PENN STATE PREVIEW: AUBURN

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 10/12 Penn State (2-0) vs No. 22/20 Auburn (2-0). 7:30 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): Humid with some sun; fog in the morning, then a stray t-shower in the afternoon. High of 80.

The Line: Penn State -6.5

All-Time Series: This is the third matchup between the two schools, with each splitting wins in the previous two meetings.

Last Meeting: Penn State fell 13-9 against the Tigers in the 2002 Capital One Bowl. Robbie Gould hit three field goals for the Nittany Lions.

Throwback Classic (1995): In the 1995 Outback Bowl, Penn State crushed Auburn, 43-14 behind quarterback Wally Richardson. Wally threw for four touchdown passes while Bobby Engram recorded four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Last Week: Penn State topped Ball State in the Lions’ home opener, 44-13. Auburn, meanwhile, crushed FCS foe Alabama State, 62-0.

Photos by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Lead: What an atmosphere we’ve got brewing in Happy Valley. White Out. Game Day. SEC opponent. Primetime. If you love college football, it doesn’t get much better than this. Both teams come into this game with a lot of momentum, having started each of their seasons at 2-0. The Nittany Lions have certainly faced the tougher opposition compared to the Tigers, picking up wins over then-No. 12 Wisconsin on the road before a convincing home win over defending MAC Champs Ball State last week. Auburn dispatched Akron and Alabama State with ease in the first two weeks but Penn State will obviously be a much bigger test for first-year head coach Bryan Harsin.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions can win the big play and turnover battle. There’s not much that gets a home crowd going more than big plays on offensive and forced turnovers on defense. James Franklin always preaches about the need to win the explosive play battle and finish on the plus side in the turnover margin. Penn State has done just that in the opening two weeks and it’s set them up for success. Much like Sean Clifford, Tigers signal caller Bo Nix is an experienced quarterback with plenty of big game experience. He won’t be easily rattled by the electric atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. Though, if Arnold Ebiketie and the rest of the Penn State defensive line can get pressure and force him to make decisions quicker than he’d like to, that bodes well for the Nittany Lions with the terrific secondary that they employ.

Auburn Wins If: Bo Nix balls out. As mentioned above, Bo Nix is not a stranger to playing on the road in hostile environments. Heck, he’s had to do it just about every week in the SEC the past two years as Auburn’s starting quarterback. He’s going to need to be at his best if Auburn is going to pull off the road upset. If the blocking holds up well up front for Auburn and Nix is afforded the time and space to able to create with his arm and his legs, the Tigers can move the ball against this stingy Nittany Lions defense. Then, if Nix and Auburn can capitalize on those drives by getting into the end zone, the Tigers certainly have what it takes to win this game. Much was expected of Nix upon his arrival as a freshman, it hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations. But there’s no bigger and better showcase for you to re-announce yourself to the college football world than this Saturday’s showdown.

Count On: A few false start penalties for Auburn. Yes, yes, Auburn players have certainly played in environments that were loud before. Still, it really doesn’t matter your experience level, noise makes a difference for communication on offense. I’m not saying the crowd will be why the Tigers lose the game, but a few early-game jitters where the blue and white fans hollering at full volume will result in a few penalties for the Tigers offense.

Keep An Eye On: Noah Cain. The Penn State running game hasn’t fully clicked into gear yet, but it looks to be building each week. Cain had a productive day last week against Ball State (69 yards rushing and a touchdown). Look for him to carry that over to this week’s game. The Nittany Lions will need him against this SEC front seven.

Trivia Tidbit: This is Auburn’s first Big Ten road game since 1931. That’s before the SEC was even formed.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Auburn 13

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 38, Auburn 24

Fitting into the Family

Senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) has had an immediate impact for Penn State, blocking a field goal and recording a sack in Madison a few weeks ago. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

It didn’t take long for Arnold Ebiketie to have an impact this season for Penn State.

How long? Exactly one snap.

“I looked over after the first play and saw he made a play, and then the next series he made a play. I was like, ‘He’s really good,'” PJ Mustipher said shortly after the Nittany Lions earned a 16-10 season-opening win at Wisconsin on Sept. 4. “For him to come out there, first game in Big Ten football, shoutout to AK.”

