in the second half to try and stop Ohio. Some nickel packages could be in the works this week.
No. 5: Player to watch
This may seem like an odd choice, but if PSU is going to win, it would be in a close game. That means Sam Ficken will have to make two or three clutch field goals, something the first-year starter has never done in his career.
The Lions should be able to move the ball well, but that doesn't mean their red-zone offense will be refined enough to get seven points. They'll have to get at least three on those drives.
Prediction: Virginia, 24-17.