Penn State football: Penn State/Syracuse position-by-position breakdown

tjohnson@centredaily.comAugust 31, 2013 

Quarterbacks

Neither coach is revealing his starter in this game. Fans will have to wait until each teams’ first possessions to see whether Terrel Hunt or Drew Allen or Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson will trot out for the Orange and Nittany Lions, respectively. Allen, a transfer from Oklahoma, is not necessarily a rookie. He’s played in 12 games over the past three seasons and is the only player among the four who’s seen time at quarterback in a major college football game. Advantage: Syracuse

Running Backs

Jerome Smith averaged just over 90 yards per game last season and he and Prince-Tyson Gulley each averaged over five yards per carry. While Gulley just missed out on joining Smith as a 1,000-yard rusher, he provides the Orange with a receiving threat out of the backfield as he caught 33 passes for 282 yards last season. Penn State has a physical runner in Zach Zwinak but niether him or Bill Belton have put together the resumes Smith and Gulley come to work with. Advantage: Syracuse

Receivers/Tight Ends

The Nittany Lions are deep and talented and should give Syracuse defensive backs fits with matchup issues. The Orange welcome back Jarrod West as their leading returner while tight end Beckett Wales is a big, sturdy target. The combined skill, speed and strength of Allen Robinson, Jesse James, Matt Lehman, Kyle Carter and Brandon Felder could wear out a Syracuse secondary where only cornerback Keon Lyn is over 6-feet tall. Advantage: Penn State

Offensive Line

The Orange are big and experienced on the left side but have sophomores in Nick Robinson and Ivan Foy starting at right guard and tackle, respectively. Orange center Macky MacPherson is a Rimmington Award candidate. Penn State has three starters plus two quasi starters back to solidify its front five. The Nittany Lions outweigh their Orange counterparts by 56 pounds. Thirty-eight of those pounds come at the tackle spots where Penn State is considerably huskier. Advantage: Penn State

Defensive Line

In addition to returning starter Jay Bromley, Syracuse presumably turns to junior college transfers this season to offset its heavy personnel losses from 2012. Zian Jones and Trevon Trejo join the rotation trying to replace three defensive linemen responsible for 22 tackles for loss last season. Penn State has size in the middle with DaQuan Jones and Austin Johnson and a bona fide pass rusher on the outside in Deion Barnes to contend with. Advantage: Penn State

Linebackers

Syracuse returns two starters in Dyshawn Davis and Marquis Spruill. Meanwhile Cameron Lynch has been a big-time contributor in 25 games over the past two seasons. The Orange have nine linebackers total who are upperclassmen. In addition to the starters, two others have at least one full year of playing time while Josh Kirkland and Luke Arciniega will look to contribute after transferring in from junior colleges. Outside of Mike Hull and Glenn Carson experience is thin for Penn State. Advantage: Syracuse

Secondary

Penn State’s secondary was slightly better statistically speaking last season as the Nittany Lions gave up 225 yards per game to Syracuse’s 244 average. But Syracuse defensive backs struggled in man-to-man situations. They could have trouble manning up against a big, physical set of Penn State receivers as three of Syracuse’s projected starters, corner Brandon Reddish and safeties Wayne Morgan and Jeremi Wilkes, are all under 5-foot-11. Penn State welcomes two new cornerbacks in Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas but safeties Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis, Ryan Keiser and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong bring experience and versatility to their side of the ball. Advantage: Penn State

Special Teams

Orange kicker Ross Krautman finished by hitting five straight field goals and 19 extra points in a row to end the season. Sam Ficken was hotter, nailing 12 of his last 13 including 31 straight PATs. Both teams ranked near the bottom in every special teams category, however. Syracuse failed to return a kick or punt for a touchdown. Both teams return their top specialists. Advantage: Penn State

Sideline/Intangibles

After losing Ted Roof, O’Brien quickly promoted John Butler to defensive coordinator and hired Anthony Midget as safeties coach. Although Shafer takes over as Syracuse’s head coach after spending the last four seasons as defensive coordinator, the Orange are still breaking in seven new assistants. O’Brien has an experience edge with one season under his belt but is 1-2 in games he’s coached at MetLife Stadium. The Orange committed 102 penalties — nearly eight per game — last season and only four other FBS teams were flagged more. Advantage: Penn State

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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