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Analyzing Post-Northwestern Reactions For Penn State Football

Penn State football escaped Beaver Stadium with a gritty 17-7 win Saturday afternoon.

Many fans weren’t happy with the team’s performance, though, despite the tough weather conditions. Penn State’s running backs coughed up four fumbles, and quarterback Sean Clifford threw an interception, which is making folks question if the Nittany Lions are ready for the heart of their schedule.

So, let’s dive into the hot takes.

‘Penn State’s Offensive Line Is Where It Needs To Be Ahead Of The Team’s Next Three Games’

Frankie Marzano: I wouldn’t go that far, but the line has definitely taken a big step from last season. Not allowing a single sack in two of the first five games of the season is a feat that shouldn’t go unnoticed, but I think that pre-snap penalties can improve. Overall, it’s tough to say until the Nittany Lions face Michigan’s brutal pass rush.

Sam Fremin: There are always places to improve. Pre-snap penalties and allowed quarterback pressures can always be decreased, but I think it’s difficult to say the offensive line is Penn State’s weak spot. Left tackle Olu Fashanu has been playing at an elite level, and the rushing game has been great outside of a poor week one.

Ryan Parsons: I think so, yes. Michigan will be the toughest pass rush Penn State’s faced so far, but Phil Trautwein’s crew has proven that it took a step forward this year. Of course, there’s room for improvement, but it feels like confidence in this group grows every week.

Gabe Angieri: I think this is the best Penn State’s offensive line has been in quite a while. Who knows how it’ll fare against the Wolverines, but I think it’s in a pretty good spot. Be confident, folks.

‘Penn State Fans Should Be Worried About Sean Clifford Being A Liability’

Frankie Marzano: I don’t think that Clifford has had the best two weeks, but there is one characteristic of his that is always overlooked: he always shows up for big games, such as against Iowa in 2019, Auburn in 2021 & 2022, and Purdue this past opening week. Even though he had a poor game against Northwestern, there is no doubt in my mind that he will give Penn Staters some of his best stuff throughout the team’s next three-game gauntlet.

Sam Fremin: Man, these Clifford questions get me into trouble. My general rule this year has been however much postgame criticism Clifford receives, it’s too much — even when he deserves it. Clifford had a very bad game against Northwestern, but who on the offense didn’t? It’s a small list. Clifford deserves flak for a bad interception and a handful of other highly questionable decisions, but the pass-heavy touchdown drive immediately following the pick was flawless. You can be worried about Clifford’s obvious limitations, but don’t allow fatigue to influence your decision. Motion isn’t always progress.

Ryan Parsons: I’ve done all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and convince myself that Sean Clifford is That Guy for Penn State, but at this point, I’ve taken the stance that if someone shows you who they are, believe them. Clifford has shown that he can make the plays to put the Nittany Lions in the win column (see Purdue final drive and some clutch passes against Northwestern), but he has a propensity to look flat for extended periods of time. This season, that hasn’t been a major issue and he’s avoided game-losing mistakes, but, ultimately, he is a liability. Still, he gets too much hate.

Gabe Angieri: I feel like this has been a question for three years now. At the end of the day, I truly believe Clifford is a good quarterback. Does he have what it takes to keep the Nittany Lions undefeated through these next three games? That I’m not so sure about. He has limitations, but I don’t know if I’d call him a liability.

‘The Rain Is A Reasonable Excuse For Four Lost Fumbles’

Frankie Marzano: No. Run Protect the damn football. One or two? That’s fine. But not four; that’s way too many to use rain as an excuse.

Sam Fremin: Is it a rationalization? Yes. Is it a justification? I don’t think so. After the game, James Franklin said he considers the weather to be an insufficient excuse, and I agree. The team practiced in the rain and prepared for that specific situation. Seeing as the team had one turnover coming into Saturday, perhaps this game will serve as a wake-up call for ball security.

Ryan Parsons: James Franklin had to get up on the podium after the game and say the rain wasn’t a fumble, but god damn it was wet at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Similar if not more favorable conditions hit the Steelers and Eagles’ games on Sunday, and they saw similar turnover issues. It’s a fine excuse, especially considering how protective of the football Penn State has been in dry weather. But, it can’t become a habit.

Gabe Angieri: It’s a reason, but it’s not an excuse. There’s absolutely no excuse to fumble the ball four times in one game. The team had all week to prepare for this. End of story.

‘There Is A Cause For Concern After Barely Beating Northwestern 17-7’

Frankie Marzano: I am really tired of the, “we won, but we looked like crap” narrative. At the end of the day, a win is a win. Let me put it this way. If Penn State had beaten Michigan State in 2017 or 2018, or even Illinois last year, would you have said the same thing? I don’t think so. There have been so many close, weird games that Penn State has lost in my lifetime that I wish the team could’ve won, so I’m just going to be happy that the Nittany Lions escaped Saturday with a W. Also, look at Georgia in the last two weeks. The Bulldogs struggled to beat some FBS bottom-feeders. Every team has games that are closer than fans would like, but the difference between real winners and losers is winning those close games.

Sam Fremin: A win is a win. There are glaring issues from Saturday that need to be addressed, but the team is 5-0. Since the beginning of the season, fans have known Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State will be a gauntlet. I’d be concerned even if the Nittany Lions beat Northwestern by 50 points.

Ryan Parson: Penn State only beat Northwestern, who lost to an embarrassing collection of non-conference opponents, by 10 points. Yes, that’s cause for concern. No, it’s not cause for massive concern, given the conditions. It doesn’t matter how close the win was because the Nittany Lions have bigger fish to fry now. They’ve lost these games before.

Gabe Angieri: It makes me feel a little uneasy, but I’m not too worried. Games like this happen all the time. All that matters is that Penn State escaped with a W.

‘This Is Different Than Last Year’s 5-0 Start’

Frankie Marzano: Yes, it is. I think the resume speaks for itself so far. Beating Purdue and Auburn on the road is no easy task, and it certainly gave the Nittany Lions more confidence. I think the team is also more set up for future success than it was at this point last year, considering the run game and offensive line have clearly taken steps forward.

Sam Fremin: These questions are making me sound like a blind optimist. Yes, this year is different. The main catalyst for last year’s collapse was Clifford’s injury. That is an undeniable aspect of the season that cannot be overlooked. Expectations of Big Ten gold may be ambitious, but I don’t think Penn State ends this season 7-6. Even if it does, though, it’ll be for a different reason. Barring an injury, this would be entirely self-inflicted.

Ryan Parsons: I think Penn State has a better resume at this point in the season than it did last year, and the team overall inspires more confidence. But, the offense struggling the past two weeks combined with the defense bailing it out felt eerily familiar. Michigan and Iowa are also both yellow.

Gabe Angieri: Penn State couldn’t run the ball last year. It can run the ball this year. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line was a disaster at times last season. The unit has really cleaned it up this season. The team is different. I’m not saying Penn State will finish undefeated or with one loss, but it’s not going 7-6 again. I guarantee it.

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