Penn State

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

Nittany Lions Recruiting Q&A: Safety Ja’yir Brown

Nittany Lions Recruiting Q&A: Safety Ja’yir Brown

Hard-hitting Lackawanna College safety Ja’yir Brown plans to head to Penn State next season. JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lackawanna College logoLackawanna College wasn’t always a recruiting hotbed for Penn State. For decades under legendary head coach Mark Duda, the Falcons would send their star players to places like Oklahoma and West Virginia. Their most famous player ever, tackle Bryant McKinnie, went to Miami, but only after Duda urged Penn State to take a chance only to be told that the 6-foot-8 future Outland Trophy winner was “too tall” for Joe Paterno’s liking.

That has changed in recent years, of course. Bill O’Brien tried, but ultimately failed, to get tackle Jermaine Eluemunor to go from Scranton to State College, and James Franklin’s teams have brought on several former Falcons to bolster the roster — including tackle Paris Palmer, defensive tackle Brenon Thrift and three current Nittany Lions — safety Jaquan Brisker, guard Anthony Whigan and punter Bradley King.

There are also two current Lackawanna Standouts — receiver Norval Black and safety Ja’yir Brown — committed to the 2020 recruiting class.

“From their experience, they’re seeing our players who are up there now, and how they’re performing,” Brown said. “And, they’re performing at that next level just as well as they’re performing here. Now, they’re coming back and getting more players just as great as the palyers they have now.”

Brown is a big-hitting safety with a nose for the football who expects to be an immediate contributor with the Nittany Lions. Recently, I talked with him about his commitment to Penn State and what makes him one of the best safety prospects in the junior college ranks.

“(Brown), the kid who is going to Penn State, is probably the best (juco) safety in the country. I think he will play immediately there.” — Lackawanna head coach Mark Duda

Q: How do you improve on last year’s 11-0 record, and what role do you play in that as a leader?
JB: You take on what you had last year, and you build on it. From my experience last year, I know what it’s like, I know what it is, I know what we need to do as a team to get where we were last year and to be even better than we were last year. I know what it takes. So, I took what I learned from last year and motivated these guys with the knowledge I gained from Jaquan Brisker, Savion Williams (currently a starting defensive tackle at Tennessee) and Andre Blackett (currently a linebacker at Rhode Island). I tried to install it in these guys’ heads that we need that drive and determination, and we’ll be just as successful as we were last year this year.

Q: How would you describe your style at safety?
JB: I’m a ballhawk. I have a sense for the ball. And my playmaking skills. I’m a very smart player on the field, and I know how to break down an offense. I know how to read the read quarterbacks. My hip mobility is great. I can also stick my nose in the box and make plays.

Q: Jaquan was so dominant last year – how often do you see a defensive back lead the team in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss – and Penn State really likes him. What did you learn from him?
JB: Jaquan is a very hard worker. I had never met anybody like him until I got here in my freshman year. It was like, I knew he was the guy. Coach Duda was telling me about him, but I wanted to see it for myself. Just his determination and his will and the pride he played with allows him to perform at that level.

The Ja’yir Brown Line

Tackles

TFL

INT

PBU

2018

40

2.5

5

3

2019*

11

0

0

0

*Through two games

Q: Last year, you’re looking for a big-time offer. This year, you have it and you’re committed to Penn State. With that settled, is there a different feeling for you this year as opposed to 2018?
JB: Not really. I went into this season the same way I went into last season, thinking I had something to prove. I can play on the big stage. Even though I got to the big stage now, I’m going to prove that I belong there. When I get there right now, I’m going to show everybody that I belong at Penn State. They just weren’t recruiting me to recruit me. I am that guy everyone talks about.

Q: Why Penn State? When you got that offer, what was the difference there?
JB: The belief. The coaches believed in me. They were giving me all the talk and all the knowledge about their program, and I fell in love with the program from there. It’s a great facility, a great coaching staff and we really bonded from the start. Everything fell into place, and I felt like that would be home to me.

Q: How much did you follow Penn State growing up in Jersey? Were they a big deal to you?
A: Not really. For us guys from Jersey, Rutgers was the big school. We didn’t hear too much about Penn State at all until probably my sophomore year of high school. Then the whole Saquon Barkley thing happened and Penn State really blew up. At that point, I was like, “Penn State might be a school I want to consider.” When I got here, they were actually one of the first schools that reached out to me.

Q: Safeties coach Tim Banks has a really good streak going, where he’s putting starters in the NFL. That’s just the way it has been over the last few years. How much do you take that into account, and what does it mean to you when you look at the development of guys like Marcus Allen, Troy Apke and Nick Scott?
JB: Coach Banks, he’s a great guy. I love Coach Banks. We have a great connection. He’s a realist, as I like to say. He’ll tell you what it is and how it’s going to go. As long as you believe in him and what he’s doing, you will make it to that next level, no doubt about it. But that’s the guy for Penn State. Great safeties coach, and Terry Smith is right there alongside of him. You have nothing to worry about with them. As long as you’re there doing the work, those coaches will get you to where you want to go.

Popular HBO series to feature Nittany Lions

Popular HBO series to feature Nittany Lions

Penn State’s preparation leading up to its game against Purdue on Oct. 5 at Beaver Stadium will be featured on HBO.

The Nittany Lions will be one of four teams that will be the focus of upcoming episodes of HBO Sports’ 24/7 COLLEGE FOOTBALL, and the Penn State episode will air at 10 p.m. on Oct. 9. Film crews will follow Penn State for a week leading up to its clash with the Boilermakers.

