Penn State’s Freshmen Shine Against Golden Flashes
Penn State’s true and redshirt freshmen made a significant impact in the team’s 63-10 win over Kent State.
Perhaps no play exemplified that statement more than Sean Clifford’s 95-yard touchdown pass to Daniel George in the fourth quarter. It was the longest pass play in Penn State history, breaking a mark that has stood since 1919, when Bill Hess hit Bob Higgins for 92 yards at Pitt.
“A lot of guys played for the first time today, which is really important,” James Franklin said. “When there’s a lot of guys who feel like they have a role in the game, that creates a really healthy locker room.”
George was part of a trio of true freshman receivers who made their Penn State debuts Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, joining Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson. Tight end Zack Kuntz also hauled in his first collegiate reception on a 32-yard strike from Clifford.
“All the guy does is he comes in and refuses to do anything but throw touchdown passes,” Franklin said of Clifford.
KJ Hamler, Ricky Slade, and Pat Freiermuth, all of whom have already made a splash for the Nittany Lions, continued their strong play early in the season. Hamler, a redshirt freshman receiver, finished with 107 all-purpose yards after delivering two gorgeous returns.
Slade scored his second career touchdown on a 2-yard run midway through the third quarter, while Freiermuth came down with a pair of grabs for 35 yards. Freiermuth served as the backup tight end behind Jonathan Holland.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Micah Parsons turned in another impressive showing with five tackles against Kent State. Defensive end Jayson Oweh and cornerback Trent Gordon also came off the bench for the first time. Oweh tied Shareef Miller for the team lead in sacks with two, while Gordon saw ample playing time on special teams.
“I think all the young guys really stepped up,” Tariq Castro-Fields said. “Trent played really well. The whole group of guys, from the defensive line to the linebackers, all the young guys did a great job.”
PJ Mustipher and redshirt freshman corner Donovan Johnson each had a tackle in the victory. Middle linebackers Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks combined for five more.
After playing true freshman defensive end Nick Tarburton the first two games against Appalachian State and Pitt, Franklin said the coaching staff may end up saving him for the end of the season or the team’s bowl game in order to keep his redshirt intact under the new NCAA rule.
“Now we’re in a situation where we can use Tarburton late in the season to solve some problems with injuries and hopefully maybe still be able to redshirt him,” Franklin said. “Right now, how things are going, we want to be able to get some guys experience for this year, but also for years moving forward.”
Starting defensive ends Shareef Miller and Yetur Gross-Matos were complimentary of Oweh’s performance Saturday, saying they expect big things from him in the future.
“He runs like a 4.4. He can jump high. He’s gonna be real good once he puts everything together. He’s gonna be crazy in a couple years,” Miller said.
Miller and Gross-Matos combined for three sacks in the victory, but had the opportunity to mostly rest up in the second half in anticipation of a short week of practice. The Nittany Lions will open Big Ten play on the road at Illinois Friday night.
“The first drive [Oweh] goes in, he has two sacks. That’s just motivating for all of us,” Gross-Matos said. “The young guys, their mindset is they want to take everything.”
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The celebration will culminate in Penn State’s 100th Homecoming football game against Purdue on Saturday, October 5.
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