Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Report: Franklin told player not to speak with police

Report: Franklin told player not to speak with police

This story has been pretty troubling from the start, and if some of the allegations that were included in former Nittany Lions defensive back Isaiah Humphries’ lawsuit against Penn State and head coach James Franklin are true…well, it wouldn’t be a great look for the program.

ESPN reported on Friday a new round of allegations from Humphries from the suit filed earlier this year, including one in which he alleges Franklin urged him not to report a fight between Humphries and star linebacker Micah Parsons — in which Humphries told a school investigator he brandished a knife — because Parsons was “his (star) player and makes money.”

You can read the story here.

Franklin has denied Humphries’ allegations. In response to the report, Penn State’s department of intercollegiate athletics strongly backed the head coach, saying, “We believe the claims relating to Coach Franklin have no merit, and we will continue to defend him vigorously.”

In the suit, Humphries — who has since transferred to the University of California — alleges that he was sexually harassed in Penn State’s locker room, specifically mentioning Parsons and former Nittany Lions defensive linemen Yetur Gross-Matos and Damion Barber.

Penn State said it investigated the allegations thoroughly. Barber was suspended for the 2019 season opener for a violation of team rules and has since transferred to Austin Peay. The report includes findings from investigators indicating Penn State players offered accounts of the goings on in the locker room that varied significantly from Humphries’ version.

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna told ESPN his office “could not substantiate the serious allegations of sexual assault” but that the case is still open, adding “a matter like this doesn’t get closed.” He encouraged anyone with additional information to come forward.

The fight allegedly started, according to Humphries’s testimony to a school investigator, when Parsons poured water on his head while he slept in the academic center. Some of the water got on a laptop and phone, evidently angering Humphries enough to pour Gatorade on Parsons. A scuffle ensued, Parsons began choking Humphries, and Humphries pulled a pocket knife on Parsons.

 

Four more quarters, Penn State vs. Nebraska: The dawn of a new world?

Four more quarters, Penn State vs. Nebraska: The dawn of a new world?

Not even sure where to begin today, so let’s start where maybe we always should. With the obvious…

1.) Penn State, right now, feels a lot different than Penn State, last week.

OK, so we’re talking about an 0-4 team here, and that’s an absolute rarity for Penn State. Most fans have only ever experienced that once, back in 2001. And that team, if I recall correctly, wasn’t expected to be a contender in the Big Ten anyway. An 0-4 start in a season that had any kind of promise, at all, is absolutely a foreign feeling for Nittany Lions fans. And, judging by the reaction on social media, they aren’t handling it well.

Not sure I’d expect you to, and I’m sure you don’t want someone like me looking long-term when it’s so difficult to stomach the near-term. But, Penn State post-Nebraska kind of feels like it’s at a moment where it has taken a deep breath and do something it really needs to do right now.

Look to the future.

There are some incontrovertible facts around this team right now that I think a fan can look at and take the same kind of deep breath:

  • Their younger players are getting better.
  • The running backs, who really are a sophomore who didn’t play much last year and two true freshmen, looked pretty good against Nebraska. And, I think you can make the argument that they’ve all gotten better incrementally the last few weeks. Devyn Ford had some tough runs against Nebraska, churned out a few extra yards when he needed them. Caziah Holmes broke a really nice, long run. Keyvonne Lee looks like he’ll be a good compliment to both of them as a bruiser.
  • The receivers are keepers. I can’t believe someone in Texas didn’t work really hard to keep Parker Washington in state. He’s going to be a stud. KeAndre Lambert-Smith is clearly just scratching the surface. And Jahan Dotson is Jahan Dotson. I even think they’re getting a little more out of Daniel George. They’re one or two guys away from being outstanding here, moving forward.
  • I thought Brenton Strange played his best game at tight end.
  • Caedan Wallace looked really good at right tackle.

It’s difficult to look at 2021 right now. I get that. It seems like a cop out. And certainly, I don’t think this team can go 0-9 and get anything positive out of it moving into next year.

That said, they’re going to add Noah Cain back to that running back group. They’re going to lose WIll Fries and Michal Menet up front, but Juice Scruggs is getting plenty of playing time and has looked OK, so it’s almost certain Penn State will bring five experienced linemen back next year, with an actual full year with a very respected Phil Trautwein as their position coach. The tight ends, even if Pat Freiermuth leaves for the NFL as everyone expects, will still be plenty deep.

Nobody wants to hear excuses for what’s happening now. But this is a program that had two new position coaches and a new coordinator on offense in 2020. Everything was going to be kind of new anyway in a year when they didn’t have spring ball, didn’t have summer camps, didn’t even think it was going to play for a while and once it did get to play, didn’t have its best player — and, maybe, its second-best player after the first series of the first game.

There’s reason to think this is all going to be a lot better next fall, which is all a very crafty and creative way to bring up why these next five games are so important…

2.) Penn State has a long-term quarterback issue. And it needs to solve it.

This is why I bring up all that stuff earlier on about looking at the future and seeing the big picture, even when that feels like I’m copping out on talking about the struggles in the present term.

The rest of this season should solely be about figuring out who the quarterback is going forward. And, if he’s even on the roster.

Will Levis

Penn State quarterback Will Levis.

James Franklin and Sean Clifford have been fond of saying this year that “the ball is the program.” Honestly, the quarterback is the program. That’s everywhere. Look at all the programs right now who have a shot to be national champion. They all have a really good quarterback, be it Justin Fields or Mac Jones or Ian Book or Trevor Lawrence or Kyle Trask or even Zach Wilson or Michael Penix.

We’ve all seen the numbers. We’ve all seen the play. The turnovers have been a pattern, and frankly, he wasn’t making the positive steps forward that you’d expect of a kid settling into the position, into the offense. I mean, the last game you can honestly say that Clifford was really, really good all around was the Michigan State game last year where he threw four touchdown passes. He struggled with his accuracy and turnovers against Minnesota in Penn State’s next outing, was OK against Indiana, was injured against Ohio State, didn’t play against Rutgers, was only OK against Memphis with the running game saving the day…and then this year. That’s basically more than a year’s time and eight games in which he wasn’t better than OK, never mind dominant. Sure, he had his moments. But all in all, you need better consistency from the position, which is why he was on the bench 20 minutes into the Nebraska game and should have been there late against Maryland, too. It was time.

Of course, it’s time to give Will Levis a look. And trust me, I think the guy has every tool to be really good. Thought that about Tommy Stevens too, though, and Stevens never got to that really good level.

Frankly, Levis doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, for me. He did two things really well Saturday; one we’ll get to later, but the first is take care of the football. Penn State didn’t turn the ball over with Levis in the game and, lo and behold, outscored Nebraska 20-6.

The problem is, it should have been more lopsided. Penn State ran 20 plays inside the Nebraska red zone with Levis under center and gained just 28 yards (which isn’t counting the 15 yards CJ Thorpe cost them, which again, we’ll talk about later). That’s stunning, considering that Levis’ skill set indicates he should be a pretty good red zone weapon; remember, it looked in the Indiana game like they were planning to use him as such.

We now have three games where Levis has started or played extensive meaningful minutes — vs. Ohio State and Rutgers last year and Saturday against Nebraska. And his stat line in those games is concerning.

He has completed 28 of 56 passes for 357 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He has also been sacked nine times in what amounts to something like 8 1/2 to 9 quarters.

