Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Minnesota/Indiana

I’m not going to say I jinxed Penn State’s unbeaten start to the season with my article from last week detailing its position in the College Football Playoff race. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t think about that a bit as the final seconds ticked away in Saturday’s 31-26 win for Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers fed off of an electric home crowd to capture the program’s biggest win in 80 years.

The Nittany Lions had managed to navigate a challenging run of games, beating Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks, but couldn’t sink the boat of PJ Fleck’s now 9-0 Gophers.

Having trailed by 11 at halftime, Penn State had chances to win the game in the second half, but turnovers in the red zone and a few head-scratching officiating decisions on the Nittany Lions’ final drive doomed their defeat.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Back

Star of The Game: Rashod Bateman

It was a day to forget for the Penn State secondary, with missed tackles and blown assignments plaguing the back end of the Nittany Lions’ defense most of the game. Rashod Bateman, arguably Minnesota’s best player, tormented Penn State to the tune of 7 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown. He was inexplicably left open on several occasions, including on the Gophers’ opening possession, which saw him evade an attempted tackle from Garrett Taylor, race down the sideline and ease into the end zone for six. It was the first of many big plays Bateman would make.

Moment of Magic: Red zone turnovers propel Gophers

I don’t think there was one defining play that set the Gophers apart from Penn State on Saturday. Rather, untimely turnovers while the Nittany Lions were marching propelled Minnesota to a win. Penn State’s offense actually moved the ball as consistently as it has all season, but turnovers on the plus side of the field proved costly. Sean Clifford threw three interceptions inside the 20 — to be fair to him, though, two of those could have (should have) been overturned because of pass interference by Minnesota. The Nittany Lions also turned the ball over on downs inside the 10 after an impressive drive stalled midway through the fourth quarter.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Ahead

Penn State dominates series with Indiana

Penn State is 21-1 all-time against the Hoosiers, it’s best record against any Big Ten opponent. James Franklin is 5-0 against Indiana in his time in charge of the Nittany Lions.

Avoiding a hangover

In each of the past two seasons, Penn State has suffered some gut-wrenching losses to other ranked opponents and compounded those losses with defeats in the next game to teams the Nittany Lions were expected to beat. In 2017 and 2018, Penn State lost nail-biters to Ohio State and followed those up by losing to underdog Michigan State teams. They’ll be eager to put that narrative behind them when they take on Indiana at Beaver Stadium. The Hoosiers are playing well at 7-2 and might even be ranked in the latest College Football Playoff poll. Still, you’d expect the Nittany Lions to handle business in this one.

Ramsey’s time to shine

For most of this season, Hoosiers coach Tom Allen has deployed a two-quarterback system with both Michael Penix Jr. and Peyton Ramsey both seeing substantial playing time. However, Penix Jr. suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, meaning Ramsey is now the No. 1 guy in Bloomington. In his first start of the season against Nebraska, Ramsey passed for a career-high 351 yards in an Indiana win.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Michigan/Michigan State

Penn State is 7-0. It hasn’t been always perfect in those seven wins, especially on offense, but the record speaks for itself. 

The Nittany Lions passed their biggest test yet, holding off Michigan 28-21 in front of the fourth-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history. 

To get to 8-0, Penn State will have to beat a Michigan State team that has dashed its College Football Playoff hopes in each of the past two seasons. 

As always in this series, let’s take a quick look back at Penn State’s White Out triumph over the Wolverines before looking ahead to another crucial encounter with the Spartans in East Lansing.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Back

Star of The Game: KJ Hamler 

Hamler is Penn State’s most important player on offense, and on Saturday he demonstrated why. The redshirt sophomore tormented the Michigan defense with six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 100-yard kick return touchdown called back for holding at the start of the third quarter. 

A 53-yard touchdown from Sean Clifford to Hamler to put Penn State up by 14 with 13 minutes to go was made possible by the latter’s ability to burn past the Wolverines’ secondary. Hamler iced the game late in the fourth quarter with a tough three-yard run for a first down, taking a hit to the helmet in the process. Where would this offense be without him? 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: The defense’s goal line stand

On the Wolverines’ final possession of the game, it looked like the Penn State defense (on the field for 82 total snaps on the night) had lost all its steam. Michigan marched to the red zone with less than four minutes to go, looking to tie the game at 28. 