Florida, Arizona State and Washington State will also be featured.

For more information, here’s the announcement from Penn State.

read more…

Nittany Lions Recruiting Q&A: Lackawanna WR Norval Black

Nittany Lions Recruiting Q&A: Lackawanna WR Norval Black

Lackawanna College wide receiver and Penn State commit Norval Black is off to a fast start with the Falcons. JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lackawanna College logoNorval Black had one statistical goal entering his sophomore season at Lackawanna College.

Go 11-0. Again.

After the No. 9 Falcons moved to 2-0 on Saturday with a stifling 17-6 win over No. 7 Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, on Saturday, that goal is still on track for the 6-foot-1, 180-pound receiver from Germantown, Md. But even the vaunted Snow defense couldn’t knock him off of whatever personal statistical goals Black might privately hold for himself.

Black caught five passes for 129 yards in the game, bringing his season totals to seven catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. He’s averaging 28.7 yards per catch on the young season, and this one from Saturday is one of them.

Rivals.com rates Black as a three-star prospect, and after an eye-opening performance during while camping at Penn State in June, he committed to the Nittany Lions shortly after receiving an offer from head coach James Franklin and receivers coach Gerad Parker. It was the first major offer he received.

Recently, I chatted with Black about his sophomore season, his performance during that camp and what led to his Nittany Lions commitment.

Q: Was it surprising to you to get the Penn State offer when you did? You go to camp, have a great weekend and kind of get the offer right then and there.
NB: Yeah, it was a big shocker for me, that Penn State came in with my first offer. But we were talking before and they were saying they liked my game and everything. So, we were talking prior to all of that, and it’s what led me to commit early.

Lackawanna College offensive coordinator Josh Pardini

SCOUTING NORVAL BLACK: Lackawanna College offensive coordinator Josh Pardini
“He came in as a freshman and just took an outside receiver job. I mean, it wasn’t even a debate. He was just faster than everybody else, he made plays on the ball in the air. He made us a quick-strike offense, and that’s what he does now. He went out to Penn State and he ran by everybody. He has a little bit of work to do in the weight room, and he has to grow up a little bit; we talk about that all the time. But athletically, the kid is so gifted. He can track the ball. He can run. There just isn’t much he can’t do. … He is a true deep threat. Teams are ultra-afraid of him. They play safeties 30 yards off the ball. I think he is going to succeed tremendously in that offense because we do a lot of the same stuff they do.”

Q: So, you knew going in that they were interested. How much pressure does that put on you at a camp like that, where you know you need to impress?
NB: My attitude going in was just staying focused, playing how I play and doing what I did all season that led me up to that point. I wanted to keep maintaing everything I did to be Penn State’s guy.

Q: What did you do last year at Lackawanna that helped elevate you to get that offer?
NB: Coach Pardini has a fast-paced offense, and I had the athleticism and the speed to make me successful in that offense.

Q: I saw the video of you from the camp, and everyone was going kind of crazy over your hands, how you made some tough catches and were able to run really sharp routes. How happy were you with that performance? Did you exceed your own expectations in a way?
NB: I was very happy, because I was able to just go in there with the same mentality I always have when I come in here (at Lackawanna) to play the games. Just be focused and do what I do.

Q: Some players who are that happy with their performance might just say, “Thank you so much for the offer,” then see what else comes from it from other schools. You committed to Penn State immediately. What was it about that program that you liked so much?
NB: It’s just the family atmosphere. It’s like Coach (James) Franklin and Coach (Gerad) Parker, all of them, really made it feel like my home even before I stepped on campus. I always told myself, “The first school that talks to me, that’s the one I’m going to take.” Because that’s the one that shows you the most love. And Penn State was the first one, so I took it.

Q: You grew up in Maryland, but how familiar did you feel with the Penn State program before they kind of stepped in and showed interest? Were you a fan? Did you watch their games growing up or anything like that?
NB: I did. I watched Penn State a lot growing up. I played NCAA Football video games a lot with Penn State growing up. It’s actually a dream come true playing there.

Norval Black – The numbers

Rec.

Yards

YPC

TD

2018

15

445

29.7

5

2019*

7

201

28.7

1

*Through two games

Q: Obviously, Jaquan Brisker and Anthony Whigan, a few of your former teammates at Lackawanna, are playing at Penn State now. But have you built a relationship with any of the receivers currently on the roster through the recruiting process?
NB: We’ve built a great relationship growing from going on all the recruiting visits. Coach Parker made sure we were getting close before we even got there, before we even committed. Coach Parker helped us get close so that when we do commit, it’s like a brotherhood the minute we get there.

Q: What makes Coach Parker a little different? What do you like about him?
NB: What I like about Coach Parker is that he’s like a father-figure already. He treats me like I’m his kid, which is great. He works well with us, and he’s a great coach. I know before I even play for him, he has to be a great coach.