Ebiketie, or “AK” as he known to many of his teammates and coaches, recorded a sack and provided one of the most critical plays by blocking a field goal in the season-opening victory over the Badgers. Through two games, he’s helped the Nittany Lions limit their opponents to a total of 23 points.

Mustipher, a senior defensive tackle and team captain, added: “He’s fast. You can’t teach speed, and I don’t think you can stop speed. … He was able to use that to his advantage. … He made a lot of plays, so I’m proud of him.”

A senior defensive end, Ebiketie transferred from Temple late last year. There’s a lot to like about Ebiketie, who played high school football in Maryland before becoming a standout for Temple from 2017-20. He earned second-team conference honors last year, when he led the Owls in tackles for loss (8.5), sacks (4), and forced fumbles (3).

“When he came in, it just felt like he fit our family,” said senior linebacker Ellis Brooks, who added that what stands out to him the most is Ebiketie’s attitude and work ethic. “He comes to work every single day at practice. You can tell he’s really getting himself prepared to play Saturday.”

Ebiketie, who was born in Cameroon, a country in Central Africa, is majoring in recreation, parks, and tourism management. On the field, he wrecks havoc, which along with his intangibles, has earned him credibility and respect on the team. There’s also a seemingly easy-going side of Ebiketie, or at least a different side. After Saturday’s win over Ball State, he celebrated with students in Nittanyville and with young fans who lined the south tunnel to see the Nittany Lions walk off the field and into the locker room.

“He’s an awesome young man,” James Franklin said this week. “He’s very appreciative of the experience that he’s having at Penn State. He’s always got a huge smile on his face. He’s a mature young man. He’s great with his teammates, but he’s also got a really good way with the staff. He understands how to live in both of those worlds and do it in a way that’s very relatable and respected. He’s obviously a very talented football player that’s got a bright future.”

Ebiketie was a notable transfer for Penn State and has erased any sort of drop-off that might be expected after the Nittany Lions had two defensive ends selected in this year’s NFL Draft (Ofade Oweh and Shaka Toney). Teammates jokingly teased Ebiketie that playing in the Big Ten would be different, though he’s clearly been ready from the start.

Franklin noted that Ebiketie was a good player when he arrived, and he believes Ebiketie has only gotten better by working with defensive line coach John Scott Jr. and with grad assistant Deion Barnes. By putting in work in the weight room and focusing on his body composition and nutrition, Ebikeite “has really developed in the time that he’s been on campus,” Franklin said.

You can check out the video below to see Ebiketie talking about the need to continuing to work. This was after he had a breakout game against the Badgers in his first contest for Penn State. You get the sense that Ebiketie was destined to always be a Nittany Lion, to always play in Happy Valley, with how seamlessly he’s adjusted to life at Penn State, where Franklin has always advocated having a family atmosphere, one where sons and daughters, brothers and sisters sit alongside players and coaches and share in the experience.

“He’s very coachable, and I know Coach Pry and the defensive staff just have a ton of trust in him and how he plays,” Franklin said. “We love him, he’s been a great pick up. We had victory Monday meal last night at Pollock (Commons), and he was there with my wife and kids, laughing and telling stories. We’re very happy to have him.”

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PENN STATERS AT THE NEXT LEVEL 2021: WEEK 1

The NFL season is up and running, which means we bring back our Penn Staters At The Next Level series. Similar to last season, we’ll bring you a quick overview of some of the best performances from Nittany Lions in the NFL each week.

Fourty-One Penn Staters appear on NFL rosters to start the season, and you can see the full list by clicking here.

Let’s get started with a recap from Week 1!

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Buccaneers started off their Super Bowl defense with a thrilling 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night.

Chris Godwin got the first points of the new season with a five-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Despite an untimely fumble late in the game, he got his season off to a strong start with 121 yards and that score. He also caught the game-clinching first down reception that secured the victory for Tampa Bay.

Juwan Johnson, Tight End, New Orleans Saints

Outside of the Raiders’ win over the Ravens on Monday Night Football, there might not have been a more stunning result in Week 1 than the Saints win over the Packers. Not because the Saints aren’t a good team, but because of how they just completely dismantled Green Bay from start to finish.