Having held for the first three downs, Penn State’s defense got the final stop it needed on fourth down, when safety Lamont Wade did just enough in coverage to force a drop from Ronnie Bell in the end zone. The White Out crowd exploded. The scoring threat was over. The defense had made its stand.

Looking Ahead

Michigan State controls the series

The battle for The Land Grant Trophy has been pretty one-sided as of late. Michigan State has won five of the past six matchups with Penn State, including heartbreaking losses for the Nittany each of the past two seasons. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Blowout losses for Sparty 

The 2019 season hasn’t gone to plan for Sparty. Michigan State began the year ranked No. 18 in the country, but a woeful offense has seen the Spartans drop its three toughest games so far. 

In Week 3, Mark Dantonio’s team dropped an ugly 10-7 decision at home to Arizona State. Then, a 34-10 loss in Columbus to Ohio State was followed by a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of Wisconsin. 

Brian Lewerke’s late heroics 

In 2017, Lewerke drove the Michigan State offense down the field for a game-winning field goal, dashing Penn State’s hopes for a potential College Football Playoff berth. 

A year later in Beaver Stadium he led the Spartans on an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to pull ahead 21-17 with 19 seconds left on the clock. The drive was capped off with his 25-yard touchdown pass to Felton Davis. 

He will be looking to make it three wins from three against Penn State on Saturday.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Purdue/Iowa

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

I expected Penn State’s defense to be good this season, I’m not sure I expected them to be THIS good. 

Purdue — albeit without its best player in Rondale Moore and senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar — couldn’t get anything going in Saturday’s 35-7 win for Penn State. Backup quarterback Jack Plummer was under duress all day long, with the Nittany Lions collecting 10 sacks. The Boilermakers mustered a measly 104 yards of total offense. 

In Penn State’s first two conference games, the defense has given up just seven points. The highest total it’s surrendered this season was in the Week 2 win over Buffalo (13 points). 

With the meat of the Big Ten schedule ahead of it, Penn State knows it has one of the elite defenses in the conference to count on.

Looking Back

Star of The Game: DE Shaka Toney

I was going to start off this section by saying Shaka Toney was basically unblockable against the Boilermakers. But there’s no “basically” about it. He was unblockable. Toney was in the backfield repeatedly, using speed and quickness to burn Purdue’s offensive line. He tallied three sacks and helped the Nittany Lions record their most sacks in a conference game since 2007. He and Yetur Gross-Matos give Penn State a terrific tandem of starting pass rushers. 

Moment of Magic: Dotson sprints 72 yards to the end zone

With the Nittany Lions on top 14-0, wideout Jahan Dotson blew the game wide open on Penn State’s third possession of the game. He corralled a pass from over the middle, juked one Purdue defender before speeding ahead down the left hand side of the field. A key block by KJ Hamler at the 10-yard-line cleared the path to the end zone and Dotson scored his third touchdown of the season to put the home side up three scores. 

Looking Ahead

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Hawkeyes offensive falters

Facing a Michigan team that got gashed on the ground just a few weeks ago by Wisconsin, Iowa’s offense produced just one rushing yard on 30 carries in Saturday’s 10-3 loss in Ann Arbor. That’s the fewest yards the Hawkeyes have managed on the ground since 2011. Up next? A date with Penn State’s dominant front seven. 

Stanley’s turnovers

Quarterback Nate Stanley returned for his senior season in Iowa City with a lot of expectations, with some even regarding him as an NFL prospect. Stanley was efficient, if unspectacular through Iowa’s first four games, but fell flat against the Wolverines. He threw for 260 yards, but was also picked off three times and sacked eight times. He has to be better against Penn State for Iowa to have a chance at the upset.

Primetime at Kinnick

Penn State doesn’t have the best track record in primetime games at Kinnick Stadium, but then again neither do a lot of top-ranked teams. I’m not even going to get into the 2008 heartbreaking loss for a then-undefeated Penn State squad. It’s still too soon. 