Scouting the opponent: The Pittsburgh Panthers

Scouting the opponent: The Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett will be the key for the Panthers offense on Saturday when they face Penn State for the 100th — and perhaps final — time in series history. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Each Friday, we’ll preview Penn State’s upcoming opponent on the blog. This week, we go in-depth with the Pittsburgh Panthers (1-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

THE OFFENSE

RECEIVERS
WR: 11 Taysir Mack (6-2, 205, Jr), 6 Aaron Mathews (6-4, 220, Sr)
WR: 5 Tre Tipton (6-0, 185, Sr), 88 Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (6-0, 215, So)
WR: 2 Maurice Ffrench (5-11, 200, Sr), 83 John Vardzel (5-10, 185, Fr)
TE: 10 Will Gragg (6-4, 245, Sr), 86 Nakia Griffin-Stewart (6-5, 260, Sr)

Maurice Ffrench is no stranger to the Penn State-Pitt rivalry, as he played in the last two games for the Panthers against the Lions. He was held without a catch last year, but he is off to a fast start in 2019, with 16 catches for 192 yards and a score. Last week against Ohio, he had a career-high 10 grabs. Taysir Mack and Tre Tipton are bigger targets, and Mack is a deep threat who ranked second in the nation last season with a 22.3 yards per catch average. Will Gragg and Nakia Griffin-Stewart are a solid combination at tight end. Griffin-Stewart is a big part of the running game, and Gragg, an Arkansas transfer, has 7 catches in his first two games with the Panthers.

BACKFIELD
QB: 8 Kenny Pickett (6-2, 225, Jr), 12 Nick Patti (6-3, 215, Fr) OR 3 Jeff George Jr. (6-3, 220, Sr)
TB: 21 A.J. Davis (6-0, 215, Jr) OR 23 Todd Sibley Jr. (5-9, 225 So) OR 22 Vincent Davis (5-8, 170, Fr)

Kenny Pickett struggled in a downpour last season against Penn State, completing just nine throws for 55 yards. But weather shouldn’t be a factor Saturday and Pickett is coming off one of his best career performances against Ohio. He was 26 for 37 for 321 yards and a touchdown, but he struggled in the opener against a much stingier Virginia defense. The Panthers graduated a pair of running backs – Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall – and a fullback (George Aston) who had plenty of success against the Nittany Lions. But A.J. Davis is a big junior who rushed for 38 yards on six carries in last year’s game. He’s coming off an 89-yard effort against Ohio. Vincent Davis looked crisp in his first extensive action last week, and Todd Sibley Jr. is a short-yardage option.

LINE
LT: 77 Carter Warren (6-5, 320, So), 59 Carson Van Lynn (6-5, 300, So)
LG: 71 Bryce Hargrove (6-4, 315, Jr), 56 Brandon Ford (6-5, 310, Jr)
C: 67 Jimmy Morrissey (6-3, 305, Jr), 60 Owen Drexel (6-3, 300, So)
RG: 57 Gabe Houy (6-6, 310, So), 53 Jake Kradel (6-3, 300, Fr) OR 55 Chase Brown (6-5, 310, Sr)
RT: 70 Nolan Ulizio (6-5, 320, Sr), 74 Jerry Drake Jr. (6-5, 310, So)

Penn State coaches and defenders raved about center Jimmy Morrissey, who looked solid in last year’s game and went on to earn all-ACC honors as a sophomore. That said, the rest of Pittsburgh’s offensive linemen have fewer career starts combined than Morrissey’s 25. Guards Bryce Hargrove and Gabe Houy are road-graders in the run game, and tackle Nolan Ulizio is a Michigan transfer who started five games for the Wolverines. The key might be left tackle Carter Warren, a spring standout for the Panthers who is just getting his feet wet protecting Pickett’s blindside. Pickett has been sacked five times in the first two games, but four came in the opener against Virginia.

THE DEFENSE

LINE
DE: 91 Patrick Jones II (6-5, 260, Jr), 6 John Morgan (6-2, 255, Fr) OR 25 Kaymar Mimes (6-5, 245, Fr)
DT: 97 Jaylen Twyman (6-2, 290, So), 2 David Green (6-0, 285, Fr) OR 92 Tyler Bentley (6-2, 300, Fr)
DT: 34 Amir Watts (6-3, 295, Sr) OR 95 Devin Danielson (6-1, 295, Fr)
DE: 5 Deslin Alexandre (6-4, 265, So), 87 Habakkuk Baldonado (6-5, 250, Fr)

When star end Rashad Weaver blew out a knee in camp and was lost for the season, there were questions about how Pitt could possibly recoup the pass rush it lost. It has been just fine, though. Jaylen Twyman provides a consistent rush up the middle, and he registered 3 sacks against the Bobcats last week. End Patrick Jones II has 3 quarterback hurries through two weeks, and Deslin Alexandre, who took over for Weaver, has a sack in each of the Panthers’ first two games. Amir Watts is a veteran run-stuffer, and freshman Habakkuk Baldonado has flashed big-play ability in a reserve role.

LINEBACKER
MONEY: 28 Kylan Johnson (6-2, 230, Sr), 36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, Jr)
MIKE: 36 Chase Pine OR 44 Elias Reynolds (6-2,2 35, Jr) OR 9 Saleem Brightwell (6-0, 230, Sr)
STAR: 38 Cam Bright (6-0, 225, So) OR 24 Phil Campbell III (6-1, 220, Jr)

The Panthers use a fairly strict rotation at the linebacker position, and all of the top six players at the position log significant snaps. The linebacker off to the best start for Pitt is probably Kylan Johnson, a grad transfer from Florida who has 7 tackles and a sack through two games. Phil Campbell III has 7 tackles as well, and he forced a fumble last week. Cam Bright has been a force in the backfield, and both Chase Pine and Elias Reynolds split time in the middle.

