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Don’t Panic Over Penn State Football’s 0-2 Start Just Yet

We know, folks. The first two weeks of Penn State football’s 2020 season haven’t been ideal.

After a heartbreaking overtime loss to Indiana to open the season, the Nittany Lions were outmatched by Ohio State, causing Penn State to fall out of the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2016.

Despite the slow start, though, there’s no reason to panic just yet.

The Nittany Lions have shown they’re capable of turning their season around rather quickly. There have been bright spots, as well as fixable mistakes early on in the season.

The gut-wrenching loss to the Hoosiers was a game the Nittany Lions should’ve won, and there’s really no excuse for it. Penn State played sloppily, turned the ball over three times, and committed 10 penalties worth a whopping 100 yards. However, James Franklin’s squad still found itself in the game up until that controversial final play.

The following week against the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions played a much cleaner game by turning the ball over just once and committing five penalties worth 31 yards.

Penn State cleaned it up against the No. 3 Buckeyes but was overmatched by a better team. Coming into the season, did anyone really expect Penn State to beat Ohio State? If so, that just wasn’t a realistic expectation considering the loaded roster that Ohio State has, which includes Heisman Trophy candidate and star quarterback Justin Fields.

Early signs point toward Jahan Dotson emerging as a star wideout for Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense. In just two games, Dotson has totaled 12 receptions for 238 yards and four touchdowns. One of his touchdowns was an absurd one-handed catch in the fourth quarter against Ohio State.

Additionally, there’s been young players on both sides of the ball that have shown flashes early on. True freshman wide receiver Parker Washington has hauled in six receptions worth 85 yards and a touchdown so far, proving to be a solid target for Sean Clifford in the passing game.

Linebacker Brandon Smith had himself a nice game against Ohio State. The former five-star recruit totaled five tackles, 1.5 for a loss, and one sack. The defensive unit, as a whole, was gashed by Justin Fields and the rest of the Buckeyes’ offense for 526 total yards and five touchdowns, however.

The previous week, however, the defense gave up just 211 yards and kept Penn State in the game, especially in the second half. One bad game against Ohio State, which is one of the best teams in the country, shouldn’t distract from the fact that Brent Pry’s defense has a lot of talent, and should certainly play better in the coming weeks.

The inconsistent play of Clifford has resulted in a lot of criticism, but there are reasons to be optimistic moving forward. Clifford struggled mightily in the first half of both the Indiana and Ohio State games. However, he bounced back in the second half in both games, and showed that he’s capable of taking that “next step” in his development.

The redshirt junior has completed 65% of his passes, thrown for 519 yards, and has accounted for seven touchdowns (six passing, one rushing) in the two games. The downside has been the turnovers, as he’s thrown three interceptions.

Let’s also take into account that this is Clifford’s first season in a new offense, and he’s had limited on-field reps in the offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic. It takes some time to adjust to a new offense, especially following an unusual offseason.

Additionally, it’s entirely possible that Penn State has played its two hardest games of the season already. Let’s not forget that Ohio State is ranked No. 3 in the country, and Indiana has climbed all the way up to No. 13.

Obviously, the Nittany Lions’ remaining schedule is far from a cakewalk, especially with a trip to Ann Arbor looming. However, Penn State is more than capable of ripping off six straight wins to close the regular season, winning its ninth game, and finishing as a top-12 team in the country.

Don’t count the Nittany Lions out…yet.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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