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Penn State’s Young Talent Takes Center Stage In Rout Of Georgia State

That was fun to watch, wasn’t it?

Sure, the Nittany Lions blew out Georgia State by a hefty margin (as expected), but it afforded fans, media members, and coaches alike the opportunity to see the team’s young reserves — many of whom have plenty of hype surrounding them — in game action.

Newly-minted offensive guard Will Fries, who made his first start against the Panthers, is a prime example of James Franklin’s exciting cast of young players making strides in their developments. The former four-star redshirt freshman wasn’t actually listed at guard on the official depth chart; Ryan Bates remained at left tackle while Fries made his first career start at guard. The young Nittany Lion performed admirably, and helped the unit turn in another clean sheet with no sacks allowed. It helped Trace McSorley rebound from a down performance against Pitt to post 309 yards and four touchdowns — a high since defeating Wisconsin last season — and add 34 yards and a score on the ground.

Along with the team’s performance through the air was a reminder that there’s plenty of depth behind Saquon Barkley — depth capable of hitting the home run. Sophomore running back Miles Sanders scored a beauty from 29 yards out for his first touchdown of the year.

McSorley took note of Fries’ performance, and highlighted the nuances of a real game that can’t be replicated elsewhere. “This helped his confidence shoot up,” McSorley said. “You’re going through practice, but it’s different when you step into a game. Stunts move a lot faster, guys filling in gaps are faster. For him to kind of see that firsthand and get in there, in a starting role, it’s just gonna make his confidence shoot up. He did great tonight.”

Led by Iowa senior linebacker Josey Jewell — an AP preseason first team All-American selection — Fries faces a much stiffer test in the Hawkeyes next weekend in a likely hostile road environment. But his development, along with the promise displayed by a number of rising young Nittany Lions, provides James Franklin more options than he’s ever had. That’s not to say major role changes are on the horizon, but the performances from players like freshman defensive ends Yetur Gross-Matos (half sack on a turnover) and Shaka Toney (three tackles, 1.5 TFL, one forced fumble, and a half sack) could lead to more rotational reps in the coming weeks.

True freshman defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos pressures Georgia State QB Aaron Winchester and recovered the ensuing fumble.

Two players in particular — true freshman cornerbacks Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields — stood out in a talented Penn State secondary.

Wade, who entered his college career to the most fanfare of all as the gem of James Franklin’s 2017 recruiting class, finished second behind linebacker Manny Bowen with five total tackles in the game. His freshman counterpart recorded the first interception of his college career as he continues to back up the hype generated in camp about his play.

Senior Troy Apke, who finished with three tackles and a pass breakup, harped on the importance of getting meaningful reps as the tougher road lies ahead. “It’s just experience,” Apke said. “It’s getting them out there, and getting them covering in those positions.”

These are important takeaways from games this one-sided; a handful of talented players got meaningful reps and competed for extended periods of time. This experience matters when the lights are brighter — in places like Iowa City and Columbus. Now we have a taste at what the next generation is capable of.

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About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected].

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