You know what taking too many sacks leads to? Ask Sean Clifford.

Granted, Levis’ rushing numbers are pretty good in those games. Like, 53 rushes for 230 yards. Take away sack yardage which is stupidly factored in there, and he’s moving the ball at a pretty good clip. There’s a benefit to that, of course (and, you know…we’ll discuss that later, too).

But, you’re not a running back. You’re the quarterback, and you have to be able to sling it. You have to make plays through the air, especially in this offense. And let’s face it, Kirk Ciarrocca’s history isn’t one where he relies on the quarterback to make a lot of plays with his legs, and he has hinted that he doesn’t prefer to call plays that can wear such a valuable player down or constantly expose him to injury.

Right now, as a passer — and we’ve seen a bit of him at this point — Levis is a 50 percent completion guy who is getting about 6.4 yards per attempt. Do those numbers improve with consistent practice reps with the first team? They better.

James Franklin’s stance on sticking with his starting quarterback is admirable, and anyone who has ever played the quarterback position sure will appreciate it. The backup is always better, the job always easier from the outside. But, that stance may have cost Penn State the Nebraska game, because there should have been a switch made in the second half of the Maryland game. It was obvious then.

Going forward, I think there should be a much more liberal use of the quarterbacks on the roster. The leash should be a lot shorter for Levis than it ever was for Clifford. If Levis can’t get it going in the red zone, or the offense starts to stagnate again, give Ta’Quan Roberson a few looks. There’s no harm at this point. Your 0-4, and your real goal at this point should be developing talent.

At the very least, Penn State needs to go into 2021 knowing what it has to do at quarterback — even if that means crossing your fingers on a prospect like Christian Veilleux and letting it ride with him right out of high school. And the only way to do that is to treat that position over these next five games like it’s up for grabs. Which, will be a first for Franklin, and probably more than a little bit uncomfortable.

Speaking of comfort…

3.) There’s no question who the defense wants under center.

Probably a good time to bring up something I noticed on the sidelines during the Maryland game.

I won’t say who the defensive player was, 1.) because I don’t know exactly what the conversation entailed, and 2.) it’s not fair in that regard to drag a player into a quasi-controversy if there isn’t one, but I noticed in the fourth quarter of that debacle that one of the defensive starters pulled Levis aside on the sideline and gave him a very stern and serious pep talk.

Maybe Levis saw Clifford going back in, in a game in which he was struggling and Penn State had no chance to win, and said something in frustration that the defensive player quickly corrected. Maybe, the conversation was, “Respect the coaches’ decisions.”

Jesse Luketa headshot

LB Jesse Luketa

But, my gut feeling was that it wasn’t that. It was more of a “Your time is coming. Be ready. Stay engaged.” look. Levis nodded his head. The defensive player patted him on the shoulder pad, and they watched the next offensive series together. (Clifford threw a pick.)

I tell you that to put these statistics from the Nebraska game in perspective:

  • With Clifford in the game, Penn State’s defense allowed 150 total yards, two touchdowns and 17 points on three drives.
  • With Levis in the game, Penn State’s defense allowed 168 total yards, no touchdowns and six points on eight drives.

Long-term, or even over the course of the next few weeks, I don’t know who Penn State’s quarterback is going to be. But I do have a strong suspicion the defense wants Levis under center, and has wanted him, for a few weeks now. That’s no knock on Clifford, at all. But I think they saw enough from him in practices to know that his attitude would give them some of that ever-undefinable “juice” that haven’t had all season.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s what Jayson Oweh said: “I love what he brings to the game. He’s a tough runner. He’s smart. He believes in himself. He gave us a spark when we needed it, because we knew that he was gonna give it all up on the offensive side, so we had to give it all out.”

Here’s what Jesse Luketa said: “His play did everything that we needed from an energy and juice standpoint. He was out there having fun. He was poised. He looked very comfortable and he did his job. Seeing him out there doing what I know he can do was exciting for me.”

Those comments are interesting. Those numbers are even more interesting. Maybe they’ll continue, and if they do, that brings up a whole lot of other questions. And maybe, they’ll even lead to some wins, even if…

4.) Winning isn’t all this fan base wants.

So, I got this email after the game. It’s from a reader I enjoy engaging with, someone who emails often. And, he does a good job making me think about things in ways I wouldn’t have before.

Whatever you think about the content of the email, OK…

But what I want to focus on is the subject of the email “This is where it all started!!!” and the photo that came attached to the email. Which was…

Turnover card

I’ve spoken to quite a few fans over the last few weeks who haven’t been able to let the Turnover Card go. It was a very early sign of something not quite right or the same with this team. Personally, I don’t disagree with them.

We see the turnover chains and the WWE championship belts all the time with other programs. I think the Wild Dogs deal was pretty cool last year, and they had the bone made for D-linemen who had a sack or a run stuff or whatever. That stuff is all in good fun, and most importantly, it’s not rubbing the other team’s face in a mistake. It’s celebrating what you did well, on your sideline.

I can do 5,000 words here — trust me, you don’t want me to — on why the turnover card was something completely different than that, and I have a feeling all of those reasons are why we haven’t seen the card since the opener. But we’ve seen the problem the card represents.

Did personal achievement get in the way of, or become more important than, winning at some point? There have been a lot of fingers pointed by veteran players this year toward nobody mentioned by name with accusations of not buying-in, not trusting the framework of the offense or defense, not being totally sold on what is going on. And I do think that, if Penn State had beaten Indiana and/or Nebraska, there are fans who would have the same concerns about this team as they do now.

CJ Thorpe’s 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting a player he had just pancake-blocked on a third-down play — which came just a few plays after Thorpe injured a prone Nebraska defensive lineman by diving into him, drawing harsh criticism from the FS1 announce team (former Ohio State running back Robert Smith called it “so dirty”) — was completely inexcusable, completely selfish. It put Jake Pinegar, who has been struggling badly this season, into a position where he had a 25-yard chip shot turned into a 40-yard field goal.

Franklin really defended the personal foul call on Brandon Smith earlier in the game, but I’m also sure he didn’t have as good a look at that as those watching on TV did. The whistle clearly blew, Smith finished off the tackle hard a few beats later anyway. That, to me, was a good flag. (There was a play later that Nebraska should have been called for the same thing and wasn’t, but that doesn’t change anything in regards to the Smith call.)

Smith, you can forgive. He’s a young guy trying hard to make something happen. What Thorpe did, I think, was embarrassing to Penn State fans who still kind of fancy themselves as the people who want to win and do it right all the same. Seen a lot of complaining about the post-play celebrations and the like this year. When you see a winless team acting that way, it doesn’t exactly alleviate concerns that there are cultural issues boiling below the surface within the program.

Tweet of the week

I’ve seen a few comments on this one, and I guess it’s a fair take. Will Franklin see this as an opportune time to leave Happy Valley for the sunny west coast and another big-time program? I doubt it. But, maybe. I don’t know. There are a lot of crazy things going on.

Here’s what I do know: Penn State fans shouldn’t be rooting for this. Franklin is a good coach who has taken this program to different heights. It really has been a top-10-caliber program since Marcus Allen blocked that field goal in 2016, this season aside. I think Franklin — who yes, has had some issues as a game manager — doesn’t get enough credit for that.

