Penn State Preview: Ohio State

Penn State v. Ohio State 2020 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

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. Let’s dive into this week’s preview for Penn State’s primetime matchup with Ohio State.

Game Details: No. 20/17 Penn State at No. 5/5 Ohio State. 7:30 PM ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Ohio Stadium.

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): Cloudy in the evening with a shower in spots early, then partly cloudy late. Periods of rain or drizzle earlier in the day. High of 58.

The Line: Ohio State -18.5 (via SI Sportsbook).

All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 22-14.

Last Meeting: Ohio State won 38-25 last season.

Other Big Ten Games This Weekend: 
– No. 6 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (Noon ET, Fox)
– No. 9 Iowa at Wisconsin (Noon ET, ESPN)
– Rutgers at Illinois (Noon ET, BTN)
– Indiana at Maryland (Noon ET, BTN)
– Minnesota at Northwestern (3:30 PM ET, BTN)
– Purdue at Nebraska (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2)

Throwback Classic: 1963. “When you win an important game from Ohio State in Columbus … the inclination is to be polite about the victory and magnanimous with the vanquished. But honestly we have heard so much gaff in the last 25 years about the power and the invincibility of Big Ten Football (especially when compared to the effete East) that you’ll have to pardon a chuckle or two from these quarters.”

So wrote Ridge Riley ’32 in The Football Letter the week after Penn State’s 1963 visit to Ohio Stadium, a 10-7 Nittany Lion victory over the Woody Hayes-coached Buckeyes. It was just the third meeting between the big state schools—all of them in Columbus—since the sporadically played series began in 1912. And for whatever low expectations folks in central Ohio—”the Football Capital,” as Ridge Riley wrote with what we imagine was tongue firmly in cheek—had for the visiting Lions in the fall of ’63, Penn State had won on each of its previous visits to the Horseshoe.

They won that time, too.

Read more on this classic Penn State win over the Buckeyes in this From The Archives article from 2013.

Penn State v. Illinois (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Lead: There’s not much to say about last week’s 9OT Homecoming loss to Illinois that hasn’t been written about already. In short: it was a disaster of a loss. Now Penn State has to limp into Columbus against an Ohio State team that has rolled everyone in its path since a Week Two loss to Oregon. Can the Nittany Lions pull off a shocking upset of their own?

Penn State Wins If: Sean Clifford plays the game of his life, inspiring the Nittany Lions to the huge upset. Clifford was clearly less than 100 percent against Illinois. He said earlier this week he’ll be at or close to full-go this weekend. Penn State will need him to play without restriction if it has a chance to win this game.

Ohio State Wins If: The Buckeyes offense can finish drives. Ohio State has steamrolled everyone in its path this season minus Oregon. Ohio State paces the conference and holds sixth in the nation with a 96.6 conversion rate including 23 touchdowns in 29 trips. Penn State leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh in the country allowing a 65.2 conversion rate in the red zone and holding opponents scoreless eight times, tied for the nation’s best. Whoever wins that specific matchup will come out on top.

Numbers To Know: 13: Penn State has forced a turnover in 13 consecutive games.
14: The Buckeyes recorded 14 tackles for loss as they held Indiana to 128 total yards last week.

Score Prediction: 
John Patishnock: Penn State 24, Ohio State 21
Vincent Lungaro: Ohio State 24, Penn State 17


PENN STATE PREVIEW: ILLINOIS

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. Let’s dive into this week’s preview for Penn State’s homecoming matchup with Illinois.

Game Details: No. 7/8 Penn State (5-1, 2-1) vs Illinois (2-5, 1-3). Noon ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium.

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 54. Cloudy with a shower in spots; a chilly autumn afternoon for Homecoming.

The Line: Penn State -24 (via SI SportsBook).

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 20-5.

Last Meeting: Penn State won 56-21 in the 2020 season finale at Beaver Stadium.

Keyvone Lee. Penn State vs Illinois (2020). Photo By Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Last Week: Both teams were on a bye.

Other Big Ten Games This Weekend:
– Northwestern at No. 6/6 Michigan (Noon ET, FOX)
– Wisconsin at No. 25/N/A Purdue (3:30 PM ET, BTN)
– Maryland at Minnesota (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2)
– No. 5/5 Ohio State at Indiana (7:30 PM ET, ABC)

Throwback Classic: 2008. Entering the game, Ron Zook’s Illini were coming off a Rose Bowl appearance and returned star players Isiah “Juice” Williams and Arrelious Benn. Up to that point, it was also the highest-scoring White Out game with a combined 52 points. After the Illini opened the scoring, Derrick Williams did a Derrick Williams thing and returned the ensuing kickoff to the end zone to even things up at 7-7. Williams finished the game with a kick return for a touchdown, a rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown to lead the Lions to a 38-24 win.