SECONDARY
CB: 11 Dane Jackson (6-0, 190, Sr), 31 Erick Hallett (5-11, 190, Fr)
SS: 12 Paris Ford (6-0, 190, So), 7 Jazzee Stocker (6-2, 190, Sr)
FS: 3 Damar Hamlin (6-1, 195, Sr), 4 Therran Coleman (6-0, 205, Jr)
CB: 15 Jason Pinnock (6-0, 200, Jr) OR 21 Damarri Mathis (5-11, 195, Jr)

The most experienced unit on Pitt’s roster, the defensive backs bring a combined 58 career starts to the field. Most belong to cornerback Dane Jackson and safety Damar Hamlin, two players familiar with the Penn State rivalry – the Nittany Lions recruited Hamlin hard in the class of 2016. Hamlin led the Panthers in tackles last season and is their leader again, with 10, so far in 2019. Jackson has scored two touchdowns on defense in his career, more than any other Panther. Junior Jason Pinnock is aggressive in the run game as well as being a solid pass defender, and Ford has 9 tackles this season with a forced fumble. The Panthers rank 39th in the nation in passing yards allowed, at 179 per game, but they’re looking for their first interception of 2019.

THE SPECIALISTS

K: 97 Alex Kessman (6-3, 195, Jr), 91 Sam Scarton (6-0, 170, Fr)
P: 98 Kirk Christodoulou (6-1, 210, So), 96 Jared Campbell (6-1, 190, Fr)
H: 98 Kirk Christodoulou, 8 Kenny Pickett
LS: 94 Cal Adomitis (6-1, 230, Jr), 52 Jack Hansberry (6-1, 225, Fr)
KR: 2 Maurice Ffrench, 11 Taysir Mack
PR: 2 Maurice Ffrench, 11 Taysir Mack

Panthers kicker Alex Kessman has struggled out of the gate, missing 2 of his 4 field goal attempts out of the chute – granted, they were longer attempts. But he has kicked off well enough. Punter Kirk Christodoulou, who had a nightmarish outing against the Nittany Lions last season, is off to a terrific start in 2019, averaging 44.1 yards per punt and pinning opponents inside their own 20 on half of his eight boots. Ffrench is a threat as a returner, and he has an 18-yard return on his ledger this season.

Scouting the opponent: The Buffalo Bulls

Scouting the opponent: The Buffalo Bulls

Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson celebrates a touchdown against Rutgers last season. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Buffalo Bulls logoEvery Friday, we’ll scout the Nittany Lions’ upcoming opponent on the Penn State Blog. Today, we look at the first FCS opponent they’ll face in eight years: The Idaho Vandals.

THE OFFENSE

RECEIVERS

WR: 3 Daniel Lee (6-0, 190, Jr), 17 Bernard Porter (6-3, 180, So)
WR: 86 Carlton Todd (5-11, 175, Jr), 13 Tito Overton (5-10, 185, Jr)
TE: 89 Zac Lefebvre (6-6, 240, Jr), 85 Julien Bourassa (6-6, 255, So)
WR: 83 Marlyn Johnson (6-4, 194, Fr), 9 Dominic Johnson (6-5, 225, Jr)

The Bulls are young and inexperienced here, as two starters transferred in this season from junior colleges and the other is a true freshman. Only three wideouts on the roster have a career catch, and the most experienced of those – junior Antonio Nunn – missed the opener against Robert Morris with an injury. The other two receivers who have made their way into the box score – Tito Overton and Marlyn Johnson – each have one career catch. However, TE Zac Lefebvre had two touchdown grabs last week and, at 6-foot-6, will provide Buffalo a size advantage in the middle of the field.

BACKFIELD

QB: 10 Matt Myers (6-4, 220, rFr), 7 Kyle Vantrease (6-3, 230, So)
RB: 26 Jaret Patterson (5-9, 195, So), 5 Kevin Marks (6-0, 200, So)

In his first career start against RMU, redshirt freshman Matt Myers threw all of 10 passes. He completed five, but Penn State coach James Franklin admitted it’s difficult to get a gauge on what the first freshman QB to start on opening day for Buffalo in 28 years can really do. It’s not the same situation, though, with the Bulls’ backs. Jaret Patterson is a sophomore who rushed for 1,013 yards last season and won MAC Freshman of the Year honors. He had just 12 carries against RMU but dominated the game. Backup Kevin Marks rushed for 845 scores and 13 touchdowns as well, and he gets a good amount of playing time even with Patterson the offense’s focus.

LINE

LT: 67 Evin Ksiearczyk (6-6, 310, Sr), 69 Gabe Wallace (6-6, 315, rFr)
LG: 72 Paul Nosworthy (6-4, 300, Sr), 75 Trey Derouen (6-3, 315, Sr)
C: 62 Mike Novitsky (6-5, 295, rFr), 78 Danield Clifford (6-4, 305, Sr)
RG: 65 Tomas Jack-Kurdyla (6-4, 300, Sr) OR 66 Jacob Gall (6-2, 305, So)
RT: 73 Kayode Awosika (6-5, 305, Jr), 59 Jake Fuzak (6-5, 300, Jr)

Really, this group makes Buffalo go on offense. The tackles, Evin Ksiearczyk and Kayode Awosika, are two of the better run blockers in the MAC and they both protect the passer well. Guards Paul Nosworthy and Tomas Jack-Kurdyla are athletic and physical inside.Center Mike Novitsky started his first game in the opener, and he played well. But this will be a much bigger challenge for him. There’s not much flash here, but this group gets the job done, teams up well and could be the best offensive line Penn State will see on its nonconference schedule.