That said, fans have to remember this is an athletic department that is now hemorrhaging money. They’re losing tens of millions of dollars this year, maybe more. They have good but not great facilities they may not be able to replace in the near future for financial reasons. And, I’m not sure the next head coach at Penn State is going to be someone athletics is going to be willing to pay like it is paying Franklin. So, the guess here is the next guy would be a more stab-in-the-dark and hope-for-the-best than established, dynamic sideline boss.

But again, I don’t think Franklin is going anywhere, and he’ll be a somewhat expensive buyout for other programs in the midst of financial struggles of their own.

PSU-Maryland, Four More Quarters: A season lost?

PSU-Maryland, Four More Quarters: A season lost?

Three weeks ago, Penn State had national championship hopes. It’s not that way anymore. Now…

1.) It feels like the state of the program might be at stake the rest of the season.

Look, I’m not a guy who really buys into these dramatic statements about teams being at crossroads, or times of reckoning. I’ve just seen too many times over the years where those moments aren’t quite as significant in hindsight as they seem in the moment. I thought Penn State’s program was going to be buried for obvious reasons in the summer of 2012, after all. They made the right choices a few times and came out of it fine.

The sanctions were a crossroads of a different kind, of course. That one was about a punishment. This one, a direction. Where is Penn State going? What is this coaching staff representing? What is important to these players? Why has pressing forward after a rough start to the 2020 season been such a monumental task, and what does that say about what is in place?

Penn State embarrassed itself against Maryland. Sure, Maryland is a much improved team than the one Penn State saw — and beat by 59 points — last season. But unless Taulia Tagovailoa and Rakim Jarrett are worth 75 points, the swing is hard to explain outside of what Penn State players admitted after the game: They aren’t playing together, they’re distracted, and they don’t have their heads where they need them to be. And, all of that is very obvious.

As I wrote this week in my postgame column, losing games is the least of Penn State’s worries right now. If they can’t get the attitude fixed, they look like a team that can go a calendar year without winning a game. I don’t know how you go from “our goal is the national championship” to that in matter of weeks. It’s astonishing, and it’s one thing I figured this coaching staff would be able to safeguard against by getting that one-game-at-a-time buy-in that James Franklin always pushes.

But if they aren’t getting that, what are they getting? It’s really what they coached best. They’ve been able to pack up disappointment and, ultimately, move on. That’s not always easy. But it has to be easier than it has looked this year.

And let’s face it, whatever is going on here is having (or potentially will have) a negative affect on everything around this program moving forward. This is not the time to lose the faith of your most ardent supporters, because in many cases they’re also your most ardent financial donors. And this program’s struggles to round out the 2021 recruiting class the way it wants to are well-documented. It should not be lost on anyone that, during the game, a Pittsburgh-area star defensive back, Derrick Davis, committed to LSU. That’s a player Penn State felt like it had been in good standing with for a long, long time. One visit to Baton Rouge, when Ed Orgeron and his staff weren’t even there, changed everything.

Bottom line is, Penn State is losing a lot of recruits it should be getting, just like it is losing too many games it should be winning. Losses can sometimes be explained away easy enough, but this one just can’t. And to be clear…

2.) It’s everyone’s fault.

A good college friend of mine is working on a new Penn State blog, called For The Blogy. Check it out: They published a really strong opinion piece after the game.

One of the thoughts written there:

“It’s time to finally point a finger at Dwight Galt and Penn State’s Strength and Conditioning crew and wonder whether they’re getting the job done. This group has been untouchable since guys like Saquon Barkley, Troy Apke and Mike Gesicki tore up the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, but when your offensive line and defensive line both get outmuscled by Maryland, it’s look-in-the-mirror season. Ohio State and its gaggle of 5-stars is one thing, but Maryland should never punk Penn State in the trenches.”

I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, think Dwight Galt should be on the chopping block here. I don’t think anybody should. But this comment above does illustrate the point that nobody at Penn State should feel comfortable. An 0-3 start with losses to two teams who beat you a grand total of three times in decades upon decades worth of games is as bad as it gets.

Who is doing their job to expectation or better in this program right now? Honestly, I can think of just three men: receivers coach Taylor Stubblefied, and receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington. Everyone else is either slightly below the line he has set as the bar (a guy like Pat Freiermuth), or far below it (the O-line, the D-line, Sean Clifford…and the list goes on).

But the trenches are where Penn State’s failures have been mystifying. How are they so bad there? They have five guys who’ve played a lot of football — and some of it has been really good football — over the years. To get bullied by Maryland…

Understand, Maryland had just one quarterback sack in their first two games against Northwestern and Minnesota. The Terrapins had seven — SEVEN! — against Penn State. Let’s look at it a more statistically advanced way:

  • They sacked the Wildcats and Gophers on about 2.2 percent of their dropbacks. They sacked Clifford on 10.9 percent.
  • They allowed 5.7 yards per rush on 103 carries in those first two games. They stuffed Penn State to the tune of 2.6 yards per rush. Take away the yardage lost on sacks, and it’s 5.2 yards per carry, but most of that is Clifford just taking off for what he could get when the protection broke down. Running backs gained 68 yards on 19 carries.
  • Penn State’s starting defensive line is simply not getting to the quarterback. The group had just one quarterback hurry (PJ Mustipher). All the sacks up front went to Shane Simmons (1.5) and Judge Culpepper (0.5).

Which begs another question…

3.) Why did Penn State waste the opportunity to give more playing time to some backups?

Everyone is focused on Clifford, and we’ll get to him in a second. But most of the questions after the game to Franklin centered on why he wasn’t benched in favor of backup Will Levis.

Sean Clifford looks downfield

Sean Clifford’s play has led to questions about his future as the starter. (AP Photo/Chris Knight, File)

Franklin’s response to that question, I thought, was interesting, given his responses to some other questions.

On sticking with Clifford…

“For me with starting quarterbacks, you want to do everything you possibly can to give him a chance to be successful and rally the team. The guy is in that position for a reason. In the second half, we still felt like we had an opportunity to go out and get this thing swung in another direction. At the time, we thought that was the right decision.”

On shuffling along the offensive line…

“Just trying to see if we can find the right five.”

I look at as, Clifford is struggling because the offensive line isn’t protecting him. And, I think that’s a fair assessment from Franklin (I tweeted that during the game, and got some blowback for it, but you have to be comfortable at the quarterback position and the offensive line isn’t making Clifford comfortable.)

But, I don’t agree that they had a chance to swing the game in the other direction. Once Chance Campbell returned the fumble at the beginning of the second half and it was 35-7, it was over. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought that in other years when it came to this series, but it was this time. Maryland was hitting on all cylinders, and Penn State couldn’t get anything tangible to go right. Maryland looked like the far more talented roster. Maryland was going to win.

The bottom line is, Penn State did get some backups into the game, just not enough. Caziah Holmes played more in the second half than Devyn Ford, but Keyvone Lee still has to get more reps. The linebackers were cycled through, and some different corners got in.

My issue with not playing Levis: There was an opportunity to get Clifford out of the game on a higher note, when the game was clearly out of reach. They were down 22 with 10:16 left after Clifford hit Washington for a 23-yard touchdown. They weren’t coming back, Clifford wasn’t going to make a better throw than that, and Levis was going to get a meaningful drive or two with the time remaining.

