Dana Pennett O'Neil | Bradley should be next Nits' head coach

Posted: September 10, 2007

STATE COLLEGE - We are months away from crowning college football's coach of

the year.

Let's end it right now, 2 weeks into the season.

Tom Bradley is the coach of the year.

Heck, give the man the hardware

for the past 4 years because without him, without the Penn State defense, the Nittany

Lions never get out of the dark years.

In 2004, when the offense couldn't find the end zone if it tripped into it (who can forget the 6-4 loss to Iowa?), the defense kept the numbers low enough to give Penn State a puncher's chance.

In 2005 and 2006, the Penn State defense ranked among the top 15 in the country, allowing 14.4 points in 25 games.

This year, with just one

senior among its starters, the Lions have

allowed minus-3 rushing yards,

10 points and 258 total yards

in two games.

Seemingly irreplaceable players graduate - Paul Posluszny last year, Tamba Hali in 2005 - and nothing changes.

That's not dumb luck.

That's coaching.

"[Bradley] really sets the tone," linebacker Sean Lee said. "He's intense, does whatever it takes. He comes in at 3:30 in the morning to get ready for the next week. His attitude, that's us, that's how we play."

In a 31-10 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, the defense essentially pitched a shutout. Charlie Weis' offensive genius got sent into the corner with a dunce cap, generating all of

144 yards in total offense and scoring only when it was set up by either the Penn State offense or special teams.

The Irish scored its lone touchdown after Anthony Morelli all but used a laser pointer to telegraph his pass to Derrick

Williams, allowing Darrin Walls to pick it off and scamper 73 yards for the return. The Irish's other points came after the

Nittany Lions' special teams

allowed Tom Zbikowski a 47-yard return to set up first-and-goal from the 7-yard line.

Oh, and by the way, the defense held. Notre Dame couldn't move the ball 21 feet and had to settle for a field goal.

"They just kept coming, and coming and coming and getting to the ball," Bradley said. "It was a great effort, especially in the red zone."

It was also sweet revenge after Notre Dame embarrassed the

Lions last year, 41-17, scoring more points than any team since Michigan State scored 41 in the final game of 2003.

"I told them four things that are on the do not repeat list," Bradley said when asked how he inspired his defense this week.

"People don't say it, but that was the only game we got blown out and we really wanted our

revenge," Lee said.

The closer's mentality of the defense grows all the more

important as Joe Paterno

continues to make every day a take your child to work day. The playcalling of Jay Paterno (who is technically the quarterbacks coach but tellingly was brought into the postgame media room Saturday to talk about the offensive playcalling), is at best uninspired and at worst, imbecilic.

Up 14-7 against a Notre Dame offense that wasn't going to score again unless the PSU

offense set it up, Penn State ran a ridiculously unnecessary

double-reverse that was supposed to end with Deon Butler throwing the football. Instead it ended with Justin Brown dropping Butler for an 11-yard loss and ultimately, a punt.

You can get away with those things against Notre Dame and Buffalo this week. But what

happens in October, when in the span of 3 weeks, Wisconsin and Ohio State come to Beaver

Stadium?

The defense, you have to

figure, will keep Penn State in games. The linebackers and

secondary are so good that the fact that the defensive line is

desperately young and inexperienced seems irrelevant. The

Lions welcomed freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen to the

college game with six sacks.

But this isn't soccer. In football, eventually someone scores, which means eventually, the offense has to be able to stand up without its defense propping it up, a comfort zone that frankly the offense seems to be getting

a little too comfy with.

"[The defense] is comforting and it has been that way for the past 4 or 5 years," wide receiver Jordan Norwood said. "That's something that we will have for the rest of the season and hopefully we will be able to rely on them a little bit when we are not producing as much on offense."

As Joe Paterno pushes through his octogenarian years, the university refuses to announce his successor. In an age where college sports programs suddenly seem to interpret themselves as monarchies (Bob Knight will bequeath Texas Tech to Pat Knight) it is alarming to think where the line of succession could lead in Happy Valley.

It's really not that complicated.

Just tab the coach of the year. *

Send e-mail to oneild@phillynews.com

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