THE DEFNESE

LINE

DE: 49 Taylor Riggins (6-2, 245, So), 99 Frendy Darelus (6-5, 250, So)
DT: 91 Eddie Wilson (6-4, 320, So), 54 DeShondrick Foxworth (6-1, 295, Sr)
DT: 93 Chibueze Onwuka (6-0, 290, Jr), 92 Ronald McGee (6-3, 300, So)
DE: 50 Malcolm Koonce (6-3, 250, Jr), 52 Ledarius Mack (6-1, 240, Sr)

The Bulls on the defensive front are sort of like they are on the offensive side. Not much flash, but effective. End Malcolm Koonce was a consistent presence in the backfield against Robert Morris (a sack and two TFLs) and Taylor Riggins had five sacks last year as a freshman. The player that makes it work up front, though, is tackle Eddie Wilson, who commands double teams and won a starting job late last season as a true freshman. Backup end Ledarius Mack is the younger brother of former Bulls star and current NFL All-Pro Khalil Mack, and he had a sack in the opener.

LINEBACKER

LB: 20 James Patterson (6-0, 230, So), 21 Justin Mulbah (5-11, 220, Jr)
LB: 42 Matt Otwinowski (6-2, 220, Sr), 34 Ja’Varius Harrison (5-11, 225, rSo)
LB: 31 Kadofi Wright (6-3, 225, Jr), 5 Tim Terry Jr. (6-2, 220, So)

James Patterson is the twin brother of running back Jaret Patterson, and he’s currently the leading career tackler for the Bulls, and his backup, Justin Mulbah, is a former high school teammate. Matt Otwinowski is the Bulls’ Campbell Trophy candidate who has a 3.89 GPA and donated his stem cells through the Be The Match program that helped save a stranger’s life. He’s an effective linebacker, too, having played in 39 career games. Kadofi Wright and Tim Terry Jr. split time.

SECONDARY

CB: 3 Aapri Washington (5-9, 185, So), 4 Isaiah King (5-10, 190, So)
SS: 9 Joey Banks (5-10, 200, Sr), 18 Roy Baker (6-2, 200, Jr)
FS: 33 Tyrone Hill (6-1, 205, Jr), 24 Cory Gross Jr. (6-2, 200, rFr)
CB: 12 Devon Russell (5-9, 185, Sr), 15 Ali Abbas (5-11, 220, Jr)

Aapri Washington is undersized but a ballhawk and aggressive against bigger receivers. But the safeties are the story here. Joey Banks and Tyrone Hill are hard-hitting and play the run well, and redshirt freshman Cory Gross Jr. led the Bulls with seven tackles in the opener. Cornerback Devon Russel started his career at Eastern Michigan, and his backup, Ali Abbas, is a 220-pounder, likely the heaviest cornerback the Nittany Lions will see this season.

THE SPECIALISTS

P: 40 Evan Finegan (5-11, 195, So)
K: 16 Alex McNulty (6-1, 210, So), 14 Jackson Baltar (5-11, 165, Fr)
LS: 57 Jeremiah Riordan (6-2, 230, Jr)
H: 40 Evan Finnegan
KOR: 23 Ron Cook Jr. (5-7, 190, Fr), 13 Tito Overton (5-10, 185, Fr)
PR: 13 Tito Overton

The Bulls appear solid in the kicking game. Punter Evan Finegan is a veteran who averaged a school-record 41.8 yards per punt last season, and first-year kicker Alex McNulty knocked down four PATs and a 40-yard field goal in the opener. Tito Overton is one of the kick returners, and he ripped off a 30-yard return against Robert Morris.

Scouting the opponent: The Idaho Vandals

Scouting the opponent: The Idaho Vandals

Idaho QB Mason Petrino throws a pass against Florida last season. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Every Friday, we’ll scout the Nittany Lions’ upcoming opponent on the Penn State Blog. Today, we look at the first FCS opponent they’ll face in eight years: The Idaho Vandals.

 

THE OFFENSE

RECEIVERS

Z: 88 Jeff Cotton (6-2, 204, Sr), 1 Jed Byers (5-9, 177, Fr)
X: 13 Jante Boston (5-11, 197, Sr), 4 Michael Noil (5-8, 161, Fr)
W: 7 Cutrell Haywood (6-0, 204, So), 10 Sean McCormick (5-8, 181, Fr)
TE: 12 Connor Whitney (6-3, 220, So) OR 32 Logan Kendall (6-4, 264, So)

A young overall group, but senior Jeff Cotton could put himself in line to be all-Big Sky Conference this season. He had 49 catches for 656 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 with the Vandals, his first season in the program since transferring from Pima Community College in Arizona. Four of those seven touchdowns came early in the season, when Cotton became the first Vandals player since 2014 to haul in a scoring catch in each of the first four games.

This is a young group overall, but sophomore Cutrell Haywood does have a big game on his resume. He became just the 11th player in program history to have three receiving touchdowns in a game last Oct. 20 against Southern Utah.

BACKFIELD

QB: 8 Mason Petrino (6-0, 208, Sr) OR 19 Colton Richardson (6-4, 285, Jr)
RB: 5 Nick Romano (5-10, 203, Fr) OR 21 Kiahn Martinez (5-7, 286, Fr) OR 21 Roshaun Johnson (6-1, 240, So)

Mason Petrino

QB Mason Petrino

Both of Idaho’s potential starting quarterbacks have the requisite experience, but they aren’t exactly similar players. Mason Petrino – the son of head coach Paul Petrino – is a more typical spread offense signal-caller; he runs well, moves in the pocket, completes a decent percentage of throws (60.9 percent for his career) and threw for 1,933 yards and 15 scores last season. Colton Richardson has a bigger arm and a bigger body – he’s listed at 285 pounds – and the coaching staff sure seems to like him: He started the season opener last season against Fresno State. But he completed as many passes to the Bulldogs (3) as he did to his own receivers and gave way to Petrino.