After that point, Clifford went 2 for 6 for 15 yards and two interceptions on his next two drives. He finished strong — 5 for 5, 59 yards and a 1-yard touchdown pass to Washington — on the final drive, but Maryland’s defense was giving Penn State a lot of cushion, because the game was over.

Those three drives were a good opportunity to get Levis some action against a defense not pinning its ears back to come get him. What does that prove? I don’t know. But I can’t see the coaches allowing Clifford to play the way he has much moving forward. Especially when you’re looking for the right combinations everywhere else. I expected a big step forward for him against Maryland, and really, it was his worst performance of the season, which leaves everyone wondering…

4.) Can Penn State redeem itself.

I’ll make this section short and sweet.

I’ll be really impressed with this group if it can finish 6-3. Maybe, more impressed than I would have been if they had just beaten Maryland like they always do and went on to finish 7-2.

Because at this point, finishing 6-3 is going to take more than just the talent Penn State thought would take it all the way this year. It’s going to take a lot of self-analysis. It’s going to take a desire for some players who really could consider packing it in for personal gain to demand something more for the sake of the program. It’s going to take mental toughness. It’s going to take humility.

Can they do it? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s in this team’s DNA right now, but for the sake of the program, it better be. Because to me, it all comes back to that first point I wrote about above, the idea that something here isn’t right, that the whole program seems to be at a point where something has to give.

Tweet of the week

Now, I don’t know how old Jeff is, but this got me thinking…

I’ve been covering Penn State football full-time since the start of the 2004 season. I can’t think of a worse loss that I’ve covered. I mean, they’ve lost by more points. And, they’ve lost in more heartbreaking fashion. But to be a 20-something-point favorite to a team you’ve outscored by 150-plus points the last three seasons and to lose by 16? And never really be in the game?

I can’t think of any college football game I’ve ever covered that was like it.

Interested to hear what fans think. Was Toledo worse?

 

PSU-Ohio State, Four more quarters: Taking stock of a beatdown

PSU-Ohio State, Four more quarters: Taking stock of a beatdown

At the end of the night, Penn State was 0-2. Its dream of winning the Big Ten East is pretty much over. They’re looking at a furious push to the finish just to get a game against the second-place team from the West Division during Champions Week now. But…

1.) They did show some good things against Ohio State.

Jahan Dotson runs in the open field

Penn State’s Jahan Dotson is off to a fast start in 2020. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Just for the record, I’m not going to go nuts here and say “Yippee! Penn State outscored Ohio State 25-24 over the last 53:39 of the game!” I just don’t think that’s all that big a deal, really. When you grab the game of the year by the throat three plays in, and you have a 14-0 lead before the buffalo chicken dip is served, you can play the game how you want to play it. Ohio State never ran away and hid, for sure. But when the closest a team gets to you the entire night is eight points, you’ve dominated that game. Penn State never got the combination of offensive plays and series of stops on defense that put a whole lot of pressure on the Buckeyes.

That said, if you’re looking at this game strictly as a building block for the rest of the season, Penn State did some things that fans should be excited about.

  • The receivers looked pretty good, even beyond Jahan Dotson. I thought it was really interesting that, when they made their halftime adjustments with the offense, that Parker Washington was so heavily involved in those. For a kid who is just a freshman, the staff has a lot of trust; you can treat him like a veteran. I thought KeAndre Lambert-Smith worked himself open quite a bit in big spots, too. Those two were targeted seven times and caught six passes. Cam Sullivan-Brown didn’t play for the second straight week, and I didn’t see Daniel George on the field in the second half. I imagine going forward, it’s going to be Washington and Lambert-Smith who are getting the bulk of the playing time together along with Dotson.
  • I have to apologize do Dotson, because I scoffed when coaches and players talked about him being a No. 1 caliber receiver heading into the season. I didn’t think he had the size to win one-on-ones or the speed to get past top-flight corners — and that’s what you have to have to be a clear No. 1. And, he has shown me the first two weeks. He’s obviously really, really good, and he didn’t need two one-handed catches on back-to-back plays to show that. He has been an open and available option consistently for quarterback Sean Clifford. By season’s end, I bet he’ll be one of the top 5 or 6 receivers, statistically, in the Big Ten.
  • Kind of the same deal with Jesse Luketa. Thought he was a solid contributor, but is he an impact player? He had a great second half though. There’s a big difference in the defense when he’s out there.
  • I was beginning to really wonder about Brandon Smith in the first half. I get six quarters is very early to judge a player, and I get he’s still very young. But you look all around college football and see five-star prospects coming in even as true freshmen and making big-time impacts, and here’s a guy with a year in the program who just wasn’t doing much of anything with his chances. Missing tackles. Wasn’t great in pass coverage. But he made a really good, open-field stop on Trey Sermon on a screen pass late in the first half for his first tackle, and I thought he was really quite good after that. Five tackles in a game for a starting linebacker isn’t going to turn many heads, but I think he might be just getting started.

But hey, I don’t think any of those players were expected to carry the team against a squad as good as what Ohio State has. Moving forward, it’s pretty clear that…

2.) Penn State needs more from its elite talent.

I almost put the word elite in quotation marks in the sentence above, but I hardly think that’s fair. This has been a crazy year. These are young men who thought their season might not happen at one point. They’re just settling in. I think there’s plenty of evidence things will get a lot better for Penn State.

But Penn State, to save this season, is going to need more than it’s getting from the players it was relying on to lead the way. I wrote a column that kind of gets into this whole point, but I’ll skim through it some more here.

What was Penn State coming into this season? A team that lost its best player (Micah Parson), a team that lost its best running back (Journey Brown) and subsequently its next-best running back (Noah Cain), a team that had plenty of question marks at wide receiver and in the secondary.

But it was also a team that had an elite tight end, and supreme talent at the defensive end spot, and a veteran offensive line that everyone thought would be one of the better groups in the Big Ten.

And there has been no running room behind that offensive line, which did not hold up well against Ohio State. There was no pressure on Justin Fields, and outside of those two Shaka Toney sacks at the end of the Indiana game, the ends have not been able to drop two opposing quarterbacks when it mattered that they did so. And the tight ends haven’t been as positive a factor in the run game or in pass protection this year as they have been in the past.

Bottom line is, Antonio Shelton and Joey Porter Jr. both have more sacks than Jayson Oweh. Pat Freiermuth has been more of a possession receiver. And the offensive line has gotten no push — which is expected against Ohio State, but was also evident against Indiana.

They simply need more from Freiermuth and Oweh and Michal Menet and CJ Thorpe and Will Fries. We talk ad nauseum about how much talent Ohio State has. But these are four- and five-star guys we’re talking about with Penn State who simply aren’t getting the job done at the level required to beat the Buckeyes.

And yes, I know that one player noticeably absent from that list of “have to do betters” is obviously…

3.) Sean Clifford, who hasn’t been as bad as people think.

Here’s how I put it to a friend of mine who is a big Penn State fan and thinks this entire operation needs to be taken down and rebuilt: I don’t think Ohio State can do much better at quarterback than Justin Fields, but I certainly think Penn State can do a lot worse than Sean Clifford.

Sean Clifford running

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford carries the ball during Saturday’s Big Ten clash against Ohio State at Beaver Stadium. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Look, he threw for 252 yards in the second half. Against Ohio State. And sure, in the first half he threw for 29. But I really do think a lot of that was a really bad gameplan. He was asked to carry the running game on designed runs, which is just not what he does best; He is a decent runner, but mostly when plays break down and he escapes the pocket.