In recent years, the Hawkeyes have managed to pull off some incredible upsets at home, including wins over Ohio State in 2017 and Michigan in 2016. The Nittany Lions, thanks to a gutsy last-second connection from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson, won at the death under the lights of Kinnick in 2017.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Maryland/Purdue

No. 12 Penn State’s 59-0 demolition of Maryland on Friday night was one of the more complete games the Nittany Lions have put together in the James Franklin era. After the poor first half against Buffalo and the narrow victory over Pitt in Week 3, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous heading into this one. 

Almost immediately, sitting in the sea of white shirts on one half of Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, my worries disappeared. Right from the opening possession, it was clear the Nittany Lions were locked in for this one as Jan Johnson intercepted Terps quarterback Josh Jackson to set up a Penn State scoring drive. 

It only got worse from there for the home faithful, with a large chunk of them heading for the exits halfway through the second quarter. A boisterous student section that taunted Penn State players and fans early on in the game all but disappeared before halftime, heading back out to the College Park night. 

In the last three meetings between the two programs Penn State has outscored Maryland 163-6. Yikes!  

Looking Back

Star of The Game: QB Sean Clifford

After struggling against Pitt, Clifford rebounded for his best performance of the season on Friday, going 26-of-31 with 398 yards and three touchdowns. He added another 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Clifford completed his first nine passes of the game, setting up the offense for a needed fast start to quiet the Maryland crowd. He looked in control and comfortable in the pocket all night, so credit to Penn State’s offensive line as well. If Clifford performs at that level consistently for the rest of the season, Penn State can beat every team left on its schedule. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: WR KJ Hamler’s House Call 

With Penn State up 7-0 and facing a third-and-nine near midfield, the Terrapins were close to swinging a bit of momentum back in their favor at the 9:48 mark of the first quarter. Then KJ Hamler happened. The premier playmaker on the Nittany Lions’ offense snagged Clifford’s pass over the middle and evaded two tacklers to gain the first down. He wasn’t done, though, keeping his balance before sprinting to the right side of the field. A hapless Maryland defensive back tried to cut off Hamler’s angle to the end zone but instead was juked two or three times by Hamler before falling to the turf. KJ eased into the end zone from there and Penn State was rolling up 14-0. There aren’t many players more electric with the ball in their hands in college football than KJ Hamler.

Looking Ahead

Boiler Down

It’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan for Jeff Brohm and Purdue this season. After reaching bowl games in each of the past two seasons, many expected the Boilermakers to be in the hunt for a potential Big Ten West division title in 2019. Instead, they’re off to a 1-3 start, with losses to Nevada (who just lost by 51 to Hawaii), TCU and Minnesota.   

Two Key Injuries  

Purdue lost star wideout Rondale Moore and quarterback Elijah Sindelar on the same play in Saturday’s loss to the Golden Gophers. Neither will play in this week’s matchup with Penn State. That’s bad news for Purdue with the Nittany Lions defense playing well right now.  

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Up Steps Plummer

Sindelar’s injury means redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer is likely to get the start at Beaver Stadium for Purdue. Playing in relief of a concussed Sindelar, Plummer had an up and down showing in the Week 3 loss to TCU, going 13-of-29 for 181 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was more of the same against Minnesota once Sindelar went down with a broken clavicle. Plummer tossed for 245 yards and two touchdowns on 41 attempts, but threw two more interceptions.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Pittsburgh/Maryland

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Saturday’s meeting between No. 13 Penn State and Pittsburgh — the 100th meeting between the two Power 5 programs in the Commonwealth — had an old-school feel to it at times. Both defenses controlled most of the game, with neither offense able to get into much of a flow. 

A 13-play, 88-yard drive in the third quarter by the Nittany Lions offense, coupled with a goal line stand in the fourth quarter for their defense (aided by the puzzling decision by Panthers coach to kick a field goal from the one-yard line) was enough to see Penn State come away with the 17-10 win. 

