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Breaking Down Post-Wisconsin Reactions For Penn State Football

Fire up the hot-take machine, because Penn State football is back.

The then-No. 19 Nittany Lions just slid by No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10 at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday afternoon. After a gritty, defensive battle to open the season in Madison, there’s plenty to break down surrounding James Franklin’s squad moving forward.

With that in mind, let’s analyze some of the most prevalent thoughts on the Nittany Lions to open the week:

‘Arnold Ebiketie Will Be The Most Important Player On Penn State’s Defense’

Will Pegler: Join me and climb aboard the Arnold “AK” Ebiketie train, ladies and gents. This guy is the real deal, and I don’t care that he’s played just one game in the blue and white. After a productive career at Temple, all we’ve heard about from Ebiketie’s coaches is how ready and talented he is. He proved that Saturday by running circles around a talented Badgers’ offensive line, as he finished the afternoon with seven tackles and a massive sack in the game’s final minutes.

Penn State’s secondary is clearly fantastic, but this defense’s success will depend most on Ebiketie’s ability to get to the quarterback.

Gabe Angieri: This could turn out to be true, but let’s pump the brakes here just a little bit. I firmly believe Ebiketie will be an impact player for Brent Pry’s defense all season long. However, let’s remember this defense also has Jaquan Brisker, who is quite possibly one of the best safeties in the country. So while Ebiketie could be Penn State’s best defensive player, I’m not ready to give him that title over Brisker just yet.

Sam Brungo: I think this is possible. Ebiketie will be the most important player on the defensive line, but the whole defense is a potential stretch. I find it hard to overlook Ellis Brooks and Jaquan Brisker.

Ryan Parsons: I’m absolutely all in on the AK hype train, but I think it’s too early to call him the most important defensive player. Yes, his role will prove to be an incredibly important one — especially in the wake of Adisa Isaac’s season-ending injury. Importance is hard to define, especially on defense. Guys all over the field provide different values in different ways, but I would say at the moment Jaquan Brisker is the most important player. His presence on the field is hard to miss, and his role as team captain means his impact goes into the locker room as well

‘It’s Time For Penn State To Return To Its Old Field Goal Rotation’

Will Pegler: Kicking is as mental as it gets in football, and for whatever reason, Jordan Stout has a mental block when it comes to short-range field goals. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is awesome from long-range and is clearly an effective punter for the Nittany Lions. However, Joe Lorig and Franklin should hand the short-range kicks back to Jake Pinegar before he loses any more confidence on the bench, and let Stout handle quite literally everything else on special teams.

Gabe Angieri: You see, I’m quite conflicted on this one. While I thought it was strange that Pinegar is completely out of the kicking rotation, is it really the best decision to change it up after one game? Stout was kicking the short field goals and extra points for a reason, so is two misses enough to change that already?

I would say give it another game, and if Stout’s struggles continue, then work Pinegar back in.

Sam Brungo: I think that having Jordan Stout missing short-field goals hurts his confidence when it comes to the punt team. Pinegar was fairly reliable the past two years from inside 40, so why not use him and save Stout’s leg for kickoffs, punts, and long-range field goals.

Ryan Parsons: Maybe? This isn’t necessarily an overreaction, but it’s certainly too hard to call at the moment. Pinegar must have shown a serious regression in camp to lose his role as the short-range guy. Now that it’s in his head that he didn’t earn the starting role, he might be a bit rattled if Penn State just swapped him back in. It’s the first game, so I’m not out on Stout yet. Plus, the rotation was a bit silly to begin with. Sticking with one guy is typically the way to go.

‘Outside Of Noah Cain, Penn State’s Running Backs Will Underwhelm This Season’

Will Pegler: Relax. Noah Cain is clearly the best running back in Penn State’s locker room. I don’t think many people are disputing that, but Keyvone Lee is too good of a rusher to not add value at some point this season. He struggled with getting downhill against the Badgers, but this is the same guy who ripped off 134 yards and a touchdown at the Big House as a freshman. Outside of him, Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and John Lovett could still very well play important roles for this team.

Gabe Angieri: Seriously?

This is a major overreaction and is honestly a ridiculous statement. Yes, Noah Cain was the only productive running back in Saturday’s win. However, Penn State rarely ran the ball, and when it did, the offensive line didn’t do the best job of opening up running lanes.

Cain dominated the snaps at running back, but that doesn’t mean that Keyvone Lee, Devyn Ford, or John Lovett (if active) can’t do the same thing next week. This backfield is extremely talented, and I’d be stunned if someone else didn’t step up and make an impact very soon.

Sam Brungo: It’s an overreaction to say that Noah Cain is the only good running back, but I would say he is the most dynamic. What he can do in the open field and in the passing game cannot be missed. Ford, Lee, and Holmes deserve snaps as well, but once Lovett is available, I suspect it will be less by-committee and more just Cain and the Baylor transfer. I expect to see one or more of these names enter the transfer portal come next offseason.