But I think there’s a misconception out there that he’s consistently ignoring open receivers and electing to run, which is a joke.

Playing the quarterback position is difficult. You have a lot of things to consider, and everybody in the stadium pretty much as a better view of how plays develop than you do. There was one play I recall from Saturday where I watched Clifford exclusively. he stood in the pocket and surveyed his first option, which was to his left. He was looking upfield, waiting for a route to develop and, really, to see which of two receivers in the area the deep safety wanted to shadow. Problem was, that’s a throw that takes a long, long time to develop, and Clifford’s front five was getting brutalized. When you have Tommy Togiai and Jonathan Cooper on you by ttwo or three Mississippi, it’s not like those routes give you a lot of time to give up and look elsewhere.

I tweeted that Clifford had no time and nobody open. Somebody else pointed out, basically, “Hey, Parker Washington was open across the middle!” Sure, he dragged from the right flank over the middle. He was the third, maybe fourth, man in the progression. But you have to have time to go through the progression. Clifford did not. So it doesn’t matter if Randy Moss in his prime was coming over the middle uncovered from the right if the quarterback’s first read is deep left and he’s under intense pressure.

Anybody who has ever played quarterback, at any level, knows you’re going to miss open receivers if you’re forced to get away from a rush like that all the time, that your ability to see the entire field is directly proportional to the type of successful pressures the opponent is getting. Once the staff realized the best plan of attack was to get rid of the ball quickly — and adjusted with quicker routes — things changed in the second half for Clifford.

If there’s even one open receiver on a route and your view is that a quarterback has to get to that guy in however many seconds that takes, fine. But that’s not always realistic. That’s not how it goes. There’s way more to the position than looking at the replay and saying, “He could have done this. He could have done that. He should have thrown there.” Defenses give you something to take something all the time, especially the good ones. The key is to give you something that you’re not immediately looking to take.

I’ll say this again: If the Nittany Lions beat Indiana, they’d have done so because of how Clifford played after the first quarter. And they certainly didn’t lose to Ohio State because of how Clifford played.

But, none of that mattered in the end because…

4.) Ohio State has first-round skill, all-around.

I get it: Recruit better. Get better players. Then you’ll compete better with Ohio State.

But, I don’t know if you can actually, realistically, get better players than Ohio State has right now.

I can see Chris Olave going in the first round of an NFL Draft. I can easily see Garrett Wilson going in the first round. I can see Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford going in the first round, too.

And I’ll tell you what: If I’m the New York Jets, I’m taking a good, long look at Justin Fields as the No. 1 overall pick next year, even if Trevor Lawrence winds up begging me to take him. The 49-yard touchdown pass to Olave that broke the game open in the third quarter…yeah, I know Olave had a step on Marquis Wilson, but that was as good a throw as you’ll ever see. Then, Fields made a better one just before Shaka Toney blasted him later. He is so dangerous on the run, but I’d almost rather him run than let him stand in the pocket and throw pea after pea downfield, right on the money, every time.

I just think he’s generational. And Penn State was super close to getting him. I know the two games where close counts, for sure. But if the goal is, “get a better quarterback than Justin Fields…” I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen. And I’m not talking about Penn State on that one. That goes for the Buckeyes too.

Tweet of the week

Chose this one for two reasons: One, coaches see things earlier than anybody else does, and these types of discussions go on behind closed doors with every coach, in every sport. I think most of us — again, I know I did — saw Dotson as more of a slot guy. These first two games showed the Nittany Lions coaches were right about the kid.

And two, David Corley is a class guy. His time at Penn State ended quick and a lot of fans were happy to see the team make a change there. But that’s what a coach does; he changes jobs, he changes players, but that bond never breaks. I’m sure of all the compliments Dotson has gotten since Saturday, this one is among the most meaningful.

 

The Ohio State file: What the Buckeyes bring

The Ohio State file: What the Buckeyes bring

Penn State will try to turn its 2020 season around tonight against No. 3 Ohio State, one of the most talented teams in the nation. Here’s a look at head coach Ryan Day’s club, and what the Nittany Lions will be dealing with on the field in prime time.

THE OFFENSE

Quarterbacks
1 Justin Fields (6-3, 228, Jr)
9 Jack Miller III (6-3, 215, Fr)

Let’s start this breakdown with a thorough look at Jack Miller…

Justin Fields

Ohio State QB Justin Fields

Just kidding. If Miller plays, it means Justin Fields had another game like he did last week, or another one like so many he had during an absolutely dominant 2019 season. There’s a reason Penn State still rues the day Fields broke a verbal commitment to the program to accept an opportunity from home-state Georgia. Fields is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. Last week, he was Ohio State’s leading rusher, going for 54 yards on 15 carries against Nebraska. And, honestly, the Cornhuskers likely wish he ran a whole lot more.

Fields threw 21 passes last week and completed all but one, for 276 yards and two scores. He had an almost-impossible performance throwing the ball. And, he’s not just completing checkdowns. His accuracy on deep throws is stunning, and flushing him from the pocket doesn’t help much, because he has elite arm strength and can spin the ball accurately, on the move, into tight areas. He makes great receivers look invincible.

The guy’s touchdown-to-interception ratio at Ohio State is 43-to-3. Penn State likely has to find a way to win while Fields is picking them apart. It’s no easy task.

Running backs
33 Master Teague (5-11, 225, So)
8 Trey Sermon (6-1, 215, Sr)
22 Steele Chambers (6-1, 220, Fr)

Ohio State RB Master Teague

Ohio State RB Master Teague

Good news for Penn State here is that they at least don’t have to deal with JK Dobbins anymore (he ran for 157 yards on 36 carries against the Nittany Lions last year in Columbus and had long been a thorn in Penn State’s side).

But, what Ohio State has this year is plenty good enough to get by in the running game. Master Teague is physical and can break the big run, even though he’s coming off a so-so performance against the Cornhuskers; he scored two touchdowns, but he ran for just 41 yards on 12 carries. Trey Sermon is a grad transfer from Oklahoma who scored 25 touchdowns with the Sooners and brings the Buckeyes a back with experience playing in the College Football Playoff.

Chambers might be a wild-card here. He gained 32 yards on 8 carries against the Cornhuskers and is an absolute bruiser.

“Everybody has a different running style,” Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith said. “Teague can get up and go. He can run very well, and he’s still a bigger body, so he can lower his shoulder when he needs to. For the most part, every running back on this level can do a little bit of both at a very exceptional rate. For us, we’ve just got to take them like we’re going against Alvin Kamara every single time, so you don’t really sleep on anybody at all.”

Receivers
2 Chris Olave (6-1, 188, Jr)
5 Garrett Wilson (6-0, 193, So)
11 Jaxon Smith-Njigba (6-0, 196, Fr)
4 Julian Fleming (6-2, 200, Fr)
6 Jameson Williams (6-2, 188, So)
3 Demario McCall (5-9, 195, Sr)

Tight ends
89 Luke Farrell (6-6, 258, Sr)
88 Jeremy Ruckert (6-5, 253, Jr)
81 Jake Hausmann (6-4, 255, Sr)

Ohio State WR Chris Olave

Ohio State WR Chris Olave

The bad news for Ohio State is that Chris Olave took a fairly vicious hit to the head against Nebraska, and his status for tonight’s game was uncertain for most of the week. However, it’s looking like he’ll be able to give it a go.

