Reasons For Optimism In The Football Program
The negatives seem to outweigh the positives right now, but trust us — somewhere in the football program there are still reasons to believe.
As you have probably heard by now, Penn State opened its season with a 27-10 loss to Temple. It’s hard to find anyone who would disagree with the fact that the Nittany Lions are more talented, especially in skill positions, and certainly have higher-ranked recruits on the team and waiting in the wings. On the other hand, Temple had substantially better coaching, better execution, a tiny bit of luck, and deserved the win.
Based on a sample size of one game, the Nittany Lions look like they’re in trouble. Let’s take a look at what can, and hopefully will, happen to get Penn State back on track. (Some topics we definitely won’t touch on: John Donovan, the injury bug, handling in-game momentum shifts, John Donovan again, protection against two-man rushes, Paris Palmer, the dearth of veteran players, and short passes from the shotgun.)
Penn State can be good if the running game makes its impressive flashes appear more consistently. The first offensive play of the game for the Lions was a 33-yard scamper from Brandon Polk, and later that quarter, a 42-yard touchdown run from Akeel Lynch added to the team’s lead. Teams that are bad at rushing don’t make plays like that — even if they weren’t commonplace in the game, those plays are possible, and with a little bit more time spent together, they should come in a higher frequency.
As I already mentioned, Penn State is unbelievably talented. Many skill players are capable of taking over a game — Hackenberg obviously, but so are DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, and Chris Godwin, while arguments could be made for two other receivers. Nick Scott, Mark Allen, and Saquon Barkley coming out of the backfield behind Lynch could also break out in any game. At tight end, Mike Gesicki and Kyle Carter could do some serious damage, and if Adam Breneman sees the field again soon, so could he. If the offensive-coordinator-who-must-not-be-named can help his star quarterback get the ball into any of those players’ hands with any consistency, there’s no reason that the team shouldn’t score a few touchdowns every game.
The defense is still solid — not better than last year, but still very good. Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson were very quiet on Saturday but still are two of the best defensive tackles in the country, and are complemented nicely by Garrett Sickels and Carl Nassib at the defensive end position. Nyeem Wartman-White is out for the season with an injury, but Brandon Bell is ready to step in and contribute at linebacker. Bell had a great game, forcing a fumble and continuing to play hard after Wartman-White left the game. Bob Shoop is still a genius and will still keep Penn State in most games. He has the personnel, it’s just a matter of comfort.
And a short-term reason for excitement is the upcoming matchup. Buffalo and Penn State have only met twice before — a 10-0 win for the Bulls in 1900, and a 45-24 win for the No. 12 Nittany Lions. The Bulls’ all-time record of 360-501-28 pales in comparison to Penn State’s 849-377-42. Buffalo is 0-2 in bowl games, Penn State is 28-13-2. Last year, the Nittany Lions went 7-6 and won the New Era Pinstripe Bowl while Buffalo went 5-6. Losing to Temple was a huge surprise, but losing to Buffalo, especially in the opener at Beaver Stadium, would be a nightmare.
There’s no two ways around it — last Saturday sucked. But this is still Penn State football. Some things need to change sooner rather than later, but not all is lost — there’s a long way to go this season, and if the right players get the chance to shine, it’ll still be a successful one.