John Donovan

Pitt’s Narduzzi takes veiled shot at Penn State playcalling

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New Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi certainly has plenty of reasons to be feeling boastful right about now. His Panthers are fresh off a road win at Georgia Tech, sitting in first place in the ACC Coastal Diviosjn with a 5-1 overall record. Pitt is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010, and now Narduzzi is dropping some mild shots at Penn State. Narduzzi was asked about the play of his quarterback, Nathan Peterman, during Pitt’s recent run and Narduzzi dropped a not-so-subtle reference to the ongoing struggles at quarterback and playcalling at another school in the state of Pennsylvania; Penn State.

“You could have a talented quarterback with a bad play caller and make him look bad,” Narduzzi said. “You can see that around the country, some closer than others.”

One can only assume Narduzzi was referencing Penn State with quarterback Christian Hackenberg and offensive coordinator John Donovan. Donavan has come under fire his playcalling this season and a year and a half of disappointing results with Hackenberg at quarterback. Hackenberg shined as a freshman under former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, but has been average at best for much of the early goings in the James Franklin era in State College. While there is room for some excuses for Hackenberg’s lack of development (Penn State’s continued rebuilding on offensive line being the biggest culprit), there is still blame to direct toward Hackenberg for some decision-making errors along the way. That said, the bulk of the blame continues to fall on Donovan. It is Donovan’s job to put the offense in its best position to advance the football and that simply has not seemingly been the case since the start of the 2014 season for Penn State.

It is also worth noting Narduzzi is not simply spouting off as a head coach of another program in the state of Pennsylvania in an attempt to take a shot at a recruiting rival. He also speaks from firsthand experience. As defensive coordinator at Michigan State last season, Narduzzi coached the Spartans’ defense against Hackenberg, hodling him to just 21-of-45 for 195 yards and an interception. Michigan State beat Penn State 34-10 in the regular season finale.

Hackenberg was a five-star pro-style quarterback out of high school in Penn State’s Class of 2013.

With both Pittsburgh and Temple being ranked in the AP Top 25 this week, it marks the first time since November 12, 1979 that two schools from Pennsylvania were ranked in the AP poll and neither was Penn State. Penn State and Pitt have not played each other since 2000, but the two long-time instate rivals will revive their rivalry starting next season with the first in a four-game series. Whether Hackenberg will still be around remains unknown. His draft stock has dropped some, but a strong second half could ease some concerns about his NFL future.

It took one sack allowed to break Penn State’s confidence

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Penn State head coach James Franklin is facing many questions about his team after the Nittany LKions opened the new season the program’s first loss to Temple since 1941. Penn State’s offensive line was tissue-paper thin against the Owls, allowing 10 sacks when all was said and done and the clock finally showed triple zeroes Saturday. Apparently it took just one sack to break the confidence of Penn State’s offense.

This all went down in the city of brotherly love, and Penn State was not mentally prepared to fight back like Rocky Balboa. Penn State was more Glass Joe than The Italian Stallion.

In his Tuesday press conference with the beat reporters, Franklin said Penn State lost its confidence on the sideline after Temple recorded its first sack of Christian Hackenberg. Franklin suggested the team and fans need to remain calm and keep a positive vibe going, as difficult as that may be at this early juncture following that performance on Saturday. Offensive coordinator John Donovan is already under a microscope in Happy Valley, with Franklin saying his coordinator is being evaluated along with everything else within the program. Penn State’s playcalling was suspect last fall and it got off to another rough start in 2015. Things started well but as Temple gained control of the game and established a confidence level Penn State was unable to match, Penn State’s playcalling seemed to play to Temple’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. Running east-west and needing too much time for a play to develop never allowed Penn State’s offense to get back in the swing of things. The offensive line can take plenty of blame for this, although there was plenty of blame to spread around.

Penn State allowed 41 sacks on Hackenberg last season. The Nittany Lions seemed to add some depth to the line this offseason with the additions of Stanford graduate transfer Kevin Reihner and JUCO transfer Paris Palmer, and things actually started well for the Nittany Lions in the first quarter. Penn State’s running game had an early impact as Penn State jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but it was all Temple from that point on. Temple’s solid defense lived up to some of the preseason hype and showed why the Owls could be a contender in the American Athletic Conference. Temple will have to keep that intensity up when the Owls travel to Cincinnati this weekend. The Bearcats are the preseason favorite in the American. If Temple can get out of there with a win, the Owls should feel extra confident the rest fo the way.

Penn State will be getting ready to host Buffalo, but not before putting the Temple loss to bed. Penn State’s team captains used a shovel to bury the Temple game tape on the practice field.