Derrick Williams. Penn State vs Illinois (2008). Photo By Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Lead: Saturday’s homecoming matchup will feature Penn State’s Generations of Greatness uniforms, which are being worn for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Penn State has previously worn the uniforms in matchups against Indiana in 2017, Purdue in 2019 and Iowa in 2020. The uniforms feature numbers on the helmets, block uniform numbers, a white stripe on the sleeves, a blue stripe on the pants, a gray facemask and white cleats.

Penn State Wins If: The offense can get enough production from whoever starts at quarterback. Whether it’s Taquan Roberson or Christian Veilleux, the Nittany Lions just need their quarterback to be average and that should be plenty to blow out Illinois. Sean Clifford has been practicing this week, but it’d be a surprise if Penn State risks him in this game ahead of next week’s clash at Ohio State. I expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to keep things simple for his quarterback, relying on his skill players with short routes and lean on the running game. Penn State’s defense is a juggernaut and Illinois has struggled mightily on offense. The Nittany Lions should win this easily.

Illinois Wins If: Penn State’s offense is catastrophically bad. It would take a turnover-plagued, penalty-heavy Penn State showing worse than what was displayed against Iowa (after Sean Clifford left the game, of course) for Illinois to win this game.

Keep An Eye On: Mike Yurcich using Taquan Roberson’s mobility. Roberson struggled mightily in the loss at Iowa, but one of the things that stood out to me as a positive was his ability to make plays with his legs. He picked up a couple of decent gains on designed runs or scrambles against the Hawkeyes, and it wouldn’t shock me if Yurcich uses that to settle Roberson into the game a bit early on.

Trivia Tidbit: This is the fourth time Penn State will square off against Illinois in a Homecoming game. The Nittany Lions are 2-1 with wins in 2000 (39-25) and 2006 (26-12).

Photo By Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Number To Know: 101. This is Penn State’s 101st Homecoming game.

New Podcast: Check out the Alumni Association’s new podcast, “The People of Penn State.” On each episode of the podcast you can expect to hear the voices of Penn Staters talking about what they are passionate about, and you can expect to feel the pride and the power of the Penn State network. In the inaugural episode of the show, we talked to Tokyo 2020 Paralympian and alumni volunteer, Jake Schrom ’11. Click here to listen or check out the video version on the Alumni Association’s YouTube page.

Score Prediction:
John Patishnock: Penn State 28, Illinois 7
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 30, Illinois 6


Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Five

I’m going to start this week’s Penn Staters At The Next Level post with a punter. Blake Gillikin continues his terrific start to the 2021 season.

The former Nittany Lion was dominant — yes, punters can dominate — in the Saints win over the Washington Football Team.

Gillikin booted five punts for 268 yards, including three that were downed inside the five. On the season, he’s averaging 49.8 yards per punt, which is tied for fourth-best in the NFL.

Nick Scott, Safety, Los Angeles Rams

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Nothing like a game-winning interception to defeat your NFC West rivals in primetime.

Nick Scott sealed a win for the Rams on Thursday Night Football this past week with his first career INT.

He’s made his name on special teams the past two seasons, but Scott has also now found a nice role within the Rams defense in 2021.

Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Another week, another appearance for Micah Parsons in this blog.

Parsons led the Cowboys with eight tackles in Sunday’s win over the Giants and he’s already one of — if not the best — players on the Dallas defense.

He’s the Defensive Rookie of The Year favorite through five weeks of play.

Austin Johnson, Defensive Tackle, New York Giants

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

This week’s blog has been defense/special teams heavy and that isn’t changing with our next Nittany Lion on the list.

The Giants struggled at Dallas on Sunday, thanks in large part to injuries to Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. Penn State alum Austin Johnson was a bright spot for the G-Men.

Johnson recorded another sack (giving him three on the season), four tackles and two tackles-for-loss.

To check out the full list of Penn Staters currently on NFL rosters, click here.

Penn State Preview: Indiana

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. 4/6 Penn State (4-0) vs Indiana (2-2). 7:30 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 75. Patchy fog in the morning; otherwise, sunny much of the day; mostly clear skies for kick-off.

The Line: Penn State -12.5 (SI Sportsbook).

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 22-2.

Last Meeting: Week One, 2020 season. Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (OT).

Last Week: Penn State topped Villanova, 38-17. Indiana held off Western Kentucky, 33-31.

