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Penn State Looks To Improve Offensive Line Play Vs. Alabama

Better pass blocking is a key for Penn State's offensive line against Alabama.

When backup quarterback Shane McGregor barreled into the end zone for Penn State's fifth rushing touchdown of the day against Indiana State last Saturday, it was the culmination of a dominant effort by the Nittany Lions on the ground.

As a team, Penn State racked up 245 yards and those five scores, the four previous coming from Silas Redd, Michael Zordich and Joe Suhey, as the Lions' offensive linemen pushed the outclassed Sycamores around the Beaver Stadium field all afternoon.

Things change this week, though, as No. 2 Alabama visits Happy Valley with a stout run defense to counter the Penn State ground attack. Last week, the Crimson Tide dominated Kent State's running game by limiting the Golden Flashes to -9 yards rushing on 23 attempts.

It's unlikely Alabama will achieve anything approaching that kind of success against Penn State, but it's also unlikely the Lions will enjoy the dominance on the ground that they did against Indiana State. as the Tide promises to be much stingier.

That could put more pressure on the passing game, which struggled to establish momentum against the Sycamores. Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin combined for just 120 yards on 12-for-20 passing against Indiana State, and some of that was due to offensive line struggles against the pass rush.

Coach Joe Paterno pointed out after the game that some of quarterbacks' throws were rushed, especially on one of McGloin's passes that was nearly picked off as he threw while being hit. Asked to evaluate his line, Paterno indicated he's looking for improvement.

"We have to play better offensively," Paterno said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.  "The offensive line has to be a little bit more consistent.

That's a sentiment a number of the linemen, most of them returning from last season, shared after the game.

Guard Johnnie Troutman acknowledged the holes in the pass blocking and hopes his unit will be able to read the opponent better on Saturday.

"[We've] just got to get more awareness out there," Troutman said. "Recognize what they want to do and what blitzes they're coming with, so we just make the switches faster and checks and things like that."

Last season against the Tide, the Lions didn't get much going in the pass game. Bolden, a true freshman at the time, posted just 156 yards on 14-for-31 passing and was pressured into a couple of interceptions.

The first of the two picks, especially, was affected by the Alabama pass rush, as Bolden was hit hard while throwing, causing his pass to flutter helplessly into the arms of a Tide defender.

Despite those struggles last season, however, and the shortcomings against Indiana State, tackle Quinn Barham is confident the issues will be addressed by the time kickoff rolls around on Saturday.

"We did struggle a little bit with pass protection," Barham said. "Indiana State did run a lot of different stunts and different blitzes, and I know Alabama will, too. We'll go back to the drawing board, we'll reevaluate and we'll be fine."

NOTES--Paterno said at his press conference Tuesday that lineman Mike Farrell should be out for at least a couple of weeks. He expects Adam Gress to fill the void this week against Alabama. Gress, a redshirt sophomore from West Mifflin, saw action in six games last season.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.