Looking Back

Star of The Game: LB Micah Parsons

This was the kind of performance Penn State fans envisioned from Micah Parsons when James Franklin and his staff secured his 5-star commitment as a recruit in December of 2017. Parsons was all over the field on Saturday, despite missing a few snaps to get checked on in the injury tent in the fourth quarter. He led the team with nine tackles and played a key role in setting the tone early for the defense. The scary part in all of this? This is only Parsons’ second season of playing linebacker. He’s only going to get better. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: K Jordan Stout sets a program record

With Pitt just having taken a 10-7 lead in the waning minutes of the first half, Penn State needed any type of score it could get to go into halftime. The Nittany Lions offense moved the ball into the Panthers’ territory but the drive stalled with a few seconds left. Jordan Stout nailed the ensuing 57-yard field goal to tie the game and give Penn State some momentum to close the half. Stout’s kick broke the program record for longest field goal, previously held by Chris Bahr’s 55-yard boots in 1975 against Temple, Ohio State and Syracuse. 

Looking Ahead

Bye Week Blues

Penn State enters its first bye week of the season 3-0, but no doubt with plenty to correct between now and when it faces Maryland for a Friday night clash on Sept. 27. The Terrapins  also have a bye week this week and will look to rebound from a deflating road loss at Temple. The loss to the Owls will sting head coach Mike Locklsey after his team put together a complete performance just a week earlier in a 63-20 demolition over then-No. 21 Syracuse. 

Jackson brings stability 

When Josh Jackson transferred to Maryland from Virginia Tech in February, Terps fans hoped he would finally bring some stability to a quarterback position that had been a revolving door in the last handful of seasons. Through three games, Jackson has certainly done that, tossing 724 yards and eight touchdowns. If he can maintain that type of production the rest of the season, Maryland will almost certainly reach a bowl game. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A familiar face 

Penn State fans should be familiar with Mike Locksley. He coached the Terrapins in an interim role during the 2015 season and nearly pulled off the upset over Penn State in a 31-30 loss in Baltimore. He was also on Ron Zook’s staff at Illinois during the Fighting Illini’s best run of recent memory in the mid-2000s, and helped recruit players like Vontae Davis and Arrelious Benn to Champaign. His first two games were nearly perfect back on the sidelines for the Terps on a permanent basis, though the loss at Temple has brought things back down to earth a bit.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Buffalo and Pitt

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — It was the proverbial tale of two halves in the second game of the season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions struggled in the first two quarters against a Buffalo team fresh off a 10-win season. Some fans showered the players and coaches with boos as they jogged off the field and into the locker room, not hiding their displeasure in seeing their team down 10-7. 

The second half was a completely different story, though. Penn State blew past the Bulls in dominant fashion, outscoring their MAC foe 38-3 in the second half for a 45-13 win. It was an offensive, and defensive, explosion that showed what the Nittany Lions can become when they’re clicking. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look back at Saturday’s win before looking ahead to Week 3 opponent Pittsburgh. 

Looking Back

Star Of The Game: TE Pat Freiermuth  

After being held to a single catch for negative yardage in the first half, Pat Freiermuth rebounded for a seven-catch, 99-yard performance in the second frame. He said he asked offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and tight ends coach Tyler Bowen to throw his way more in the second half, and they seemingly obliged. It wasn’t so much he was frustrated with his lack of targets, and more so he felt he was someone the team could lean on to get a spark on offense. The second play of the third quarter saw Clifford connect with Freiermuth for 17 yards to the Buffalo 48-yard line. On Penn State’s second drive, after a John Reid interception return for a touchdown and a punt from Buffalo, Clifford flicked a throw over the middle and Freiermuth did the rest, racing past the safety and into the end zone. In a flash, the Nittany Lions were back in control, 21-10. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: John Reid’s pick six

Following a Ricky Slade fumble on the Nittany Lions’ opening possession of the third quarter, the Bulls were back on offense, looking to extend their unexpected lead. John Reid wasn’t having it. The fifth-year cornerback read the eyes of Buffalo quarterback Matt Myers perfectly as he threw an out route to his receiver. Reid jumped the route, snagged Myers’ pass and jetted to the end zone. It was exactly the jolt the team, and Beaver Stadium, needed to spring back into life. The boos became cheers and chants. The Nittany Lions never looked back.

