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Analyzing Post-Ball State Reactions For Penn State Football

Penn State football returned to Beaver Stadium Saturday, and James Franklin’s squad celebrated accordingly by dispatching Ball State 44-13.

Entering the White Out against No. 22 Auburn, the Nittany Lions sit at No. 10 in the AP Top 25 Poll with a 2-0 record to boot. Despite the early success, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to this Penn State team. Let’s fire up the hot take machine and consider some popular talking points circulating around the Nittany Lions this week.

‘Penn State’s Defense Will Finish As One Of, If Not The Best, Groups In The Big Ten’

Sam Brungo: I think this will not only be one of the best in the Big Ten but one of the best in the country. The veteran leadership that this team has on the defensive side is unmatched. The Nittany Lions have someone at every position on defense who I believe could receive Big Ten or even national honors.

Will Pegler: This defense is so sick. Sure, Wisconsin is hardly a top-tier offense in the Big Ten, and Ball State isn’t one of the better groups the Nittany Lions will face this season, but man does this group have talent at every position. Arnold “AK” Ebiketie leads a pass rush and run-stopping unit that could shut down just about everyone on Penn State’s schedule, while the Nittany Lions’ secondary hasn’t shown any signs of weakness so far. This group could terrorize the Big Ten all year long and easily finish at the top statistically.

Ryan Parsons: Why not? These guys are so fun to watch and have been super effective so far. While Wisconsin and Ball State don’t have the most formidable offenses, they’re both good teams. The Nittany Lions’ starting defensive unit has allowed just one touchdown in the first two games, and they don’t show signs of stopping. It’s still to be determined if they can be the best in the Big Ten, but this squad has shown efficiency and depth at every position so far.

Gabe Angieri: I don’t see why this group can’t be one of the best in the Big Ten, if not the entire country. Brent Pry’s defense has been stellar so far, and I don’t see that changing going forward. Giving up just one touchdown (with the starting defense) in two games is elite, and with players like Arnold Ebiketie, Jaquan Brisker, and Jesse Luketa leading the way, Penn State’s defense could be one of the best we’ve seen from the program in a long, long time.

‘Sean Clifford’s Downfield Inaccuracies Are Going To Be A Problem’

Sam Brungo: I’d say overreaction here. Sean Clifford is still getting into the swing of things for this season. I don’t think his deep-throw accuracy is bad, but I do think his deep ball is the weakest part of his game and something that should be worked on. As long as Penn State doesn’t rely on the deep ball, however, it won’t be a problem. Play to his strengths and Sean Clifford is a good quarterback, regardless of his depth of arm.

Will Pegler: So many people love to whine and moan about Sean Clifford. I’m no expert at how to play quarterback (shocker, I know), and sure, maybe some of his deep balls have looked underthrown, but the fact of the matter remains that he’s thrown for 477 yards and hasn’t turned the ball over through two games this season. Keep hitting Parker Washington over the middle and let it fly to Jahan Dotson. The latter of the pair seems to get open with ease on a consistent basis, so who cares if every 40-yard throw isn’t right on the money?

Ryan Parsons: I’m with Will here. People love to hate on Clifford because of his disastrous-at-times 2020 season, but he’s been more than serviceable so far this year. The quarterback explained after the Ball State game that the Cardinals’ defensive scheme allowed for lots of short throws, which is why Penn State didn’t look deep as often. Yes, Clifford has missed some deep tosses so far, but it’s hard to pin these miscues on just the quarterback. He’s also made some elite-level throws so far this season, most notably the sideline sling to Keyvone Lee in week two. Let’s see how Auburn goes, but it’s an overreaction to hit the panic button here.

Gabe Angieri: Sean Clifford this, Sean Clifford that. Give it a rest, folks. Penn State is 2-0, and the signal-caller has yet to turn the ball over yet this season. Penn State has won the explosive play battle in its first two games, so I really don’t see a reason to complain. I get it, people love to criticize the quarterback for the smallest things. But for now, Clifford has done what he’s had to do to get two wins, and there’s no reason to unnecessarily complain about something.

‘The Nittany Lions Have More Depth This Season Than They’ve Had In Recent Memory’

Sam Brungo: It’s an overreaction in saying that it is noticeably better in comparison to past years. I do think that Penn State has plenty of reliable options, however, specifically on the defensive side and the running back room. I’ll look forward to seeing more from them in games like Villanova and Illinois.       

Will Pegler: Penn State has had depth at positions before (read: the 2016 linebacker core), but this year is impressive at a myriad of groups. On defense, the Nittany Lions have an absurd amount of capable safeties, including Jonathan Sutherland, Tyler Rudolph, and even freshman Jaylen Reed, who can all play behind Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown. There’s also plenty of talent on the defensive line, and on offense, the Nittany Lions have multiple running backs they can plug in.

It’s hard to compare seasons this early, but the amount of players who’ve made the most of the time they’ve gotten is certainly exciting.

Ryan Parsons: This is kind of a weird thing to think too hard about, but I would say it’s a bit of an overreaction so far. Penn State certainly has a deep secondary and even linebacker corps, but the defensive line is a bit slim behind the starters, mainly due to Adisa Isaac’s injury. But, all the second-stringers were certainly impressive in the limited playtime they’ve had so far. This is an overreaction right now, but a strong showing in the future could turn this into a solid take.

Gabe Angieri: I think this could be true, but I’m not ready to state it as fact. It was encouraging to see Penn State’s second and third-stringers get some action and play well against Ball State. However, the game was out of reach and the stakes weren’t really that high. If the solid play of the backups continues, then we could talk about this more.

‘Jahan Dotson Will Finish As The Best Receiver In The Conference’

Sam Brungo: Jahan Dotson will not just finish as the best receiver in the conference, he’ll be the best receiver in college football. Dotson for Biletnikoff.

Will Pegler: Why was he so slept on this past offseason? Jahan Dotson is very good, and he’s going to dominant every defense he faces this season.

Ryan Parsons: I was ready to call this an overreaction and say Chris Olave is definitely going to finish with better numbers than Dotson, but they’re actually neck-and-neck. If Penn State can get Dotson the ball more often, why can’t he be the best receiver in the country?

Gabe Angieri: Jahan Dotson is an elite wideout in college football, and it’s very possible he finishes as the best receiver in the conference, and maybe even the entire country.

‘Jesse Luketa Should Move To Defensive End Full Time’

Sam Brungo: I think keeping him at linebacker and giving him the occasional nod at the edge would serve best for the team. Keeping Luketa versatile would best showcase his abilities.

Will Pegler: Luketa’s one-handed pick-six was likely the play of the day against the Cardinals, and he made it at defensive end. As awesome as it was, the veteran defender still adds plenty of value at linebacker for the Nittany Lions. He explained postgame that he’s plenty confident doing both, so that’s exactly what Brent Pry should keep doing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Ryan Parsons: I think the way Luketa is being utilized at the moment is perfect. Tarburton and AK would still probably edge him out for the starting job on the line, so let’s keep this hybrid role intact for now. It’s been pretty sick so far.

Gabe Angieri: Nope, I think the way Luketa’s current usage is spot on. He repeatedly said after Saturday’s game that he’s “comfortable” in the role he’s currently in. As Will said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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