Other Key Big Ten Games This Weekend:
– No. 5/5 Iowa at Maryland (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1)
– No. 14/14 Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, Noon ET, Fox)
– No. 11/10 Ohio State at Rutgers (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Players To Watch – Penn State: QB Sean Clifford, WR Jahan Dotson, RB John Lovett, DE Arnold Ebiketie, S Jaquan Brisker.

Players To Watch – Indiana: QB Michael Penix Jr, WR Ty Fryfogle, DE Ryder Anderson.

The Lead: It’s another primetime clash for Penn State inside Beaver Stadium this week. Indiana won last year’s meeting thanks to Michael Penix Jr.’s outstretched dive for the pylon in overtime (OK, he was actually down short of the goal line and Penn State should have won that game, but I’m not going to harp on last year). It’s a new season and the Nittany Lions are a much better team than they were a year ago and Indiana has really struggled through four weeks of the season. Maybe it stems from the preseason expectations weighing a little too heavy on a program that’s almost always been a cellar dweller in the Big Ten. Whatever the reason, the Hoosiers aren’t sneaking up on anybody this year. Penn State has plenty of motivation and what should be another energetic home crowd behind them.

Penn State Wins If: The defense continues to play at its current level. Penix Jr. has struggled a lot throwing the ball down the field this season (55 percent completion rate, 6 INTs to 4 TDs). Penn State has a good pass rush and one of the better secondaries in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have talent on the outside in reigning Big Ten Receiver of The Year Ty Fryfogle and 3rd-Team All-Big Ten pick Peyton Hendershot, but the Nittany Lions are playing some terrific ball on the back on of their defense right now. I don’t expect this to be the week Indiana gets going through the air. Quick note also on Penn State’s offense. Sean Clifford has greatly improved since Penn State’s loss to the Hoosiers last year. He’s throwing the ball with confidence and getting it out to his variety of playmakers. I expect him to have another good day.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Indiana Wins If: The Nittany Lions’ inability to run the ball finally catches up with them. Indiana’s front seven is pretty good and the Hoosiers’ defense has had a knack for forcing turnovers. If the Penn State passing game has an off day, the ground game will have to be a lot better than it has been through four weeks. If both aspects of the offense struggle and we get another offensive showing similar to what we saw for large periods of the game against Wisconsin, Indiana can hang around and be in the game late with a chance for another upset.

Keep An Eye On: The S-Zone. Great work from our student organization, the Penn State Lion Ambassadors last week in setting up a terrific S-Zone in the south end zone. Last week’s S-Zone showcased a THON theme for the annual THON Game at Beaver Stadium. This week should be another great display under the primetime lights, with t-shirts organized to create a blue background engulfing the large white S. Learn more about the history of the S-Zone here.

Stripe Out 2021: If you’re coming to town for this weekend’s game, don’t forget that it’s a Stripe Out. Be sure to check out http://PennStateStripeOut.com to find out what to wear for your section.

Trivia Tidbit: Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson connected on a 52-yard touchdown on Penn State’s first offensive play against Villanova. It marked the 16th passing touchdown between the duo. They trail only Todd Blackledge-Kenny Jackson (17) as the top QB-WR touchdown pair in Penn State history. Blackledge, who of course started at quarterback for the Nittany Lions from 1981-1983, will be on the call this weekend for ABC with Sean McDonough and Molly McGrath.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Number To Know: Since 2016, Penn State holds a .758 winning percentage, with a record of 50-16, the sixth-best winning percentage among Power Five programs.

Membership Tidbit: Penn State Alumni Association are the key to everything we do at the Alumni Association. Members make it possible to keep Penn Staters connected with the University and each other through The Football Letter, events and publications, and so much more. If you’re a member, thank you for your support of the Penn State alumni community! If you’re not a member, you can join today at alumni.psu.edu/membership.

Score Predictions:
John Patishnock: Penn State 37, Indiana 14
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 31, Indiana 17

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

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Three

The juggernaut Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in what could be an early-season preview of the NFC Championship Game.

Former Nittany Lion Chris Godwin continued his strong start to the season.

CG14 tallied six catches for 74 yards and a rushing touchdown in the first quarter.

Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Pittsburgh Steelers

Boy, the Steelers offense sure is struggling at the moment. Pittsburgh certainly has the skill players to be a good offense. It’s just looking like Ben Roethlisberger is over the hill and the offensive line isn’t at the level of recent Steelers seasons.

Still, Pat Freiermuth provided a nice highlight for both fans of the black and gold and fans of the blue and white.

The former Penn State tight end notched his first NFL touchdown on this neat play design late in the first quarter to get Pittsburgh on the board. Pat finished with three catches for 22 yards and that score.

Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants

The Giants are a bit of a mess, and Saquon is still able to produce highlights.

He had some eye-catching leaps during his time in Happy Valley and showed that prowess off again on Sunday against the Falcons.

Blake Gillikin, Punter, New Orleans Saints

Photos: Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

I’m always eager to show punters a little love, especially when they’re a Penn Stater!

Blake Gillikin had the best day of his NFL career to date, tallying five punts for a 48.9-yard average. His long came on a 56 yard boot.

The Saints remain somewhat of a hot and cold team. In Week One, they hammered the Green Bay Packers, who have gone on to win two straight since. In Week Two, New Orleans was dominated by the Panthers. This week, they handled the Patriots in Foxborough with relative ease.

Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback, Detroit Lions

Overshadowed by Justin Tucker’s mammoth 66-yard game-winning kick for Baltimore (seriously, that was incredible), Amani made a huge play when Detroit needed it late in the fourth quarter.

On third-and-10, Oruwariye intercepted Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to give the ball back to the Lions offense. Detroit nailed a field goal of its own to go up 17-16. Unfortunately for the Lions and their fans, Justin Tucker might be the greatest kicker of all time. Tough break, but Amani still made a huge play and hats off to him for that.

To view each of the Nittany Lions currently on NFL rosters, click here.

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

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

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Wednesday Night Lights

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions continued fall camp at Beaver Stadium on Wednesday night. Franklin said the team will practice at the stadium again Saturday, mirroring the game day routine at Madison for the Sept. 4 opener against Wisconsin, including going through the pregame meal and walkthrough. Photo credit: John Patishnock

The aura of Beaver Stadium is always there. Always. Even when the place is nearly empty. Actually, perhaps especially when it’s nearly empty.

That was the scene around 9 p.m. Wednesday night as Penn State was finishing practice and the media portion was waiting to start. The photo above was taken from the north side of the stadium, right at the back of the end zone. From there, you could look out and imagine all the great plays and noteworthy Nittany Lions who have elevated the program to where it is today.

Today, Penn State’s ranked again in the AP preseason poll and is nearing the end of fall camp, which means gearing up for the first game week of the season. Following the work out — which the media saw for the first 20 minutes — head coach James Franklin said that the team would practice at the stadium again Saturday in preparation for the season opener at Wisconsin on Sept. 4. It’ll be an 11 a.m. local kick, and Franklin said the Nittany Lions will mirror the game day routine. That’ll include the pregame meal and walkthrough, and then the team will scrimmage at Beaver Stadium at the exact time that the game will kick in Madison to help the players’ body clocks get acclimated.

For someone’s who as dedicated to details as Franklin, that shouldn’t be surprising. You can watch Franklin’s entire post-practice presser below, courtesy of Penn State Athletics.

Along with Franklin, tight ends coach and letterman Ty Howle, tight end Brenton Strange, and safety Jaquan Brisker also chatted about the progress the team’s made so far in camp. I asked Howle if he’s had much of a chance to talk with fellow lettermen who are back with the team in coaching roles, and if so, if he’s noticed certain themes that bond lettermen from different generations.

“Absolutely,” said Howle, who mentioned a few times how much he’s thrilled to be back at his alma mater. You can watch Howle’s media availability below, also courtesy of Penn State Athletics, and my interaction with him begins shortly after the 6:00 mark.

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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

The Rose Brothers Lead the Line

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It’s Alumni Reunion Weekend here in Happy Valley, an annual chance for those of us at the Alumni Association to meet and hear stories from some of our most dedicated alums. Among this year’s returnees is Don Rose ’70, who’s in town from Lancaster with his wife, Sandra ’66.

We talked a bit of football with Don, who then pulled out this photo recently sent to him by his little brother, Steve ’74, ’82g, who would eventually follow Don to State College. That’s the sibling duo back in the fall of 1967, in their stances in front of the south end zone of Beaver Stadium. Don couldn’t remember who took the picture, or how exactly they got on the field, but the scoreboard gives a hint at the date: Sometime in mid-November, not long after the Nittany Lions upset third-ranked North Carolina State.

The stadium looks a bit different now, but for the record, Don’s still got a full head of hair.

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

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A Drone’s-Eye View of Beaver Stadium

By day, Jesse Brown is an IT consultant in Penn State’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations—one of the go-to guys on an incredibly helpful and friendly tech staff that we’re lucky to have. But by night (and on certain mornings and weekends), Brown is an amateur drone pilot who has compiled some very cool footage of Beaver Stadium, all controlled via an app on his iPad.

With the Nittany Lions’ home opener this Saturday, we recently caught up with Brown Continue reading