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Penn State Freshmen Build On Impressive Seasons Against Michigan

Penn State football finally got on the right track with a win over Michigan Saturday, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been a tough year for the Nittany Lions.

James Franklin’s squad still sits at the bottom of the Big Ten with a 1-5 record and is guaranteed a losing record even if it wins out the rest of the way.

Despite that disappointing prospect, one of the most positive pieces of this otherwise ugly 2020 campaign has been the key roles so many freshmen have played. There’s no shortage of guys who are ready to show out for the Nittany Lions in the years to come, and that was further confirmed in Ann Arbor.

“Some pretty cool things in this game: first starts by Theo Johnson, Keyvone Lee, Marquis Wilson,” Franklin said postgame. “We’ve had 13 first-time starters this year with four true freshmen on offense.”

Thanks to injuries and coronavirus-related opt-outs, the Nittany Lions have been forced to dive deeper into the depth chart than they would’ve liked entering this season. Lee, a true freshman out of Florida, has been asked to step up in what is a depleted Penn State running back room.

While it understandably hasn’t always been easy going for the young rusher, he flat out dominated the Wolverines. Lee put up 134 rushing yards on 22 attempts on the day and even got the Nittany Lions going with a touchdown on their opening drive.

The running back had a historic day with the best performance by a true freshman since Saquon Barkley’s 194 yards against Ohio State in 2015. He was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week Monday with the dominant day under his belt.

Lee and Caziah Holmes were both thrust into increased roles Saturday due to Devyn Ford missing the game with a death in his family. The pair of freshman rushers hadn’t been dominant through five weeks, but they’ve both gained extremely valuable reps that will likely pay dividends down the line.

Holmes now has 137 rushing yards with 34 attempts on the year, while Lee boasts 227 yards and three scores on 41 attempts.

Outside of that rushing attack, Parker Washington has been invaluable to Penn State’s offense. The true freshman out of Texas now has 30 catches for 349 yards and three touchdowns on the year. He solidified himself as one of Sean Clifford’s favorite targets Saturday, as he hauled in a true freshman record nine grabs worth 93 yards.

Washington also showcased his ability to make plays in the open-field on multiple occasions, including this 22-yard grab on Penn State’s opening drive.

Washington has put together big performances throughout this season, including an eight-catch, two-touchdown day against Maryland. He also had four catches for 73 yards against Ohio State and hauled in a score in his first college game against Indiana.

On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Porter Jr. and Marquis Wilson are both impressing. While Porter is a redshirt freshman and Wilson a sophomore, their ability to step into starting roles so young in their careers is promising to say the least for Penn State fans.

With Tariq Castro-Fields out with an injury the past few weeks, Porter has stepped into the role nicely. He already has 19 tackles on the year, including a sack, along with four passes defended. Wilson, on the other hand, has used some of the experience he got last year to his advantage, as he finished his day against Michigan with five total tackles.

Other freshmen who will continue to be placed into increased roles are tight ends Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson, along with wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith.

The growing pains have been real for Penn State in 2020, and they could very well continue. But it’s hard not to be excited about some of the talent that is already developing nicely on both sides of the ball for the Nittany Lions.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is Onward State's sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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