It feels so much better to write about Penn State after a win. The first blog I sent out on Staturdays talked about how you were not going to find emotional angry outbursts in my work, and I promised it would be levelheaded analysis with enough statistical proof to backup my argument. Last season tested me and that is partially why I wasn’t consistent with what I was able to put out.
Last weeks win against Wisconsin reminded me of what it was like being a Penn State student in 2016 and 2017. That feeling of an ultra-important win against a really tough opponent is euphoric in a college football environment. The confidence and excitement it brought to fans and all of the students on campus is unlike anything else. Needless to say, I am happy to be back with you here after a win – lets discuss it.
I wrote last week about how much pressure there was going to be on Sean Clifford and how his performance was going to be indicative of the season ahead – and the truth is, he played fine. Sure, he left a little to be desired on the field that day including some missed throws on big plays and a few errant passes that wouldn’t be advised – but he had a big zero in the stat that matters most: Turnovers. No interceptions and no fumbles from Clifford in my view was the reason that the offense was able to stay in that game by not putting more pressure on the defense and allowing new OC Yurcich to scheme up scoring drives for the second half while the game was still tied. There was a missed field goal and a missed extra point in the second half too so essentially the offense played well enough for 20 second half points on 4 scoring drives.
Not until the fourth quarter did Noah Cain really break out and besides that there was certainly not much in the running game available. No Tight Ends caught a pass last week. RB and TE were the two positions that I said were the deepest in the Big Ten. Credit Wisconsin for this. They schemed to take away the strength of Penn State and forced them to make Sean Clifford beat them downfield. Credit Sean Clifford for that. In the second half, with the help of some impressive WR play, he did what he needed to do. I sense that this will be a bounce back season for Clifford.
I wrote about the offense last week, but you can’t really talk about that game without giving enormous credit to the defense. Allowing Wisconsin 10 points in 95 plays in about 45 minutes of game time is absolutely absurd. What they did by forcing turnovers, stopping major plays, and bending but not breaking was a masterclass of defense. The defense was so good for that matter, Gus Johnson (calling the game) was shouting DEFENSE multiple times on air when Jaquon Brisker caught that important interception with 2 minutes to go.
Jaquon Brisker plays the best safety that Penn State has seen in a very long time. Excellent at run blocking and coverage he is so important to this defense, and we are lucky to have him. Ellis Brooks took a huge step up at linebacker and was beyond impressive every snap. Jesse Luketa at DE (a new position for him) seemed to be a step up from his linebacker play and I am excited to see what he is able to do there for the entire season but holy moly how about Arnold Ebiketie? From play one he was wreaking havoc on Wisconsin’s offense and never really slowed down. Making that smooth of a transition from opponents he faced while playing on Temple to playing against Wisconsin in Camp Randall is not something that was expected by any means.
There is so much to be excited about now from Penn State on defense. I haven’t even mentioned Joey Porter Jr. or what the additions of Hakeem Beamon or Keaton Ellis could do for this offense. If the linebackers and defensive line play the entire season like last week, with the depth and skill in the secondary, this could be the most impressive Penn State defense seen in a very long time.
This week Ball State comes into town. They are an impressive MAC opponent not to be overlooked. They won the MAC last year and are poised to do it again this year. Returning almost all of their starters from last year they are a very heavy Senior and Super Senior laden team with a ton of experience at almost all positions. They have won 8 in a row including a conference championship game and a bowl game and have received votes from the AP committee.
I am not particularly worried about the Ball State defense seeing as they have allowed many yards and points to much lesser teams. Last week, in their home stadium, Ball State played Western Illinois allowed 367 passing yards and 2 touchdowns from QB Connor Sampson. 237 of those yards and both of those Touchdowns came from receiver Dennis Houston. I imagine this could be a great week for Clifford and his receivers to show who they really can be against a secondary that is bound to allow some big plays.
The Ball State offense is a different story. A crazy atmosphere that will be the opening game at Beaver Stadium with fans for the first time in years may not be enough to shake Ball State QB Drew Plitt. Senior Plitt, who has thrown for almost 7000 yards in his five-year career at Ball State has a lot of experience under his belt and also has the explosive and shifty receiver Justin Hall. Hall, who went for 137 yards and 2 scores last week, is Ball States most dangerous player and poses the biggest threat to what Penn State will want to do.
I have a lot of faith Penn State will win this game. I do not believe in the trap game narrative because of many reasons but mostly how excited this team will be to get back into Beaver Stadium in front of fans. I am looking forward to seeing the improvements made on the offensive side of the ball and the sustained success from the defense.
1-0 this week. We Are!