One of the many standout performers for New Orleans was former Nittany Lion, Juwan Johnson. A wide receiver in his college days, Juwan has made the switch to tight end for the Saints and it’s paid off massively for his career.

Juwan caught two touchdown passes from a terrific Jameis Winston to help propel the Saints to the 38-3 win.

Check out the first of two of his touchdown receptions below, which also marked the first TD catch of Johnson’s career.

Carl Nassib, Defensive End, Las Vegas Raiders

Speaking of that upset win for the Raiders that I mentioned earlier, it was Carl Nassib who came up with perhaps the play of the night.

It was his sack/forced-fumble that gave Las Vegas the ball inside Ravens territory. That set up the eventual game-winning touchdown for the Raiders.

Miles Sanders, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Part of a revamped Philadelphia offense, Miles Sanders shined to the tune of 113 scrimmage yards and a two-point conversion as the Eagles walloped the Falcons, 32-6.

While quarterback Jalen Hurts and first round pick DeVonta Smith will generate much of the headlines (and probably rightfully so), Sanders demonstrated why he can definitely be Philadelphia’s lead back this season.

Odafe Oweh, Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

While the Ravens ultimately came up short to Nassib and the Raiders, it was a solid debut for former Nittany Lion Odafe Oweh in Baltimore.

Much was talked about Oweh’s lack of sacks in college, but he showed why Baltimore selected him in the first round of this spring’s draft with this burst and pursuit of David Carr for a sack late in the second quarter.

The sack resulted in Las Vegas settling for a field goal.

The Roaring 20: Penn State-Ball State

Penn State linebacker-turned-defensive end Jesse Luketa snared a one-handed interception and returned it for a touchdown during Penn State’s home opener against Ball State. The Nittany Lions secured a 44-13 win for the program’s 300th victory at Beaver Stadium. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Here are 20 quick observations from Penn State’s home opener, a 44-13 victory over Ball State. The win was Penn State’s 300th at Beaver Stadium.

As always, members will continue to receive The Football Letter email on Monday that recaps the Nittany Lions’ game featuring editor John Black’s letter, a full photo gallery from Steve Manuel, and much more.

1. Friday night’s downtown pep rally was the perfect way to jumpstart the first home football weekend in Happy Valley. Seeing Brandon Short was an especially cool highlight. He’s back living in Happy Valley with his family, and he took time for photos with fans and also for a photo with the Nittany Lion with his children, a photo you can see on our Twitter account.

2. The Nittany Lion and Penn State Cheerleaders welcomed visitors and drivers along College Avenue before the pep rally. Check out this Twitter thread for videos and photos. The Nittany Lion even directed traffic. 

3. Penn State men’s and women’s hoops coaches Micah Shrewsberry and Carolyn Kieger spoke during the pep rally, encouraging fans to pack the BJC this basketball season. Hope that happens, as both coaches have been creating a lot of goodwill and momentum by connecting with fans and students this year.

4. Speaking of Shrewsberry, he welcomed good friend and current Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens to Beaver Stadium on Saturday. While shooting in the north end zone, I casually looked over during a timeout and saw Stevens standing with Shrewsberry, taking in the atmosphere. I got the impression Stevens was trying to fly under the radar, though I managed to get a little bit of video. Andrew Clay from WTAJ snapped this photo of Stevens, who was sporting a Penn State hat. 

5. Good to see team arrival back this season. A few changes were put in place to allow for more room between the players and fans, though nothing that dampened the enthusiasm. You can see team arrival and the Blue Buses pulling up on our Twitter account.

6. The Nittany Lion welcomed the crowd Saturday with the usual pregame routine of running to the middle of the field and then signaling each section to cheer. Always gives me goosebumps. You can see the Nittany Lion in action yesterday on our Twitter account.