The Vandals running backs are extremely young and untested at the college level. Roshaun Johnson had 18 carries for 99 yards last season, but he’s more of a short-yardage back (none of his 18 carries have gone for negative yardage). Nick Romano and Kiahn Martinez were both all-state running backs in high school last season. Romano rushed for 32 touchdowns and led his high school – Rocky Mountain High, for all the John Denver fans – to the Class 5A state title in Idaho.

LINE

QT: 50 Noah Gunn (6-5, 313, Fr), 68 Seth Carnahan (6-7, 295, Fr)
QG: 75 Matt Faupusa (6-1, 300, So), 66 Connor Vrba (6-1, 303, Jr)
C: 66 Connor Vrba (6-1, 303, Jr), 54 Logan Floyd (6-4, 289, So)
SG: 74 Noah Johnson (6-4, 299, Sr), 73 Darius Archie (6-2, 298, So)
ST: 54 Logan Floyd (6-4, 289, So), 71 Edwin Grande (6-5, 298, Sr)

The Vandals are young up front, but guard Noah Johnson is one of the steadiest veteran offensive linemen in the nation and perhaps a professional prospect. He earned third-team All-America honors from HERO Sports last season, the first Vandals lineman to be so honored in a decade. Athlon Sports ranked him as a first-team All-American at the FCS level this summer.

THE DEFENSE

LINE

BUCK: 7 Charles Akanno (6-1, 247, Jr), 10 Coleman Johnson (6-0, 245, Fr)
DT: 99 Noah Elliss (6-4, 347, So), 94 Nate DeGraw (6-3, 269, So)
NT: 55 Rashaan Crawford (5-10, 331, So) OR 98 Jonah Kim (6-3, 353, Jr)
JACK: 45 Kayode Rufai (6-4, 260, Jr), 34 Leonick Tamba (6-1, 236, Jr)

The Vandals are massive in the middle. Nose tackle Rashaan Crawford played last season under 300 pounds, but he added more than 30 pounds of bulk in the offseason, and if he doesn’t start, 353-pound junior college transfer Jonah Kim will. Fellow tackle Noah Elliss hasn’t played in two years while getting his academics in order, but he’s a former four-star recruit who originally signed with Mississippi State whose father, Luther Elliss, is both his position coach with the Vandals and a former NFL All-Pro.

LINEBACKER

SLB: 4 Robert Miller (6-0, 204, Jr)
MLB: 8 Tre Walker (6-1, 235, So), 35 Kyle Perry (6-1, 220, So)
WLB: 11 Jalan Jenkins (6-1, 210, Jr), 24 Sully Shannon (6-1, 205, Fr)

Another position where the Vandals have fortified themselves with junior college transfers, as both outside guys, Robert Miller and Jalan Jenkins, transferred in this year. Miller started his career at Memphis, and Jenkins had seven tackles in four games for FCS Indiana State in 2017. Tre Walker is the leader of the group, finishing with 41 tackles last season.

SECONDARY

CB: 21 Christian Nash (6-1, 198, Fr), 29 Sedrick Thomas (5-11, 178, Sr)
SS: 28 Satchel Escalante (6-0, 185, Jr), 27 Tyrese Dedmon (6-1, 183, Jr)
FS: 2 Davontae Ginwright (6-2, 200, Sr), 23 Mujeeb Rufai (6-0, 206, Fr)
CB: 5 Lloyd Hightower (5-11, 189, Sr), 25 Jalen Hoover (5-11, 167, Jr)
NICKEL: 25 Jalen Hoover (5-11, 167, Jr) OR 29 Sedrick Thomas (5-11, 178, Jr)

Jalen Hoover

CB Jalen Hoover

Cornerback Lloyd Hightower had one interception last season, which doesn’t seem all that impressive (and it isn’t). But, it was one of just three picks the Vandals had as a team last season. They’re hoping two more transfers – Davontae Ginwright from Western Michigan and juco Satchel Escalante (a frontrunner for the all-Penn State opponents Name Team after the season) – can help the secondary turn the ball over more often. The nickel defense is essentially the Vandals’ base defense, and Jalen Hoover is a useful player, a special teams maven who also had 54 tackles last season.

THE SPECIALISTS

K: 15 Cade Coffey (6-1, 199, So)
P: 15 Cade Coffey (6-1, 199, So)
LS: 42 Cameron Lang (6-0, 215, So), 46 Hogan Hatten (6-2, 218, Fr)
H: 12 Connor Whitney (6-3, 220, So)
KR: 88 Jeff Cotton (6-2, 204, Sr)
PR: 7 Cutrell Haywood (6-0, 204, So)

Cade Coffey

K/P Cade Coffey

Cade Coffey earned All-America honors as a punter as a freshman last season, averaging 44.1 yards per boot, sixth-best in the FCS. Idaho ranked second in the FCS last season in net punting, averaging 40.1 yards per punt and allowing just 5.7 yards per return.

The Vandals were a force on special teams last season, scoring four touchdowns and blocking four kicks.

McGloin gets new role at Penn State

McGloin gets new role at Penn State

Scranton’s Matt McGloin will have a new role on gamedays for Penn State. TIMES SHAMROCK PHOTO

Something Penn State fans, especially ones from the Scranton area, can look for starting this week: More Matt McGloin in Penn State golf shirts.