The good news for Ohio State is that even if Olave — one of the nation’s best receivers and a potential first-round pick next year — is out, they have an embarrassing amount of talent behind him. Garrett Wilson was one of the best receiver prospects ever — yes, ever — coming out of high school. He had 7 catches for 129 yards last week and is a bona fide big-play threat. Jameson Williams is a speedster who had just one catch in the opener but is a player defenses have to watch. Demario McCall is a seasoned senior who really hasn’t been able crack the rotation.

The players to watch here are the two true freshmen.

Everyone around here knows Julian Fleming, the former Southern Columbia standout who gave District 2 teams fits for years. But the Buckeyes also love Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a sure-handed, strong route runner who plays like a senior. He’s an elite talent and his brother, Canaan Smith, was the Yankees’ fourth-round pick in the 2017 amateur draft and could someday be a RailRider. He was an .871 OPS guy with 11 homers, 74 RBIs and 16 steals at low-A Charleston in 2019 and could make a push to Double-A depending on how the Yankees handle the loss of last minor league season.

Offensive line

Tackles
75 Thayer Munford (6-6, 315, Sr)
78 Nicholas Petit-Frere (6-5, 310, So)
79 Dawand Jones (6-8, 360, So)
77 Paris Johnson Jr. (6-6, 305, Fr)

Guards
76 Harry Miller (6-4,315, So)
52 Wyatt Davis (6-4, 315, Jr)
66 Enokk Vimahi (6-4, 305, Fr)
55 Matthew Jones (6-4, 310, So)

Centers
71 Josh Myers (6-5, 312, Jr)
53 Luke Wypler (6-3, 295, Fr)

It’s somewhat startling how young the Buckeyes are up front, depth-wise. Granted, they’re probably four- or five-star high school recruits waiting to step in, and some of them are going to go to the NFL down the road. But, hey, experience is experience.

Ohio State C Josh Myers

Ohio State C Josh Myers

That said, the Buckeyes have experience at all three spots.

Josh Myers is a talented center who anchored the line in 2019 and was a standout. He may also not be the best interior lineman in this group, because RG Wyatt Davis is so good. He has been a contributor since the start of the 2018 season, and he has started 17 straight. He’s a force in the run game.

The top NFL prospect in the group is likely Thayer Munford, the left tackle who has started 27 straight games and has some of the best feet in the country. Penn State ends have had more success against him than other teams, but he has certainly won his share of the battles.

Left guard Harry Miller and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere are new starters, but they were among the most-gifted prospects in the nation at their positions coming out of high school. That’s what the Buckeyes do, really. They replace really good starters with really good prosepcts.

THE DEFENSE

Defensive line

Ends
0 Jonathan Cooper (6-4, 257, Sr)
11 Tyreke Smith (6-4, 267, Jr)
54 Tyler Friday (6-3, 265, Jr)
9 Zach Harrison (6-6, 265, So)
8 Javonte Jean-Baptiste (6-5, 250, So)
59 Darrion Henry-Young (6-4, 275, Fr)

Tackles
72 Tommy Togiai (6-2, 300, Jr)
52 Antwuan Jackson (6-2, 295, Sr)
55 Jerron Cage (6-2, 299, Jr)
92 Haskell Garrett (6-2, 299, Sr)

Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett

Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett

A lot of guys who have been waiting their turn are finally getting chances in the trenches for the Buckeyes defense this season.

Tommy Togiai is a tremendous run-stuffer who has been one of this team’s top options off the bench for years, while Antwuan Jackson is a former JUCO standout who, like Togiai, was a valuable rotation piece last season before jumping into the starting lineup. The most impressive player in this group against Nebraska was the senior Haskell Garrett, who had two tackles and a sack and should have required a double-team in relief of Jackson.

Penn State will be familiar with the ends. Jonathan Cooper and Tyreke Smith have played a lot of snaps over the years, and they’re productive. Seems like the Buckeyes have been waiting for Smith to take over as the next dominant end the program has produced, but he didn’t start last week and only played in rotation with Cooper. The best of this group might have been, like Smith, a one-time prime Penn State recruiting target: Zack Harrison, who registered a sack.

Linebackers
5 Baron Browning (6-3, 240, Sr)
32 Tuf Borland (6-1, 234, Sr)
20 Pete Werner (6-3, 242, Sr)
19 Dallas Gant (6-3, 232, Jr)
3 Teradja Mitchell (6-2, 240, Jr)
47 Justin Hilliard (6-1, 231, Sr)
15 Craig Young (6-3, 228, So)

Ohio State LB Tuf Borland

Ohio State OLB Tuf Borland

So, Ohio State might not be as dynamic up front on defense as it was in years past when it had Chase Young and the Bosa brothers. But a linebacking corps this deep and this experienced makes up for a lot of that.

As usual, Baron Browning and Tuf Borland get most of the playing time at the outside linebacker spots around middle linebacker Pete Werner. Combined, they had 17 of the 57 tackles the Ohio State defense made against Nebraska last week. They’re smart. They’re strong. They’re tough. And they’re super productive.

Justin Hilliard had a big interception against Penn State last season and, although he missed last week’s game with an injury (he did suit up, however), will be a factor if he can play this week. If it seems like Dallas Gant and Teradja Mitchell have been contributors for a while, it’s because they’ve been dominant special teams players for the Buckeyes. Both are former high school All-Americans, and they’re now the top backups to Borland and Werner, respectively.

Secondary

Cornerbacks
24 Shaun Wade (6-1, 195, Sr)
7 Sevyn Banks (6-1, 200, Jr)
13 Tyreke Johnson (6-1, 195, So)
26 Cameron Brown (6-0, 192, Jr)

Safeties
23 Marcus Hooker (5-11, 200, So)
21 Marcus Williamson (5-10, 186, Sr)
41 Josh Proctor (6-2, 202, Jr)
14 Ronnie Hickman (6-1, 205, Fr)

Ohio State CB Shaun Wade

Ohio State CB Shaun Wade

Wade opting back into the program made Ohio State the favorite in the Big Ten East division by a wide margin, and while he’s going to be a sure-fire first-round draft pick in 2021, he’s surrounded by some players who will someday join him. Sevyn Banks had a fumble return for a score against Nebraska, and he’s a fairly dynamic cover guy in his own right. The Buckeyes also have a pair of safeties, senior Marcus Williamson and freshman Ronnie Hickman, who are so good in coverage they can — and do — play the slot cornerback role.

Marcus Hooker is the younger brother of former Buckeyes great and first-round draft pick Malik Hooker, and they’re similarly aggressive from that deep safety spot. He’s not afraid to get himself involved in the running game either when the the time comes.

Nebraska quarterbacks threw for just 160 yards last week, but it’s difficult to judge this group off that, because the passing game is obviously not the Cornhuskers’ forte. But, Penn State is at least going to try to test them more in the passing game. They’ll have to do better than the 188 yards they piled up through the air last season.

