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Penn State’s Post-Idaho Report Card

Penn State football’s season opener was, uh, eventful to say the least.

The Nittany Lions took down Idaho 79-7 at Beaver Stadium to kick the year off. Saturday’s game was never really close, as the Vandals were completely overmatched in every facet of the game.

Because of the lopsided nature of Saturday’s contest, James Franklin got to give many of his reserves and freshmen snaps in live-action. Here’s our evaluation of how the team performed throughout the game.

Quarterbacks: A

Even after a slow start, Sean Clifford couldn’t have asked for a better first collegiate start. The redshirt sophomore finished the game 14-for-23 with 280 yards and two scores, and he got to showcase his dual-threat abilities by rushing for 57 yards on seven carries. He shook off a few early jitters to put together an all-around great performance in his starting debut.

Will Levis relieved Clifford early in the third quarter and was mostly accurate with his passes by going 11-for-14 with a touchdown. However, I would’ve liked to see Levis show off his big arm and throw for more than 62 yards, but perhaps the Nittany Lions’ playcalling was more conservative because of the lopsided score.

Michael Shuster also checked into the game during the fourth quarter, but he didn’t throw a pass. He did get his name on the stat sheet with -5 yards on one carry, but you can’t put too much stock into his performance because, you know, the Nittany Lions were literally up by 70 while he was playing.

Running Backs: A

Penn State’s running backs took every opportunity to shine throughout Saturday’s game. Five different backs found the end zone, and two of them — Journey Brown and Noah Cain — scored twice.

Devyn Ford finished the game as Penn State’s leading rusher with 107 yards on six carries, but 81 of those came on the blue-chip recruit’s first career touchdown run. Brown scored the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown of the season from 23 yards out midway through the first quarter before chipping in a two-yard score to start the second half, and Cain found the end zone from three and nine yards out.

Ricky Slade had a quiet day, but he found the end zone via a one-yard run late in the first quarter. The true sophomore finished the game with just nine yards on five carries — all of which came in the first half.

The highlight of Saturday’s game came via walk-on running back Nick Eury, who rumbled and stumbled for 11 yards to score Penn State’s 10th and final touchdown of the contest. The Nittany Lion bench was fired up to see Eury break the plane — especially considering he broke several tackles en route to the end zone.

Wide Receivers: A+

Penn State’s wide receivers had a great game on the stat sheet, but some of the unit’s contributions beyond that helped this group earn an A+.

KJ Hamler had a characteristically great day for the Nittany Lions. Two of his four receptions were touchdowns, and he finished the day with 115 receiving yards on top of 16 yards on the ground. The Clifford-to-Hamler connection has the potential to cause serious problems for Penn State’s opponents this season, and Idaho was the duo’s first victim.

Justin Shorter, who showcased his sure hands and great frame by hauling in three passes for 36 yards, hustled up the field to provide a key block for Devyn Ford as he dashed 81 yards to the end zone. Little plays like that will add up — especially during games that don’t finish with a 72-point margin of victory.

Jahan Dotson had a quiet day with just one grab for 13 yards, and four wideouts-by-trade hauled in passes beyond the starting trio. Former Division II All-American Weston Carr made three grabs for 27 yards in his Penn State debut, and Daniel George added two catches for 28 yards. Cam Sullivan-Brown was back in the lineup after briefly exploring other options in the transfer portal. He chipped in two catches for 13 yards.

Tight Ends: B

The tight end group didn’t have the biggest day for Penn State, but it didn’t necessarily need to for obvious reasons.

Pat Freiermuth had only one grab, but he appeared to have been shaken up after a big hit in the second quarter. James Franklin didn’t comment on his tight end’s status after the game, so his standing for the Nittany Lions’ week 2 contest against Buffalo is currently unclear.

Veteran Nick Bowers didn’t make a reception on Saturday, but reserve options Zack Kuntz and Brenton Strange each hauled in a pass for eight and four yards, respectively. Strange’s reception was the first touchdown of his and Levis’ college careers early on in the fourth quarter.