Ryan Parsons: This is an overreaction, but most of Penn State’s running backs did have a pretty bad game against the Badgers. Keyvone Lee looked a bit lost trying to run east-west and Devyn Ford was nowhere to be seen. However, the offensive line should share some of the blame in this situation. Wisconsin certainly has an impressive run defense, so it’s simply an overreaction at this point to say the rest of the backs will underwhelm.

‘Sean Clifford Still Hasn’t Made An Effective Jump Entering His Third Season’

Will Pegler: The Clifford haters were out in full force during the first half of Saturday’s game, and some even remained after the victory. The third-year starter clearly struggled to open things up against Wisconsin, but let’s consider how much his wide receivers struggled to get open and how little time he had in the pocket. Oh by the way, he opened the second half with four completions on four plays, including a touchdown bomb to Jahan Dotson to put Penn State on the board.

Clifford showed enough Saturday that he has made a jump from last season. He didn’t turn the ball over, moved well in the pocket, and checked down to his running back when needed. How big of a jump he made remains to be seen, but do not count out Clifford and the rest of Penn State’s offense just yet.

Gabe Angieri: Oh, stop it. This is a major overreaction, folks.

Yes, it was a rough first half for the entire offense. However, let’s remember that first off, this is a brand new offense and it’s going to take some time. Also, the group went up against Wisconsin’s defense, which is always a challenge.

Clifford was rushed constantly during that first half, so I really don’t put much of the blame on him. He missed some throws throughout the game, but his second-half performance shouldn’t be overlooked. He converted on quite a few explosive plays and most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over at all on Saturday. All things consisted, I think Clifford’s opening-day performance was a positive and a step in the right direction.

Sam Brungo: Overreaction.

Ryan Parsons: Easy, easy, easy! Obviously, Clifford was not a great quarterback for some of last year, so fans are quick to jump on his failures. There were some passed he should’ve made against Wisconsin, but he made some impressive plays as well. Considering the pressure he faced all game and how early it is in the season, let’s pump the breaks here. Penn State won the game.

‘Penn State’s Offensive Line Will Be A Glaring Issue This Season’

Will Pegler: The o-line had its struggles against a tough Wisconsin defense Saturday. It’s too early to make this call, however. Rasheed Walker is a stud at left tackle, Mike Miranda has a ton of experience as he anchors the group, and guys like Juice Scruggs and Caedan Wallace have a chance to improve in their increased roles. Let’s see how this group performs against a generally weaker Ball State defense.

Gabe Angieri: Maybe?

It was a rough first half for Penn State’s offensive line, as the team was only able to muster 43 total yards in the first 30 minutes of action. That’s certainly a concern, but a better performance in the second half was definitely encouraging.

Penn State’s left guard rotation was interesting, as Anthony Whigan got the start, however, Eric Wilson came in after a few drives and ended up playing the rest of the game. Naming a clear-cut starter at the position could create some more continuity and consistency.I would say it’s too soon to say the offensive line is a problem. Give it some more time

Sam Brungo: I don’t think it’s fair to say that the offensive line is necessarily a problem yet, but if they don’t figure out a few kinks, it may become one.

Ryan Parsons: Yeah, the offensive line didn’t look too hot against Wisconsin, and you could certainly say it will be a glaring issue. I don’t necessarily think this is an overreaction at the moment, but don’t be surprised if Phil Trautwein’s crew turns it around later in the season. I never liked the rotation between Anthony Whigan and Eric Wilson to begin with, but it does seem like Wilson will be carrying most of the load going forward. It’s early, so let’s see what happens.

‘Jaquan Brisker Has A Chance To Be The Best Safety In College Football’

Will Pegler: Yes he absolutely does, and I think that’s exactly where he’ll finish the season. Brisker seemed to be in on every play on Saturday, even while he nursed an injury, and is the definition of a ball-hawking defender. The Lackawanna College transfer has been in college football for such a long time and has so much talent to work with, it’s impossible not to get excited about what he could do this year.

Gabe Angieri: I don’t know if he’s the best, but he’s damn sure up there. Brisker has been wildly underrated dating back to last season, in my opinion, and he’s finally starting to get the recognition. He battled through Saturday’s game despite going down with injuries/cramps a few times, and he showed up when it mattered most with a game-changing interception late in the fourth quarter. Big-time players make big-time plays, which is exactly what Brisker does.

If you wanted to tell me Brisker is the best safety in the country, I sure wouldn’t argue it.

Sam Brungo: Very possible. This isn’t an overreaction.

Ryan Parsons: I’m gonna keep it short here. Hell yes, Brisker has a chance to be the best safety in college football. He absolutely rules.

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