The former West Scranton and Nittany Lions quarterback will be part of the Penn State website’s coverage of the football team this season, and that news became official on Wednesday.

You might remember that Matt went to Penn State to study journalism, a career path that has worked out well for some of us. So, it will be fun to get his perspective on the Nittany Lions every week.

The 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: Outside Linebacker

The 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: Outside Linebacker

He has started just one career game, but the focal point of the 2019 defense is going to be linebacker Micah Parsons. And, he’s fine with that. JOE HERMITT / PENNLIVE.COM VIA AP

penn state logoOver the next several days, Times Shamrock Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins will break down the Nittany Lions’ roster, position by position, predicting the depth chart for the Nittany Lions’ opener against Idaho on Aug. 31 along the way.

Today we continue with the outside linebackers.

The contenders

No.

Player

HT

WT

ELIG

6

Cam Brown

6’5”

233

Sr

10

Lance Dixon

6’2”

213

Fr

11

Micah Parsons

6’3”

245

So

12

Brandon Smith

6’3”

240

Fr

27

Cody Romano

6’2”

209

rFr

31

Denver Light

6’1”

212

Fr

45

Charlie Katshir

6’3”

229

rFr

47

Alex Furmanek

6’2”

239

Fr

 

The 2018 results

Player

Tackles

Sacks

INT

FF

Parsons

85

1.5

0

2

Brown

63

2

0

2

 

The names to know

Penn State linebacker Cam Brown levels Indiana running back Ricky Brookins to break up a passlast season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Well, it starts with Micah Parsons, the uber-talented, ultra-productive Will linebacker who led the Nittany Lions in tackles as a true freshman last season and played his best game in the Citrus Bowl, piling up a season-best 14 tackles with a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. Crazy thing was, 2018 was his first season playing linebacker not just at the college level, but at any level.

“There are a lot of things,” defensive coordinator Brent Pry said, “that Micah can do.”

Parsons was among the top high school recruits in the nation — regardless of position — in the 2018 recruiting class, but Penn State is expecting huge things from him as he settles in at linebacker. It will help, too, that he has an experienced play alongside him to help guide him.

Freakishly athletic Cam Brown has quietly been one of the most impactful players on the defense over the last two seasons. He had 32 tackles last season, but he emerged as a solid player on passing downs as well, registering six pass breakups. He has also been a big hitter, forcing three fumbles. After the Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky, it was Brown who stood in front of the defense and urged them to learn to be finishers, a mantra that has taken off with the Nittany Lions over the past several months. He’ll be a leader on the defense this season.

As is the case with plenty of positions on the Penn State roster in 2019, there is more talent than there is experience at the outside linebacker spot. Charlie Katshir was a highly regarded recruit, but he didn’t see the field as a true freshman last season, and all the walk-ons are freshman-eligible, so it makes some sense that the coaching staff might take someone competing for time at middle linebacker — most notably sophomore Jesse Luketa — and employ him for some depth on the outside as well.

What’s new

They’re raving about Linebacker U being back in Happy Valley, and that’s only partly because of Parsons and Brown.

The coaching staff brought in a pair of five-star recruits at the position in the 2019 recruiting class, and both should see plenty of action on gameday this season.

Lance Dixon can run sideline to sideline, stick with receivers and make plays in every facet of the game, to the point where some scouting services ranked him as a safety. But he is productive and has drawn plenty of attention during camp.

Meanwhile, Brandon Smith is physically imposing, fast, strong and already looks like he has been in a college weight program for several seasons.

“He’s a man,” head coach James Franklin said of Smith. “He looks great, and he’s so angular. He’s got the broadest shoulders, with these two boulders on each shoulder. I’ve been very impressed with him. … His frame, I mean, he’s a guy that could be 255, 260 pounds and be playing linebacker, because he’s 240 right now and he still looks skinny because of how long he is.’’

The forecast

Starter

Micah Parsons

Cam Brown

Backup

Brandon Smith

Jesse Luketa

3

Charlie Katshir

Lance Dixon

This has a good chance to be the best duo of outside linebackers Penn State has had in quite a while from an athletic standpoint, and the depth is potentially strong. Luketa is versatile enough to play inside or out, and someday, Smith will be too. The future is bright here, and the linebackers are a big reasons why most say this could be the fastest defense Penn State has ever had.

The 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: Quarterback

The 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: Quarterback

Many figured Sean Clifford would be anointed as the starting quarterback when senior Tommy Stevens transferred to Mississippi State in the spring. But coaches insist the battle for Penn State’s starting quarterback job has been hot in camp this month. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Over the next several days, Times Shamrock Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins will break down the Nittany Lions’ roster, position by position, predicting the depth chart for the Nittany Lions’ opener against Idaho on Aug. 31 along the way.

Today we continue with the quarterbacks.

The contenders

No.

Player

HT

WT

ELIG

7

Will Levis

6’3”

229

rFr

9

Ta’Quan Roberson

5’11”

192

Fr

13

Michael Johnson Jr.