Offensive Line: A

Idaho totaled six tackles-for-loss and no sacks, so there’s no reason to knock the offensive line’s performance.

The front five paved the way for Penn State to amass a total of 673 yards of offense throughout the game. The Vandals’ defensive front was completely overrun by the Nittany Lions, who managed to put up 331 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground over the course of Saturday’s game. Beyond the starting lineup, several linemen — including Des Holmes and Caedan Wallace — played well in garbage time.

At the end of the day, Penn State’s quarterbacks didn’t take a single sack on Saturday, and that’s honestly all that matters.

Defensive Line: A+

Idaho’s offense was mostly unable to move the ball on Penn State’s defense in no small part thanks to Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs.

Star end Yetur Gross-Matos recorded 2.5 sacks — including a badass suplex on Colton Richardson, Idaho’s 6’4″, 285-pound behemoth of a backup quarterback. Jayson Oweh also tacked on one of the Nittany Lions’ seven sacks.

True freshman Adisa Isaac recorded his first career half-sack, and PJ Mustipher finished tied for the Penn State lead with four total tackles. The Nittany Lions’ defensive front wasn’t exactly tested by Idaho, but it still managed to flex its muscle and show that all the preseason hype surrounding the unit is more than just talk.

Linebackers: A-

It’s hard to evaluate a position group that wasn’t tested much, but Penn State’s linebackers had their shining moments against Idaho.

Five-star recruit Brandon Smith sent a Vandal receiver into another dimension in the dying seconds of Saturday’s game, and that was one of three stops he made in his collegiate debut. Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa — who replaced the suspended Cam Brown in the starting lineup — also added three tackles, and fellow five-star recruit Lance Dixon made two stops.

Idaho’s offense managed just four (4) rushing yards throughout Saturday, and the entire defensive front seven can hang its hat on that stat.

Secondary: A-

Idaho’s offense mustered up just 141 passing yards on Saturday, but the secondary was responsible for perhaps Penn State’s worst miscue of the afternoon.

Safety Jonathan Sutherland got burned by Vandal receiver Jeff Cotton, who took a simple pass in the flat 38 yards for a first down. The play didn’t lead to anything other than a slightly-prolonged Idaho drive, but it’s still a miscue that the unit will have to clean up. Beyond that and a Garrett Taylor targeting call that was overturned after the first play of the game, however, the unit was excellent.

John Reid hauled in his first interception of the 2019 season and nearly took it all the way to the crib, and Penn State totaled five pass break-ups over the course of the game. State High product Keaton Ellis also posted his first career pass break-up in his Penn State debut and backup cornerback Trent Gordon made a nice play to break up a 4th-down pass by Idaho.

Penn State’s secondary looked great against Idaho’s wide receivers, who are perhaps the strongest point of the Vandal offense.

Special Teams: B+

Jordan Stout was the star of the show for Penn State’s special teams throughout the Idaho game. He went a perfect 13-for-13 in terms of touchbacks on his kickoffs, and he added a 53-yard field goal while the offense was still settling into the contest during the first quarter.

Steady sophomore Jake Pinegar also converted both of his field goal tries from 28 and 38 yards out, and Blake Gillikin’s only punt of the game was downed inside the 20-yard line. The kickers/punters all had a strong day, but it wasn’t a perfect outing for the special teams unit.

Idaho tried to avoid putting the ball in KJ Hamler’s hands-on special teams with low line drives, but the electric redshirt sophomore still managed to rattle off a big 25-yarder. However, his other three returns produced just three yards — including a long-winded one that was exciting to watch but didn’t go anywhere.

Mac Hippenhammer also had a tough day in his special teams cameos. He muffed a punt and fumbled on another punt return, which led to Idaho’s only score of the game. After Saturday’s performance, it’s safe to say that Penn State definitely has a few kinks to work out in the return game.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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