A Soft Week Two Matchup Provides An Opportunity To Restart The Season
The football team buried the game tape from the Temple game, showing it is ready to move on from a disappointing defeat last Saturday in Philadelphia. It seems like a good strategy, as the team is ready brush off all of the negatives and move forward from the game. Now, however, Penn State must move on without Nyeem Wartman-White and with an offensive line that doesn’t look much better than last year. These are two glaring issues staring the Nittany Lions directly in the face heading into a noontime showdown with Buffalo on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
If there’s one thing Head Coach James Franklin and players have stressed this week, it’s the need to be patient and to move on from Temple — though that’s not an easy task for a team previously ranked No. 31 in the AP Top-25 Poll to do. The team has, however, emphasized the need to move on more than anything. It’s time to forget about Temple.
On Saturday, the University at Buffalo football team will make its way into Beaver Stadium in front of more than 100,000 fans. At that moment, everything that happened last Saturday will be gone. All of the focus will be on the game at hand. It’s the perfect place to restart the season — week one is over, and the home opener will be the prelude to the rest of the season. The team will carry the momentum it gains from this game into the remaining ten. This team was rightfully ranked No. 31 in the preseason. It is a very talented group of athletes, and they’re poised to show that off.
Look at all of the talent on this team. Christian Hackenberg, a quarterback projected to possibly go first overall in the draft, leads the offense. In the backfield, Akeel Lynch ran for 78 yards on 10 carries last week — a remarkable 7.8 yards per attempt; a staggering number for Division I College Football. On the flanks, DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis, and Saeed Blacknall are game changers. Last year, Hamilton averaged 11 yards per reception and totaled 899 yards. Lewis averaged 13.7 yards while going for 751 yards. Those are fantastic numbers coming from some very experienced receivers.
Not only do the Nittany Lions have some fantastic upperclassmen to lead the way this year, they also have a very talented group of freshmen looking to make a splash for the team. Some of these freshmen were showcased last Saturday, and they did not disappoint. Brandon Polk, a wide receiver and player claiming the title of fastest on the team, showed off his running abilities against Temple, rushing for 50 yards on 2 carries. Linebacker Jake Cooper made his case to fill the void of the injured Nyeem Wartman-White. Although maybe still behind on the depth chart to redshirt junior Gary Wooten, Cooper has made it a difficult decision to take him out of the game.
On Saturday, the defense also made a very good case to say it isn’t backing down any time soon. Although Linebacker U took a hit, the defense is still something to be feared on this team. The “next man up” mentality will be a big mindset to have moving forward, and it’s a mindset this team has right now. With the exception of the 93-yard drive let up by the Nittany Lions’ defense, there was very little to complain about in terms of how it played. Maybe it’s just because there was so much to complain about on the offensive side of the ball, but, either way, Bob Shoop has the defense moving in the right direction.
Taking a look at special teams, maybe this year won’t be so bad after all in terms of the kicking game. Joey Julius, the man given the nearly impossible task of replacing Sam Ficken, was perfect against Temple. Granted, he only had a 34-yard field goal and one extra point, but he made them both. There are never any chip-shot field goals or extra points in college football — just ask Boston College. So, anybody able to consistently put three points on the board in a college game will be considered a good kicker. Obviously, it’s too soon to tell if the consistency is there, but I think we can believe in Joe “The Toe” Julius.
Let’s also take a look back at last year. Last year was a magical year. Although some games were possibly played or coached in a sub-par fashion, the team emerged as ecstatic Pinstripe Bowl victors to end an incredible season which was filled with emotion. If you look back to the first game of the season in Ireland, Penn State played the University of Central Florida. It came down to a last-second Sam Ficken field goal to win it for Penn State. It was a game many people thought Penn State probably should have won fairly easily, but didn’t. In the second game, the home opener against Akron, the Nittany Lions made the game all but exciting, but in a good way. They didn’t let Akron make it a game. Yes, the offense was slow to start, but the Nittany Lions ended up winning 21-3. They proved they could take care of inferior teams. This year started out similarly to last year, all except this year’s first game was a loss. However, there’s still no reason to believe the Nittany Lions won’t be able to take care of business on Saturday against Buffalo. They have a ton of talent, and a lot of leadership. There are a lot of reasons to believe in this team.
Let the play on Saturday determine the mood for the rest of the season — whether that’s worrisome or hopeful for what this team can accomplish. Saturday is an important day for this team. A lot of questions can be answered:
“How can Penn State rebound without Wartman-White?”
“Is this team overrated at No. 31?”
“How well can James Franklin respond to a defeat?”
Saturday’s game can answer these and many other questions being asked of this team. This game may not solve everything, but it can get the team going in the right direction. If that happens, there will be a reason to fear the Nittany Lions again.