Analyzing Penn State’s True Freshmen Performances From Week One
It’s been well-documented that Penn State fields one of the youngest teams in college football — a by-product of the scholarship reductions James Franklin’s squad is still slowly recovering from. Last weekend, five true freshmen saw the field for the Nittany Lions. Let’s analyze how each of them fared, and see what we can expect from them going forward in this Saturday’s home opener against Buffalo.
Cornerback John Reid
Reid made headlines by making his first collegiate start in his first career game after sophomore Grant Haley was sidelined with an unspecified injury. Reid’s play was remarkably steady, notching five tackles while displaying a knack for playing the run. The Mount Laurel, N.J. native turned in a fantastic preseason camp that saw him leapfrog sophomore Christian Campbell on the depth chart for the third corner spot. At St. Joseph’s Prep, he helped his team to a AAAA State Championship in 2014, turning in a remarkable season as the secondary’s unquestioned leader. Coach Franklin listed Haley as questionable during his weekly pres conference Tuesday, so watch for Reid to see plenty of time with the ones against the Bulls.
Wide receiver Brandon Polk
Many close to the program figured Polk would be in line for a redshirt this fall — just as fellow slot receiver DeAndre Thompkins received in 2014. However, Polk turned on the jets — both literally and figuratively — in camp, laying claim to the title of fastest player on the team. Aside from his speed, Polk proved his worth to the coaching staff, and earned one of four “green-light” designations by Franklin prior to the season. Polk took the opening offensive snap 33 yards into the open field on an end-around, adding another exciting element to a Penn State offense in need of a spark. Watch for Offensive Coordinator John Donovan to call Polk’s number early and often on Saturday.
Running back Saquon Barkley
Barkley may be the most exciting true freshman tailback to suit up for Penn State in recent memory. Barkley possesses all the tools you look for in a three-down back, and put that talent on display earlier this summer in camp. Barkley saw a handful snaps over the course of the game against the Owls, finishing with one yard off his lone carry. Barkley could see early action against the Bulls as backup Mark Allen’s and Nick Scott’s spell off the bench. His friends and family at home in Coplay, Pa. will surely be tuned in to ESPN2 at noon this Saturday.
Linebacker Jake Cooper
Cooper saw his “yellow-light” turn green at Lincoln Financial Field after the devastating loss of starting Mike linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White to a season-ending knee injury. Cooper and fellow true freshman center Ryan Bates led perennial powerhouse Archbishop Wood in Warminster, Pa. to the 2014 PIAA AAA State Championship. Cooper was listed as the second-string middle linebacker behind redshirt junior Gary Wooten, Jr. Franklin noted that Cooper, Wooten, and Jason Cabinda are all candidates to fill the void left by Wartman-White going forward.
Linebacker Manny Bowen
Bowen, hailing from Barnegat, N.J., kicked off his college career in the second-half last weekend after junior Brandon Bell was sent to the locker room with an apparent injury — one that leaves him questionable for Buffalo. Bowen displayed uncanny athleticism in high school, where he played both ways at wide receiver and safety before finding a home at outside linebacker. Bowen joined Cooper in the second-half, getting his feet wet on the fly against the Owls. Wearing Mike Hull’s old No. 43, Bowen will look to uphold the Linebacker U tradition early on as he continues to forge a role in Bob Shoop’s defensive unit.
Juwan Johnson could join fellow freshman wideout Polk on the field as soon as this Saturday in Beaver Stadium. Standing 6-foot-4, Johnson offers a different kind of pass-catching threat, one that’s certainly lacked in Happy Valley over the past few years. Defensive tackle Robert Windsor has also turned a few heads with his recent performance in practice, and could potentially see his name called soon.
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