7. If you ever see a large tailgate in front of the Penn State landmark in front of Beaver Stadium (facing the Ag Arena), that’s hosted by Paul Anderson, who’s with our Nashville (Middle Tennessee) Chapter. We plan on visiting their tailgate sometime this season to learn more about how Paul and his group serve as a connecting point for Penn Staters — it’s an amazing location, after all — and when I spoke with Paul for a few minutes Saturday, he sounded in high spirits. Penn Staters had been stopping by his tailgate, and he sounded excited for both the upcoming season and to share his passion for Penn State. We’ll talk soon, Paul.

8. The pregame military flyover was a special tribute on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We got video of the flyover, and you can see that on our Twitter account.

9. On my way out of the stadium late Saturday night, I ran into three phenomenal Alumni Association volunteers: Anand Ganjam ’15, Mike McHugh ’12, and Lianna Trigg ’15. All three are currently serving on Alumni Council, and Ganjam is the current Alumni Association vice president; he’ll be our president in a couple years. Chatting with them for a few minutes was a great way to cap off an awesome day at Beaver Stadium.

10. As I left the stadium on the west side, lots of fans were still tailgating, with about two dozen parties going on in the west lot alone. That was nice to see.

Penn State sophomore receiver Parker Washington finished with six catches for 57, including a reception of 31 yards. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

11. A few times over the first two games of the season, Sean Clifford has actually taken some snaps under center, something that was never (we don’t think) done in previous years. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has brought that addition with him. After years of being asked when the quarterback will take a snap under center, or when Penn State will recruit a fullback — these topics have become something of a running joke with Franklin and the reporters over the years — Franklin teased after the game that he thought taking a snap under center would’ve led to a bigger reaction from fans. But “everybody’s moved on,” he joked. Sports Illustrated’s Mark Wogenrich posted a nice video of Franklin talking about the subject.

12. Like many players on the team, Jesse Luketa is such an easy guy to root for. He’s occupying a hybrid role this fall, playing both linebacker and defensive end, and he had one of the nicest and most impressive interception returns for TD you’ll ever see. After the game, Penn State cornerback Marquis Wilson said it was the best interception he’s ever seen. Hard to disagree with that assessment.

13. If Jahan Dotson isn’t included in any conversation about who’s the best wide receiver in the country, he should be. After breaking free behind the Wisconsin defense last week for a touchdown, this week he scored after catching a short pass and eluding several defenders as he streaked into the north end zone.

14. Speaking of Clifford, he seems to be more comfortable each time we see him. You’d never know he’s working with a new offensive coordinator (again) this season.

15. Go onto the field at Beaver Stadium for the singing of the alma mater and James Franklin’s pregame lap. Both videos are on our Twitter account. You can also see a special moment for Franklin, who hugged his family before and after his traditional pregame lap.

16. After arriving at Beaver Stadium early Saturday, a regular habit for me, I noticed two additions in the south tunnel that immediately jumped out. Blue/ambient lighting was added, giving the feeling that the team is walking out into a rock concert for the game, which is an apt comparison. Also, a huge banner reading “1-0” was added right above where the players leave the tunnel and go onto the field. It’s one of the last images that the players see before taking the field, reinforcing one of James Franklin’s biggest mantras. You can see a photo of each addition on our Twitter page.

17. You can relive Saturday at Beaver Stadium, or in some ways experience it in a new way, with our highlight video. Each week, we’ll have two highlights videos: one on social that features the Blue Band, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, fan and crowd shots, team arrival, pregame warmups, and much more. Then, we’ll have game highlights on each episode of Football Letter Live. Visit our Twitter page for the highlight video detailing Saturday’s home opener.

18. The White Out returns for Saturday night’s matchup against Auburn. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on ABC. It’ll be the first time the two teams meet outside of a bowl.

19. ESPN’s College Game Day is returning to Happy Valley for the fifth straight season. Penn State’s the only school to host the wildly popular show for the past five years, and if you have time to stop by campus either Friday or Saturday morning to see the set-up, it’ll be well worth your time. 

20. Go State. Beat the Tigers. 

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Weekend Party

Penn State football All-American linebacker Brandon Short enjoyed the sights with his family Friday evening in downtown State College. The two-time team captain and current member of the Penn State Board of Trustees welcomed the crowd of Penn Staters at a welcome pep rally on Fraser Street ahead of tomorrow’s home opener against Ball State, telling the alumni and fans in attendance that their support during games and year-round truly makes a difference. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Ah yes, this feels familiar.