THE SPECIALISTS

Kicker
95 Blake Haubeil

Punter
91 Drue Chrisman

Snapper
42 Bradley Robinson

Kick returner
3 Demario McCall

Punt returner
5 Garrett Wilson
3 Demario McCall

Penn State coach James Franklin said earlier this week that Ohio State doesn’t take many chances on special teams, and that’s true in the sense that it doesn’t have to take any. But, rest assured, Wilson can hurt Penn State in the punt return game. Given that Penn State kicker Jordan Stout is one of the best in the nation at getting touchbacks out of his kickoffs, the kick returner never seems to be a huge factor against Penn State, as solid as McCall is.

As if Ohio State didn’t have enough explosive talent on offense and defense, it also has Drue Chrisman, who is one of the best punters in the nation and really helps the Buckeyes control the field position game. He had two punts last week — a 52-yarder and a 46 — and he pinned Nebraska deep once. He’s really not a fair weapon for a team this good to have.

Haubeil is solid. He doesn’t have a booming leg, so Penn State is going to get some chances to return kickoffs. But he’s going to make all the makeable field goals, and he has actually made one from 55. So, if given the opportunity, he is a threat from distance.

 

Week 2 Big Ten football picks

Week 2 Big Ten football picks

Times Shamrock Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins will make his picks for every game in the Big Ten this season, plus a few with local interest and his wife’s hometown team, Fresno State, starting this weekend. Plus, he’ll provide his Lock of The Week for a game outside the conference, as well.

Season record: 0-0 overall, 0-0 ATS

Take them to the bank…(OK, maybe don’t do that. I don’t even do that.)

Minnesota (-17.5) at Maryland
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
ESPN

maryland logoI thought Northwestern would be much better this season than it was in 2019, so it was not a surprise to see them handle the Terps in Week 1. But I wasn’t convinced they’d handle Maryland so easily. Minnesota had a rough start defensively against Michigan and wound up losing a shootout, but it’s clear to see the Gophers have offensive weapons, especially in QB Tanner Morgan, RB Mohamed Ibrahim and WR Rashod Bateman. Maryland allowed 537 yards of total offense — again, to Northwestern — and arguably was even worse on offense. Taulia Tagovailoa had perhaps the worst outing of any player in Power 5 football last weekend, throwing three interceptions and finishing with a 28.2 QBR and getting benched in favor of Lance LeGendre. Tagovailoas don’t get benched for backups. They bench starters. I’ve always said that.

Pick: Minnesota, 48-14

Purdue (-5) at Illinois
Saturday, Noon
Big Ten Network

(Author’s note: I’m including the game times and television networks above so you can make sure to carve out some time in your day to watch a titanic tilt like this one. It’s a public service, really.)

Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith makes me feel good. Makes me feel happy. I just trust the man.

OK, so this is the week where we all annually overrate Purdue. And, I do get why we do this. We live in a fantasy football world, and the numbers matter, and we can identify with a quarterback that throws for 282 and three touchdowns like walk-on Aidan O’Connell did for the Boilermakers. And we all get super excited when a receiver like David Bell grabs 13 passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns because, oh my God, that’s, like 40-some points in fantasy league. This is a good offense, for sure. And the Boilers are coming off a big win against Iowa, and Illinois is coming off a lopsided loss to Wisconsin, and I know this seems like a sure bet Purdue’s way. I just see this as being closer than you think, though. I thought coming into the season Illinois had a chance to be OK, especially on offense. But it drew a Badgers team that had a lot to play for, while Purdue got an Iowa team that had a really difficult offseason. Gut feeling is, at home, Illinois responds and plays well. Purdue wins, but Illinois beats the 5.

Pick: Purdue, 27-24

 

Michigan State at Michigan (-23.5)
Saturday, Noon
FOX

Poor FOX. They pick this as their game of the week, thinking for sure that they’re going to get a key early-season battle in the Big Ten East, maybe a battle of unbeatens if the Wolverines get by Goldy in primetime. And here, you get Michigan pummeling Minnesota just hours after Sparty turns the ball over seven times and loses to Rutgers. To. Rutgers.

michigan logo2020, baby.

OK, repeat after me: “Michigan State is better than Rutgers. Michigan State is better than Rutgers. Michigan State is better than Rutgers.”

I really do believe that. But I also believe it’s not saying much. That’s a lot of points to give Michigan State in a rivalry game which it is playing to avoid complete embarrassment. I think Sparty plays hard, but you need to run the ball to beat Michigan, and Michigan State couldn’t move it an inch last week against Rutgers. I think Michigan wins, does so convincingly, and does so physically. Not sure that results in a cover, though.

PICK: Michigan, 38-17

Northwestern at Iowa (-3.5)
3:30 p.m., Saturday
ESPN

iowa logoAs I said earlier, I thought Northwestern would be better this season. He took his lumps during his 15 seasons at Indiana, but Peyton Ramsey does some good things at quarterback. He gets rid of the ball quickly. He forgets mistakes. And he has seen everything the Big Ten can throw at you. (I believe he was a favorite of Fielding Yost for that reason.)

Meanwhile, Iowa is interesting. It lost to Purdue, and ordinarily, I’d think this was a program that had a really good shot to rebound immediately. But are these guys going to play hard for a coaching staff that had the issues it did during the offseason? I’m just not sure. Iowa is breaking in a new quarterback, Spencer Petras, and he didn’t get much of anything out of the Hawkeyes’ two best offensive players, receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, last week. Gut feeling on this game is that Iowa is entering a tailspin, and the Wildcats have just enough going on offense to exacerbate it.

PICK: Northwestern, 24-17

Indiana (-13) at Rutgers
3:30 p.m., Saturday
Big Ten Network

Greg Schiano hugging an assistant

Oh, to know what’s going on behind that mask. But please leave it on, Greg. For all of us.

The only game between 1-0 teams in the Big Ten this week is being played between Indiana and Rutgers.

Now we’ve gone and done it, America.

I think this is the most intriguing game in the conference this week (and yes, I know what I just said). I think Indiana is a very good team that put together one drive against Penn State last week and got very fortunate a replay review was interpreted the way it was (i.e., incorrectly). Rutgers, meanwhile, at the very least showed what good coaching can do. There aren’t many around the nation who thought the Scarlet Knights would compete at Michigan State, never mind win. They simply didn’t look like the same old Knights, though, and you have to give Greg Schiano credit for that. (Luckily for the Knights, Tennessee went out and found someone better two years ago.)

Just don’t know what to make of either team here. But my guess is Rutgers is slightly improved but not miraculously better, and that we’re all underrating Penn State quite a bit because of the result last week. Indiana plays close games at Rutgers (won by a TD in ’18 and by 5 points in ’16). Wouldn’t touch this game at the casino, but for entertainment purposes only…

PICK: Indiana, 35-21

Ohio State (-5.5) at Penn State
7:30 p.m., Saturday
ABC

ohio state logoMaybe this is the baseball side of me coming out, but if you look strictly at the stats from last week’s game against Indiana, it’s difficult to see how Penn State possibly lost. The Nittany Lions outgained the Hoosiers, 488 yards to 211. They held them to 1.6 yards per rush and less than 200 yards passing. Time of possession was 40:25 to 19:35 in Penn State’s favor. The Lions lost the turnover battle, and lost 100 yards in penalties. But, still, you wouldn’t necessarily think that all added up to a loss. But as quarterback Sean Clifford said this week, it wasn’t the turnovers; it was where they happened (two picks in Penn State territory, and a fumble inside the Indiana 5).It wasn’t the penalties; it was when they happened (two key calls give Indiana 20 yards on its game-tying drive in the fourth quarter).

