3-0 right now. Three wins and zero losses. Penn State started the season with a road win against #12 Wisconsin, a blowout victory against the reigning MAC champions, and an impressive defeat of the #22 Auburn Tigers (and referees). Coming off of a 0-5 start to last year and all the question marks that Penn State had, especially at QB, I did not possess a lot of confidence in this team if I am being honest. I wrote a few weeks back that it was essentially up to Sean Clifford performance in week one not only to earn a win against a tough road opponent but to set the tone for the season. In reality, I was mentally preparing for another disappointing season.
Penn State did not allow my fears to come true. The defense, especially in the secondary, has been absolutely incredible this season. Names like Joey Porter Jr. and Jaquan Brisker are becoming household names across college football. The offense, now led by offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, since the start of quarter three against Wisconsin looks inspired and noticeably different than in any post-Saquon season. Sean Clifford, who I put so much pressure on as essentially the make-or-break component of this team, just played his best career game in Blue and White against a very tough Auburn defense completing 87.5% of his passes for 280 yards and 2 scores. His one interception was more of a hail mary / punt anyways and I do not put much stock into that.
I have been really quite impressed by Mike Yurcich and what the offense has been able to do this season. Every week a new facet of the offense seems to come alive, and his creative play calling and play design has kept defenses off balance. The tight ends against Auburn got more work including Tyler Warren, the third string, getting a few plays as a wildcat QB and even scoring a TD in the works. Defenses have focused their attention on Dotson (who is incredible by the way) but they have found creative ways to get him the ball in space despite that. There is some left to be desired when it comes to running the ball, but I have confidence that will be figured out in time especially with the improvements the offensive line has taken this season.
Brent Pry’s unit is another top 10 defense in the sport but seemingly for a completely different reason than what fans have seen before. Usually, a Pry defense is very stout against the run but has trouble in the passing game. A lot of very mediocre QBs have had career days against Penn State defenses in the past. This year you are seeing a much stronger passing defense led by a very deep secondary but again some left to be desired in the run game. If I had to give my biggest worry about this team right now it would be our run defense. Penn State allowed about 5.1 yards per carry among the three main Auburn Ball carriers and only 4.7 yards per completion. When you are allowing more yards per carry than yards per completion a better passing attack could cause some issues and burn the Nittany Lions defense in a later game. My hope lies partially with Hakeem Beamon, who has yet to see the field and was touted to be one of the most important pieces in Penn States defensive line (as both a DT and DE). I imagine with some adjustments and his return the defense can remain as a top unit in the sport. Oh, and that Jaquon Brisker kid is pretty good. Joey Porter Jr. too.
The first quarter of the Penn State season has been an absolute success, so let’s look ahead to the next. Penn State squares off at noon this Saturday against a tough FCS opponent in Villanova and then follows that up with a home game against Indiana and a road game against #5 ranked Iowa. Villanova is the #10 ranked team in the FCS and that is about all I know about them. I can read some articles and pretend like I am giving you insider knowledge, but the truth is that Penn State should easily handle this opponent even without having their best players on the field. This should be a good game to get some depth pieces playing time and ideally see what backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson is able to do over the span of more than a drive or two.
I will save this conversation more for next week, but a likely 4-0 start followed by a primetime kick against a struggling Indiana (the team who beat PSU on a controversial call and derailed the entire 2020 PSU season) is enough to get me very excited for the future. The prospect of an undefeated Penn State going to face an undefeated Iowa in a top 6 matchup has me struggling to maintain Coach Franklins 1-0 mentality. None the less, Penn State needs to take care of business at home twice before we can truly get there. The fact that I even get to be excited about this again like I was before the disaster that was the 2020 season has me giddy.
There is that excitement in the air again, can you feel it? Shades of 2016 and 2017 surround this Penn State football team. Fans are worried about losing Coach Franklin again instead of wanting him fired. The offensive coordinator is on the field and not in the booth. Penn State is already battle tested and came out unscathed. The Big Ten looks vulnerable. Put on your homer hats ladies and gentlemen its time to get excited about what we are seeing here. Let’s go beat Villanova and keep that ball rolling. We Are Penn State.