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Game Day Observations: Army

Penn State won its fourth game in a row Saturday, but it sure didn’t feel like it. An ugly offensive performance, a tense postgame press conference, and the continued spread of the injury bug left the Nittany Lions with more questions than answers. Here are our game day observations from the stressful affair:

  • Let’s not freak out about the student turnout. We posted this picture with about 15 minutes before kickoff Saturday morning. It shows a student section with more empty seats than filled. Shortly after, students started flocking in, and by the time the game was in full swing most of the section was occupied, though parts remained empty for much of the game. In the fourth quarter, the roaring students helped will the defense to a force a game-securing turnover on downs. Sure, in no way was it a particularly good showing from the students. But let’s not freak out about it, as many did over social media. Saturday was the third rainy home game of four this year. A noon game in the middle of midterm season, during which the seasonal sicknesses that accompany this time of the semester are in full swing, against a lowly opponent in a downpour will understandably produce a lower turnout. It’s not being disloyal to not show up — in many cases, it’s being smart and healthy. And Penn State’s brand of football — three-and-outs, no offensive identity, and unappealing opponents — are not a formula to bring out full crowds in force.
  • James Franklin finally showed raw emotion off the field, and that’s a good thingJames Franklin was grilled following the game Saturday like he never has been before, at least at Penn State. A series of direct, blunt questions in his postgame presser successively seemed to ignite a spark in the normally PR-oriented Franklin. And on the final question, when a reporter asked Franklin about point spreads, he let loose. His lengthy rant, in which he vowed to avoid negativity no matter the quality of play and inflected his voice from whisper to yell, was a welcomed deviation from his salesman-like shtick. Sure, there are bones to be picked at his overall message: For one, there’s a difference between being critical (which he has yet to openly be) and negative. But the ordeal seemed to humanize Franklin in a previously unseen manner. For a fanbase looking for more open dialogue from Franklin about the state of affairs, that’s a good thing.
  • Jason Cabinda enjoyed a breakout performance. With Nyeem Wartman-White out for the season, and Brandon Bell absent Saturday with an injury, Penn State’s defense, though stellar throughout the year, has yet to identify a clear leader. It may have found one on Saturday, though, in Jason Cabinda. The vocal sophomore linebacker tallied a career-high 14 tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss, and his fourth-down sack with less than two minutes remaining sealed the victory for Penn State. Had Cabinda not reached Army quarterback AJ Schurr on that fourth down, Schurr may have found the open receiver downfield, and we’d all be reading think pieces today about the biggest upset in Penn State history. Cabinda did much more than just fill in for Wartman-White and Bell, and he’s thriving in his position. He’s emotive and upbeat when speaking to the press, and seems to reflect the dynamic positivism encouraged by Franklin.
  • Army was Saturday’s real winner. The pageantry that accompanied Military Appreciation Day and Army’s visit may have been the best part of the game day experience. From the cadets standing in the upper corner of the end zone in uniform throughout a driving rain for the entirety of the game, to the Blue Band’s awesome halftime tribute performance and the display of sportsmanship when the two teams joined each other for respective alma maters, that aspect of Saturday’s game appeared a certain success.
  • Saturday’s action was rather dull. Between John Donovan’s mind-numbing array of play calling and Army’s implementation of the triple option, it’s safe to say Saturday’s game resembled a sloppy chess match at times. In a sense, this might be subjective, as there are plenty of football fans who support and enjoy watching the triple option. Well, I don’t associate with that demographic, and find the triple option to be rather redundant. Throw in rainy playing conditions, and the resulting product is what fans were forced to endure during the game.
  • Penn State’s punting needs work. The punting woes continue for the Nittany Lions, who can’t seem to find a reliable punter after alternating between Aussie Daniel Pasquariello and former starter Chris Gulla. Neither showed consistency, instead flashing erratic tendencies, headlined by Gulla’s astounding 12 yard punt against Army. Punting is a crucial aspect of the game, and can benefit a defense by pinning the opposition deep in its own territory. Penn State hasn’t been able to do that, but luckily inferior competition hasn’t had much of an success in taking advantage of gifted field position. Something tells me Ohio State won’t have much of a problem making Penn State pay for its punting woes, however.

A win is a win, but Saturday felt like anything but. With Penn State set to face an Indiana team fresh off a narrow loss to the dominant Buckeyes, Nittany Lion faithful across the country hope the team can tighten up its loose bolts, and steady the ship as it closes out a five-game homestand.

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