Friday evening in downtown State College. In the fall. Ahead of the football home opener.

Has it really only been 18 months? It feels longer. No difference, that’s not important. What is important is that we’re less than 24 hours away from a fresh season of Penn State football, and along with it, the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, 107,000-plus fans roaring at Beaver Stadium, and so much more.

The aforementioned spirit teams kicked off the weekend in style, dazzling Penn Staters on Fraser Street during an early-evening pep rally. I can’t recall if this is something new or if the Friday downtown pep rally was done before, though if it becomes a tradition ahead of every home game, that’s just fine with me.

In addition to men’s and women’s hoops coaches Micah Shrewsberry and Carolyn Kieger, Penn State football All-American linebacker Brandon Short also welcomed the crowd. He and his family are back living in Happy Valley, where he remains committed to Penn State by serving on the University’s Board of Trustees.

Before the cheer teams performed at the pep rally, they greeted visitors and drivers along College Avenue. Horns honked, cheers were heard, and the Nittany Lion delighted pretty much anyone nearby. Check out the photos and videos below. They tell the story best.

For everyone in town this weekend: safe travels, enjoy the game, and let’s also enjoy celebrating being in Happy Valley together once again. It’s been far too long.

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PENN STATE PREVIEW: BALL STATE

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 11/13 Penn State (1-0) vs. Ball State (0-1). 3:30 p.m. kickoff (ET), broadcast on FS1.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where fans will be in attendance for a game for the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): Mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. Near perfect weather for a day of tailgating. and football.

The line: Penn State – 22.5

All-time series: This is the first-ever meeting between the Nittany Lions and Cardinals.

Last meeting: N/A

Throwback classic (2009): Without a game to relive between these two opponents, I took a quick look back at Penn State’s second game of the 2009 season, a 28-7 win over Syracuse. Senior quarterback Darryl Clark passed for 240 yards and tossed a couple of touchdowns as the Nittany Lions cruised to an out-of-conference win.

Last week: Penn State went on the road and picked up a huge road win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

The lead: Penn State returns home after that huge victory in Madison to face the defending MAC Champions, Ball State. While the Cardinals aren’t quite the level of opposition as the Badgers were, this Week Two contest won’t be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination for the Nittany Lions. Ball State returns 21 starters from last year’s conference title winning team, including second-team All-MAC quarterback Drew Pitt. Penn State head coach James Franklin said in his weekly press conference that he does believe in the idea of “trap games,” and this game would certainly fit that bill. It makes his “1-0” mantra extra important this week. Don’t expect Penn State to look past the Cardinals after that win over Wisconsin and next week’s White Out showdown with Auburn looming — it’s just not in their DNA.

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid mistakes. Penn State played turnover-free football last week and if that trend continues, it should see off any potential upset from Ball State. Sean Clifford and the offense grew into the game a week ago and most importantly avoided turnovers. If they pick up where they left off, the home fans will leave happy.

Ball State wins if: Penn State’s turnover woes from a year ago return and the defense’s performance last week can’t be duplicated. The Cardinals come into this one with plenty of confidence that they can walk away with a win. The last thing the Nittany Lions want to do is make mistakes and feed into the Cardinals’ belief.

Count on: A raucous atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. It’s been 651 days (We think we did the math right!) since fans of the blue and white got to see their in action at home. As James Franklin tweeted throughout the week, this is going to be one big family reunion. It might not reach the levels of noise and excitement as next week’s game with Auburn, but it will still be a ton of fun. We’re jazzed up to see the return of tailgates, team arrival, the Blue Band performing pre-game and at halftime, and all that makes Saturdays in Happy Valley the best show in college football.

Keep an eye on: the Penn State running game. The Nittany Lions struggled to run the ball against Wisconsin’s stout front seven last week. Expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to try and get Noah Cain and the rest of the Lawn Boyz going early. If Penn State can run more effectively this week, it should open up the passing game a lot more for Sean Clifford and co.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State snapped Wisconsin’s 25-game home opener win streak with the victory in Madison in Week One.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 38, Ball State 17
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 33, Ball State 20

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Leading With Emotion

This is the fun part. After all the preparation, all the early mornings and late nights, all the meetings and film sessions and everything else that transforms coaching into a 24-hour-a-day marathon, James Franklin wanted to let loose. He’s apt to do this after victories, and for good reason.