6’2”

199

Fr

14

Sean Clifford

6’2”

216

rSo

15

Michael Schuster

6’2”

210

rJr

19

Isaac Rumery

5’11”

203

Fr

 

The 2018 results

Passing

COMP-ATT

YDS

TD

INT

Clifford

5 for 7

195

2

0

Rushing

Rushes

Yards

TDs

AVG

Clifford

5

-3

0

-0.6

 

The names to know

Penn State coach Ricky Rahne talking to quarterback Will Levis

Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne talks with quarterback Will Levis during a practice last year. Levis is pushing Sean Clifford for the starting role this summer. (Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP)

Since senior Tommy Stevens announced plans to join forces again with Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, most of the focus when it comes to Penn State’s quarterbacks got pushed to Sean Clifford. And, there’s good reason for that.

There hasn’t been many opportunities for young quarterbacks to develop on the field, in games, over the last seven seasons because Penn State has had a good run of entrenched starters with Matt McGloin, Christian Hackenberg and Trace McSorley. But, Clifford has gotten some chances and made the most of them. He set a record for the longest touchdown pass in program history, a 95-yard strike to freshman receiver Daniel George against Kent State. He was 5 for 5 passing in the regular season, and his 399.71 passer rating is the stuff of fantasy, even for a young backup.

That said, don’t mistake the existence of the numbers with interpretation of them, even from the man who posted them.

“It was a lot of garbage minutes,” Clifford conceded. “It’s definitely different now. You’re in practice then, not getting hit. My first practice now, I’m getting knocked back, and that’s obviously a big difference. It’s just going to be getting used to it.”

Coaches say this is going to be at least a three-man competition, though. Redshirt freshman Will Levis is physically gifted, even imposing, and he has a big-enough arm to make every throw in the passing tree. It wouldn’t be out of the question for the most physically gifted quarterback on the roster to blow away the coaching staff for a month. There’s also junior walk-on Michael Schuster, who head coach James Franklin has called “a culture driver” in the quarterback room.

What’s new

In June, offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne predicted the quarterback battle would be a three-man competition, but he sort of left open the idea of that third man being a competition itself between two true freshmen who’ve been on campus since January.

Ta’Quan Roberson saw plenty of action in the Blue-White Game, completing 3 of 9 passes. Size- and style-wise, he is reminiscent of a young Trace McSorley and is a similar competitor. He seemed to get more playing time in April than fellow Class of 2019 member Michael Johnson Jr., but Johnson had more success in that game, completing all four of his passes for 36 yards. They’re different styles of quarterback, and it may come down to who fits the rest of the personnel better if Penn State opts to scrap convention and elevate one of these two to the starting job for the Idaho game.

The forecast

Starter

Sean Clifford

Backup

Will Levis

3

Ta’Quan Roberson

 

Let’s face it: The coaching staff has to say this will be a “competition,” because technically, anyone can lose a job at any time. But it would be a monumental upset if Levis or the freshmen or Schuster or anybody else was able to supplant Clifford. Clifford was a top prospect himself, Penn State has put the time and effort into developing him on the practice field and in games, and he has looked strong when given those opportunities. It’s his job to lose, and he’d really have to lose it.

Levis will be interesting in the backup role, because he is somewhat reminiscent of Stevens. So, it wouldn’t be out of the question if the staff figures out a way to use him similarly.

The 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: Middle linebacker

The 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: Middle linebacker

Penn State linebacker Jan Johnson emerged as a steady force in 2018, but he’ll have a challenge to keep the job this season. MARK SELDERS / PENN STATE ATHLETICS

Over the next several days, Times Shamrock Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins will break down the Nittany Lions’ roster, position by position, predicting the depth chart for the Nittany Lions’ opener against Idaho on Aug. 31 along the way.

Today we continue with the middle linebackers.

The contenders

No.

Player

HT

WT

ELIG

13

Ellis Brooks

6’1”

234

rSo

36

Jan Johnson

6’2”

231

Sr

39

Robbie Dwyer

6’1”

235

Fr

40

Jesse Luketa

6’3”

247

So

47

Alex Furmanek

6’2”

239

Fr

50

Max Chizmar

6’2”

230

rSo

 

The 2018 results

Player

Tackles

Sacks

INT

FF

Johnson

72

0.5

1

2

Brooks

30

0.5

1

0

Luketa

7

0

0

0

 

The names to know

Ellis Brooks makes a stop on tight end Joe Arcangelo during the 2018 Blue-White Game. Brooks will be pushing for a starting spot this season. (Joe Hermitt/PennLive.com via AP)

This is quietly one of the more interesting positions on the Nittany Lions roster, because there’s an established returning starter who will be in a legitimate fight for playing time.

Jan Johnson is a former walk-on who, in a way, was forced into the starting job last summer due to an overall lack of experience surrounding him at the position. That said, he more than earned his job, finishing second on the team in tackles and entrenching himself as a leader of the unit. But there was always plenty of talent at the spot, and now, those young talented-but-inexperienced players from last season have an extra year under their belt.

Sophomore Ellis Brooks looked solid as a backup to Johnson in 2018, recording 30 tackles, and there are some who think he can make a push for the starting job this summer. Same can be said for Jesse Luketa, a former four-star prospect who played mostly on special teams last season but remains one of the most highly regarded young players on the defense. With his speed and sideline-to-sideline tackling ability, he can certainly supplant both of them.

The only other player potentially in this group who appeared in a game last year is walk-on Max Chizmar, who recorded a tackle.

The forecast

Starter

Jan Johnson

Backup

Ellis Brooks

3

Jesse Luketa

 

For now, we’ll stick with the depth chart that most expect. Johnson was too productive last year, too good a run stuffer, to expect him to get supplanted in training camp — even though it could happen.

But, Brooks and Luketa are gifted players who will be factors all season long. Penn State might look into working these three into some kind of rotation early on.