Can you clean all that up and beat Ohio State? Sure. And, I think the Nittany Lions will be motivated and ready and play a lot cleaner than they did a week ago.

Can you clean all that up and still lose to Ohio State? Yep. That too.

This is such a good offensive team that the only way you can picture anyone in the conference beating them is to score 35-40 points. And, I just don’t see Penn State doing that. Maybe with Noah Cain. Definitely with Journey Brown. But Devyn Ford has to prove he can be explosive in the run game, and I don’t know if there’s a receiver who is going to be a consistent big play threat for Penn State. This game will be really close, for sure. But it’s going to make Penn State rue that Indiana loss even more.

PICK: Ohio State, 31-30

OUTSIDE-THE-CONFERENCE LOCK OF THE WEEK

Memphis at Cincinnati (-6)
Noon, Saturday
ESPN

It’s a weird season, for sure. But Cincinnati is ranked No. 7 in the nation and has beaten two ranked teams in four games, including a convincing 42-13 thumping of then No. 16 SMU. This is a year where I just can’t bring myself to take the rankings all that seriously. We have teams that haven’t played ranked in the top 15. We’re just guessing right now, pretty much, and at least it’s out of necessity (not like the just-guessing preseason poll the media and coaches insist on throwing out there every August).

Memphis lost a tight game at SMU in September earlier this month, but that was after a long layoff for the Tigers. This is still a very, very good offensive team led by quarterback Brady White, who has a lot of weapons. Cincy is favored essentially by a touchdown, but I can see them needing to fight this one out late. Just have a gut feeling Memphis is better.

PICK: Memphis, 42-38

GAMES OF LOCAL INTEREST

Game

Line

Pick

Notre Dame at Georgia Tech

ND (-20)

Irish, 44-14*

Wake Forest at Syracuse

WF (-11)

Deacons, 31-14

Temple at Tulane

TUL (-4)

Temple, 28-24

Kansas State at West Virginia

WVU (-3.5)

WVU, 35-34

Colorado State at Fresno State

CSU (-2)

CSU, 31-21

*This is for the Notre Dame fan who e-mailed Sunday to let me know Valley View and Scranton Prep could beat Indiana. Go Irish!

PSU-Indiana, Four More Quarters: What? Was? That?

PSU-Indiana, Four More Quarters: What? Was? That?

 

Look, there’s a ton to unpack after that long, arduous trip to Bloomington for Penn State over the weekend, and we’ll get to a lot of it here. But let’s start with the obvious…

1.) Penn State has absolutely backed itself into a corner.

It’s now really simple for a Nittany Lions team that talked the talk coming into the 2020 season. You either beat Ohio State on Saturday, or your season is an utter disappointment.

read more…

Week 2 Big Ten football picks

Big Ten announces protocols for cancelled games

So, here’s the stuff nobody wants to consider…

Tonight, the Big Ten football season finally kicks off, with Illinois taking on No. 14 Wisconsin. On Saturday, Penn State will open its season at Indiana. There are seven games scheduled this weekend, seven the next, seven the one after that, and seven all through Dec. 19. And the operative word in that sentence is scheduled.

We’re living in a time of pandemic, fighting hard now against the coronavirus that has killed too many and sickened millions. College football players and coaches around the nation are testing positive for COVID-19. Games are getting shuffled around. Schedules are tentative propositions at best.

And the Big Ten has to prepare for all of that.

Thursday, the conference announced its contingency plans in case games can’t be played due to positive tests, and its a scenario that affects every team — even ones that might not get any positive tests.

So, if Penn State or any other Big Ten team has a few positive tests discovered during daily testing, here is the procedure:

  • If a game has to be cancelled, it will be declared a no contest. It will not count as a win or loss for either team.
  • A team has to play at least six games to be eligible to participate in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the average number of games played by all conference teams falls below six. In that case, that number drops to “no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams.”
  • The East and West Division champions will be determined by best winning percentage, if all conference games are completed.
  • If the entire schedule isn’t completed, well…then it gets complicated.

As the conference said in September when the official restart of the season was announced, cancellations and all matters surrounding whether programs can continue to play amidst outbreaks will be determined by the Test Positivity and Population Positivity formulas released then. Here are the standards set there.

Hopefully, none of this ultimately matters, that it’s just a lot of precaution that doesn’t come into play. But, just in case…

Former Lackawanna star making push to play at Penn State

Former Lackawanna star making push to play at Penn State

James Franklin admits he was surprised. After all, not every junior college transfer arrives at a program like Penn State ready for the rigors and stresses of big-time college football.

As he did during his days at Lackawanna College, though, Ji’Ayir Brown continues to prove he’s an exception.

The 5-foot-11, 209-pound safety who led the stifling Falcons defense to the NJCAA National Championship Game last December, is listed as the top backup to all-Big Ten hopeful Lamont Wade on the season-opening depth chart released by Penn State on Tuesday. The move comes as a bit of a surprise, given what Franklin considers to be improved depth at the safety position. But, he added, Brown earned the spot over youngsters like Tyler Rudolph and Trent Gordon because of what he learned from the Lackawanna program.

“Ji’Ayir is a very mature young man, is a very appreciative young man,” Franklin said during his weekly press conference heading into Saturday’s opener at Indiana. “You look at Lackawanna College and what that program has done in terms of preparing him for this opportunity. He has come in and really understood what it takes to be successful here.”

Franklin raved about the quality of depth Penn State has at the safety position this season. Alongside Wade, the defense’s returning leader in tackles and forced fumbles from last season, the Nittany Lions are expecting a big season from another ex-Lackawanna standout, Jaquan Brisker.

Brisker worked as veteran Garrett Taylor’s top backup last season and recorded 32 tackles. He was one of four Nittany Lions tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

He’ll work as the boundary safety this season, the same spot he played during his Falcons days, and perhaps could team with Brown at some point to form an all-Lackawanna safety crew.

Their styles are different, but Franklin said one thing has been similar between Brown and Brisker: Both have shown a penchant for making plays on the ball in practice. That could come in handy for the Nittany Lions in the future. With Wade keeping an eye on the NFL and all players being given a waiver on eligibility this fall because of COVID-19 concerns, Brown could make a run at a starting job as soon as next season if he continues to improve the way he has.

“He’s got a very businesslike, mature approach,” Franklin went on. “And because of that, he’s gotten better, like, literally every day in the weight room, he’s gotten better in meetings, he’s gotten better understanding the importance and the impact of special teams. He just continues to get better. We’re very excited about him.”

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Finally, Lions break ’21 recruiting drought

For the first time in more than three months, Penn State has added to its Class of 2021 commitment list.

Khalil Dinkins, a three-star athlete from the Pittsburgh area, verbally committed to the Nittany Lions on Wednesday.

Dinkins is listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and both Rivals.com and 247sports list him as a three-star prospect. He stars in the WPIAL at tight end and linebacker, but he told Blue-White Illustrated he was recruited as a tight end.

Rivals ranks Dinkins as the No. 23 overall player in Pennsylvania in the 2021 class.

It has been a while since Penn State landed a prospect in the upcoming class, and he’s actually the first in-state prospect to commit to the program since Lonnie White Jr. did in May. But, we’ll see if this — coupled with Penn State’s return to the filed on Saturday, spurs any kind of momentum