He’s an emotional guy. He’s acknowledged multiple times in the past, embraces it. This who he is. Why run from it or hide it?

So, after Penn State knocked off the 12th-ranked team in the nation on the road on Saturday afternoon, the Penn State head coach went looking for fans to celebrate with. He didn’t have to go far, just to the first few rows of Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers.

The video above shows Franklin sharing his exuberance with alumni and fans who converged on Madison this past weekend. I asked him about this earlier today during his weekly press conference, and specifically, how big of a role does emotion play in his approach to coaching, especially when it comes to connecting with fans, players, and players’ families.

Here’s what he said:

“I think it’s a huge part of my leadership style with our players and how we meet, how we lead, how we bond as coaches and players. I think it’s a big part. It’s my personality, my style, and I have to be authentic and true to who I am in my leadership role.”

If you’re fortunate to be in the first few rows after a Penn State football win, chances are good you’ll get to celebrate with James Franklin up close. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Franklin referenced the recruiting process with senior star wideout Jahan Dotson, who caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin. “Getting to know his family well and understanding the successes and challenges and adversity we all go through in our families, being a part of that is meaningful to me and important to me,” Franklin said.

The head coach also mentioned receiving a text message from Nittany Lion standout quarterback Trace McSorley earlier this morning. Point being: connections are important, perhaps just as important as anything else, and creating and maintaining those connections is critical.

Some fans Franklin knows well, some he recognizes. Either by a prior meeting, or sometimes from the wardrobe. Looks matter after all, and if you dress the part, Franklin will notice.

“The gentlemen with the white fedora on Saturday. I don’t know him very well, but I see him at all the games. I feel his passion. I appreciate his passion. He’s also handsomely dressed usually, and I appreciate all those things. When there is an opportunity to connect and show my passion and appreciation for them as well, because they’re a part of our family and process, I want them to feel that as well.”

P.S. The fan rocking the fedora is Cameron Panase, who graduated last year and was the president of Nittanyville during his senior season.

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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Wisconsin

Senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) leapt to block a field goal during Penn State’s 16-10 season-opening win over Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. The Nittany Lions combined a tenacious defense with timely offense to leave Madison with an impressive victory to catapult them into a four-game home stretch at Beaver Stadium. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Starting with today’s season opener against Wisconsin, we’re introducing a new weekly feature on the blog: The Roaring 20. We’ll share 20 quick observations from the game, and when we’re on the road, we’ll also include insights from our alumni mixer and pep rally.

Hope you enjoy. And if you feel like we missed something or noticed something particularly noteworthy, please reply to us on social or leave a comment on the blog.

As always, members will continue to receive The Football Letter email on Monday (or in next week’s case, on Tuesday) that recaps the Nittany Lions’ game featuring editor John Black’s letter and a full photo gallery from Steve Manuel.

1: Major thanks goes out to Madison Chapter President Phil Bower ’99, ’01g for being such a wonderful host this weekend, which included Friday night’s alumni mixer. We know a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, and we can’t thank our dedicated volunteers enough. Bower was a guest on this week’s season premiere episode of Football Letter Live. You’re welcome to watch the entire archived episode, and you can see Bower’s appearance starting around the 44:10 mark.

2: I have a lot of Penn State memorabilia and also a lot of Nittany Lion clothes, though I don’t have a cheesehead. Not even sure which of those two categories a cheesehead fits into, though I know I want one.

3: Penn State letterman Miles Dieffenbach was so gracious to stop by our game day pep rally and fire up the crowd. Dieffenbach stayed with Penn State when he could’ve transferred without penalty (his career spanned 2010-14), he beat cancer, and he’s now a successful investment analyst at Carnegie Mellon. Miles: You’re welcome at any Alumni Association event anytime. Just let us know, and we’ll take care of you. Jump to the 10:00 mark to hear Penn State Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford intro Dieffenbach and also to hear the letterman speak.

