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Penn State Football Has Its Swagger Back

While watching the Nittany Lions and their fans take over Maryland Stadium on Friday night, one thing was abundantly clear: Penn State is an extremely confident team.

The team’s confidence was on full display throughout its 59-0 drubbing of the Terrapins. Whether it was Journey Brown and Ricky Slade’s incredible #LawnBoyz chain or Sean Clifford’s 398-yard performance, Penn State was firing on all cylinders throughout the game.

Part of why the conclusion of the 2018 season was so disappointing was because of a clear and obvious lack of confidence within many different players on the team. Penn State was just a different team following consecutive home losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, and it showed in the team’s performances.

Last year, Penn State started the season off by averaging 55.5 points per game in its first four contests — all of which ended in victory. The offense’s highest point total after that was 38 against Maryland. Those losses at home to Ohio State and Michigan State marked a complete 180 in the team’s offensive philosophy and a tangible loss of confidence, and that was a huge reason for the team’s struggles.

Penn State’s games against the Spartans, Wisconsin, and Rutgers, in particular, were boring — even if the latter two ended in a win. The era of Trace McSorley launching deep balls to Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton felt like a myth as Penn State’s offense resorted to short passes and a methodical play style.

In 2019, the Nittany Lions showed early signs of renewed confidence by using the deep ball masterfully against Idaho and Buffalo, but it just wasn’t there against Pitt. Most of Penn State’s offensive players struggled in that 17-10 victory over the Panthers, but the subpar performance led to some much-needed adjustments.

Instead of relying on the deep ball, Sean Clifford did a much better job of finding his playmakers in space. KJ Hamler’s 58-yard touchdown and Journey Brown’s 37-yard score were perfect examples of this.

Clifford’s pass to Hamler, who was running a slant, was a bit high, but that gave the wideout a better chance of taking the ball in stride. He did exactly that and bounced off a tackler before shattering Marcus Lewis’ ankles and using his speed to do the rest. Brown’s touchdown in the second quarter was a busted play after Clifford’s pocket collapsed, but the quarterback improvised to give the speedy back a chance to use his blistering speed.

Speaking of the running backs, they’ll get to showcase their confidence in a new way with their #LawnBoyz chain. This awesome chain is a tangible example of just how much fun Penn State is having this year.

The offense isn’t the only part of the team playing with increased confidence, either. Penn State’s defense put on an absolute clinic with two interceptions, a fumble, and eight total tackles-for-loss. Jesse Luketa, in particular, played with a healthy arrogance to his game, and it resulted in a breakout five-tackle performance.

Confident football players toss their opponents to the turf. Confident football players turn slant routes and check downs into huge, momentum-changing plays, and they also put up 398 passing yards in their first career road start and have an absolute blast while doing so.

“I’m having a blast out here, and I want the fans to know that,” Clifford said postgame. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing football.”

As evidenced by last year’s performances, Penn State’s swagger is absolutely crucial to its success. The Nittany Lions can’t get away from their confidence if they lose a game or two, but for now, I think they’ve got their swagger back.

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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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