Penn State football is officially at the midway point of its regular season schedule. Six down, six more to go. The Nittany Lions are a perfect 6-0 to start the season for the first time since 2008. However, the brunt of the schedule is on the horizon as Penn State prepares to face Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State in the next three consecutive weeks.
Without a doubt, the No. 3 team in the country is off to a hot start. There’ve been plenty of players that have stepped up so far and produced at an elite level. There’s also still a few lingering questions about this team as we enter the back-nine of the season. As Penn State fans continue to campaign for College GameDay to visit Happy Valley on October 21, here’s a quick list of some key takeaways from the first half of the season.
Best Player In The Country: Saquon Barkley
What can’t this man do? He’s scored basically every way imaginable — on the ground, through the air, kick return, and he’s even thrown for a passing touchdown. Currently on pace to break Christian McCaffrey’s single season all-purpose yard record set last year, Barkley is off to a blazing start this year for Penn State.
Even when teams bottle him up for most of the game, like Northwestern did last week, he’ll still break a defense’s back at some point or another with a big-yardage touchdown that leaves multiple defenders on the ground. If he’s not doing it through the run game, Joe Moorhead has done a great job of getting Barkley in space in the passing game. Through six weeks, Barkley is fourth in the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards. Just so we’re clear here, he’s a running back.
Barkley is currently the favorite in Vegas to bring home the Heisman trophy, and deservedly so. If he continues the pace he’s currently on in these next three games, he can create some serious distance from the competition in the Heisman race.
Biggest Question Mark: Right Tackle
James Franklin has yet to see any consistency at the right tackle position along the offensive line. Penn State has started three different guys through six games at right tackle. So far, none have stood out to make a case to be the long-term guy.
Chasz Wright got the first crack to solidify the right side, but after three games, an injury forced Franklin to bring in redshirt senior Andrew Nelson. Once Nelson struggled in the thrilling primetime game against Iowa, the team turned to redshirt freshman Will Fries.
In the last game against Northwestern, Wright got the starting nod, but gave way to Fries after allowing a couple sacks. Fries did play well to close out the game last Saturday, possibly earning the starting spot for at least the Michigan game.
Penn State needs to find its stride at right tackle. In order to be successful in all facets of the offensive game, the Nittany Lions need all five spots performing at a high level. Even if four of players on the line block their assignment, it only takes one missed defender to bring Barkley or Trace McSorley down in the backfield.
Most Consistent Player: Marcus Allen
Allen has been playing like one of the best safeties in the Big Ten, if not the country. Week in and week out, Penn State can count on Allen to bring high energy — and post-game dance moves — to set the tone for the entire defense.
He’s recorded a safety, sack, interception, and two forced fumbles in addition to his 34 tackles to date this season. He does it all for this defense at each level of the field. Every time Brent Pry’s unit needs a stop, Allen is right there in the thick of the action.
Not only is he performing at a high level this year, but he’s done so every single time he’s stepped on the field in his Penn State career. Sitting at 283 career tackles, Allen is currently climbing up the steps in the Student Book Store. He’s now No. 8 all-time in career tackles at Penn State with a strong possibility of moving up to No. 7 or even No. 6 over the next three weeks.
— Student Book Store (@SBSPennState) October 6, 2017
Best Unit On The Team: Secondary
The secondary has been a phenomenal group so far for Pry. Part of an elite defensive unit that’s No. 1 in the country in defensive scoring while allowing only nine points per game, the secondary has done a great job of keeping opponents out of the end zone with suffocating coverage and timely forced turnovers.
The Nittany Lions are tied for the most forced turnovers in the country with 17; nine of those have come from interceptions. Amani Oruwariye leads the Big Ten with three interceptions, and teammates Christian Campbell and Grant Haley are right behind him with two.
Opposing offenses have had to a tough time passing on this defense, especially when targeting Haley.
New leader in terms of lowest passer rating when targeted among B1G CBs – Penn State's Grant Haley. pic.twitter.com/dr5UHBcCzu
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 5, 2017
The secondary has played at an elite level at all phases of the game, helping Penn State become one of the best defenses in the country.
With no game this weekend, Penn State has a great opportunity to let key players get some much-neede and much-deserved rest heading into the White Out game against Michigan in primetime. After a strong start to the season, Penn State will try to keep riding the wave of momentum and take a stranglehold of the Big Ten standings.