4: Former mic man Eric Gaspich and former Nittany Lion mascot Zach Sowa are two Penn State graduates who love their alma mater. This weekend, the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lion unfortunately couldn’t travel, and the duo stepped in at our pep rally to fire up the crowd. For anyone wondering, Sowa can still do one-handed pushups, evident by the 21 he completed at the pep rally. The crowd loved it and cheered him on. You can jump to the 12:25 mark of our archived live stream to see them in action.

5: Alumni Association President Kelley Lynch ’87 enjoyed her first away game trip in her new role, and she spoke with Penn Staters at Friday night’s mixer and welcomed everyone at today’s pep rally. You can jump to the 3:40 mark and watch Lynch’s welcome.

6: Penn State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour also stopped by the pep rally, and we’re always grateful for her time and her enthusiasm for the Penn State Alumni Association. She routinely touts the power of our alumni network, and you can hear her greet the crowd starting around the 6:40 mark.

7: James Franklin is an emotional guy. He acknowledges it, and he embraces it. Check out his postgame celebration with fans on our Twitter account.

8: You can also see the players and coaches celebrate on the field following today’s win. There are even backflips. As we said on social: Trust us, it’s worth the watch. You can also view that video on our Twitter account.

9. It was good to see Noah Cain back on the field today, as the running back battled back from an injury last year. He helped with the victory by leading the team in rushing with 48 yards and a TD on eight carries.

10: I was walking around Madison after the game and overheard a conversation between Penn State fans and Wisconsin fans. The Wisconsin fan says: “Yeah, that’s when Pete Lisicky and Dan Earl were there,” referencing two Penn State basketball all-timers. That made me smile. Almost stopped to ask if I could join the discussion.

11: State Street is a cool Madison attraction. There’s a farmer’s market and some funky joints. We talked with a few alumni this weekend who said this was their first time here and that it was a bucket-item destination. Penn State visits Madison in three years, for a game on Oct. 19, 2024. It’s never too early to start planning.

12: Penn State’s defense, especially in the red zone and at the goal line, was superb Saturday. Quarterback Sean Clifford called the defense “stout” after the win. Totally right.

13: Speaking of Clifford, he explains how the offense found its rhythm in the second half, and you can hear his insights on our Twitter account.

14: PJ Mustipher is one of my favorite players to talk to, and you can see some of his postgame interview on our Twitter account. We’ll post our entire video, which is more than nine minutes, to our YouTube channel this weekend and share the link on our Twitter account. The senior defensive tackle and team captain is always insightful, funny, and leaves you with a smile after you’re done talking.

15: It was wonderful to hear some “We Are” chants throughout Camp Randall Stadium during the game.

16: It was also nice to see several former Penn State Alumni Association presidents in attendance during the mixer and pep rally, including Randy Houston ’91 and Steve Wagman ’82.

17: Wisconsin cheese curds are good.

18: We’re excited for our next away game trip to Iowa (Oct. 9). We hope you join us, and you can find info for the mixer on our Iowa Chapter’s Facebook page and register for the game day pep rally on our site.

19: We’re also especially excited for Saturday’s home opener against Ball State. Will be sweet to see the Lion Ambassadors’ S-Zone among the 107,000-plus crowd. Kickoff is set for 3:30 on FS1.

20: Go State. Beat the Cardinals.

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Worth the Wait

All things considered, it was worth the wait. Or, at least it felt that way Friday night standing in a room packed with Penn Staters.

Alumni and fans from across the country crowded into Old Sugar Distillery, a local Madison joint located a few miles from Camp Randall Stadium and the site of the traditional pregame alumni mixer. These events always feel a little bit like a class reunion, with many people meticulously planning every detail of the trip, sometimes years in the making.

Tonight had all those feels, but the vibe also had something else. Something more. Something different.

“It’s good to get on the road and see a new city, be back with our friends,” said Steven Seal, vice president for the Richmond (Va.) Chapter. “I’m here in Madison with my family, my friends, and my alumni friends so. It’s really cool to be back. … This is a really exciting time of year.”