Looking Ahead

Mixed bag for Pitt’s Pickett through two weeks

Pitt dropped its season opener to Virginia, 30-14. Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett was under duress all game long behind a Panthers offensive line that is breaking in four new starters. Pickett attempted 41 passes against the Cavaliers, but completed just 21 of them for 185 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Things were much better in the Week Two win over Ohio, with Pickett throwing a career-high 321 yards and a touchdown. He was also much better protected, with the Panthers only surrendering a single sack. 

Injuries to the Pitt defensive front

The Panthers will be without two key pieces when they face the Nittany Lions. Junior defensive tackle Keyshon Camp, who injured his knee in the season opener, has been ruled out for the season. So to has junior defensive end Rashad Weaver, who went down with a knee injury during training camp.

Coming to an end

Saturday’s game between Penn State and Pitt is the last scheduled meeting between the two Commonwealth rivals. There are no immediate plans to renew the series after the latest four-game matchup. Pitt won in dramatic fashion in 2016. The Nittany Lions have dominated the past two games, though, beating the Panthers by a combined score of 84-20. Penn State is looking to make it three wins in a row over the Panthers, and claim its 53rd win in the series.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — In a brand new series with the The Football Letter blog, we will take a quick look back at the previous Penn State football game before turning the page with a look ahead to the Nittany Lions’ next opponent. 

In this week’s edition, we recap the dominant 79-7 win over Idaho in the season opener and then offer fans a short glimpse of what they can expect from Week 2 opponent Buffalo.  

Looking Back

Star Of The Game: RB Devyn Ford  

KJ Hamler could have easily been the choice here, accumulating 115 yards on just four catches, two of which went for touchdowns. Penn State fans should be really excited about the connection between Hamler and his new quarterback, Sean Clifford. My pick for the star of the Idaho game, though, is freshman tailback Devyn Ford. Ford wowed the Beaver Stadium crowd with an 81-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, when he split a crease on the right side of Penn State’s offensive line turned up field and raced his way to the end zone in a flash. He finished the day with 107 yards on six carries. Not bad for a true freshman making his first in-game appearance at the college level. 

Moment of Magic: Walk-on Nick Eury powers his way into the end zone 

Fans that turned off the game in its dwindling minutes or left Beaver Stadium early to beat the post-game traffic missed the highlight of the day — at least in this writer’s opinion. Even with Penn State ahead 71-7 with just over two minutes to go, walk-on Nick Eury provided a moment of magic. The Shavertown, Pennsylvania, native took a handoff in the red zone from quarterback Michael Shuster and bulldozed his way through one defender before dragging another two defenders two yards and stretched across the goal line for a touchdown. He was not going to be denied. For a player that works so hard week in and week out, knowing he’s probably not going to see much action as the season progresses, I’m sure it meant a lot for him. It was an example of what makes college football so great. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Ahead

Buffalo’s 2018 At A Glance

The 2018 campaign proved to be one of the best in team history for the Bulls. Head coach Lance Leipold helped guide Buffalo to a 10-4 finish, breaking the previous program record for wins in a single season (8). The Bulls won the MAC East Division crown but fell to West Division champs Northern Illinois in the conference title game in Detroit 30-29. Buffalo then earned a trip to Mobile, Alabama for the Dollar General Bowl, but fell short there as well, losing 42-32 to Troy. 

Running With The Bulls

Like Penn State, Buffalo started its season with a win over an FCS foe, topping Robert Morris 38-10. The Bulls ran their way over the Colonials, gaining 285 yards on the ground. Of the Bulls’ 57 offensive snaps in the game, 47 of them were run plays. 

Names To Remember  

Buffalo running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks picked up where they left off a season ago, which saw the former named Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. Patterson finished Saturday’s win with 90 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts. Marks had 13 rushes for 75 yards. While the Bulls used five different backs against the Colonials, Patterson and Marks will surely get the bulk of the carries against Penn State. It will be interesting to see how the duo and the Bulls’ offensive line hold up against that vaunted Nittany Lions front seven.