Seal was one of a few hundred Penn State supporters who have converged in Wisconsin’s capital city for Saturday’s opener against the Badgers. He graduated from Penn State in 2011 and works as an IT consultant in Richmond, which he described as “a Penn State rich area,” with about 1,200-1,500 living alumni nearby. He joined the chapter’s board shortly after moving back home and has served as VP for the last few years.

Midway through the event, Madison Chapter President Phil Bower ’99, ’01g welcomed everyone. If Bower’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he appeared on this week’s season premiere episode of Football Letter Live, which is available to watch on either YouTube or Facebook. Bower was noticeably happy. You’d be too, if you had waited eight years for this game — Penn State last played at Wisconsin in 2013 — and Bower mixed in some trivia and cheers to get things going. A handful of other speakers joined in, including current Alumni Association President Kelley Lynch ’87, and just for the record, there were also plenty of cheeseheads on display.

Wisconsin Chapter President Sasha Scherlinsky ’16 happily distributed Penn State giveaways and helped sell cheeseheads during the alumni mixer Friday night at Madison. You can learn more about the Wisconsin Chapter on the group’s website.

Charlotte Chapter President Klinzing is part of a 15-person traveling team that’s arrived in Madison. Folks in that group live in Arizona, Alabama, Maryland, in addition to Charlotte, State College, and Allentown. They’ve tailgated together for more than two decades, and once Wisconsin was added back onto Penn State’s schedule, the figurative countdown clock started.

“We couldn’t wait,” said Klinzing, a 1982 Penn State alumna. “We had everything organized, we’re super excited.”

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Penn State Preview: Wisconsin

Penn State opens the season at Wisconsin on Saturday, with the two teams meeting in a season opener for just the second time (1953). Photo credit: John Patishnock

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 19/20 Penn State at No. 12/15 Wisconsin, noon kickoff (ET), broadcast on FOX.

Venue: Camp Randall Stadium, where Penn State won 31-24 in 2013, in the teams’ last meeting in Madison.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 70, and mostly cloudy with a shower in spots.

The line: Penn State +4.5

All-time series: Penn State leads 10-9.

Last meeting (2018): Penn State won 22-10, extending the Nittany Lions’ winning streak in the series to four.

Throwback classic (2012): Penn State upended Wisconsin in the season finale to cap off an emotional (to say the least) 8-4 season in Bill O’Brien’s opening campaign in Happy Valley.

The lead: By rankings, this will be Penn State’s toughest opener since 2001, when the Nittany Lions hosted Miami (Fla.) in a game well-known for featuring Adam Taliaferro walking, and then jogging, onto the field at Beaver Stadium after suffering a paralyzing hit at Ohio State the year before.

Last season was strange, awkward, and unusual for all the reasons that everyone already knows. Logic says that last year’s 4-5 season was a fluke. Winning 42 games in four seasons doesn’t happen by accident, so it’s completely reasonable to think that another double-digit win total is within reach. If the new coaches, especially offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, can adequately mold, push, and motivate the incredible level of talent on this team, there’s a real chance that Penn State can push Ohio State for the Big Ten title this season. A win Saturday can go a long way to making that happen.

Penn State wins if: Sean Clifford and the offense play close to mistake-free football. The margin of error for the Nittany Lions isn’t that small Saturday — Penn State doesn’t have to play perfect to win — though having one or zero turnovers probably flips the Nittany Lions from a small underdog to a small favorite, everything else being equal.

Wisconsin wins if: the Badgers can effectively run the ball in the second half. Wisconsin’s going to get its fair share of yards on the ground, though the Badgers are especially good at wearing down teams as the game goes on. If Penn State doesn’t tire, the Nittany Lions should be fine.  

Count on: Seeing plenty of blue and white if you’re traveling to the game. Our Friday night mixer that we’re co-hosting with the Madison Chapter and our game day pep rally both reached capacity a week or two ahead of the game. 

Keep an eye on: How new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich works the tight ends into the attack. Last week, Franklin said that this year’s core is the best group of tight ends he’s ever been around. 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State ranks eighth all-time by being ranked in the AP preseason poll a total of 48 times. Wisconsin, meanwhile, trails quite a bit. The Badgers stand 22nd with 30 appearances.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

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