Penn State's heralded defense played three true freshmen in the backfield on Saturday: safety Marcus Allen, field cornerback Christian Campbell, and nickle corner Grant Haley. Other than one 75-yard bomb that got behind junior Jordan Lucas, the defensive backfield allowed 16 completions on 37 attempts for 112 yards, 0 TDs, and 4 interceptions. Campbell and Haley each had one of the four picks. Haley took his back for six points (and averaged 24 yards on 3 kickoff returns, too, nearly breaking one).
That's pretty good. And everybody could see it coming. Each of the three stood out on special teams coverage units before starring in the secondary. Specifically, Marcus Allen was a human missile on kickoff, while Campbell and Haley, on punt coverage, held Ohio State's Jalin Marshall (4 for -4 yards), Maryland's William Likely (5 for 8 yards), Indiana's Shane Wynn and J-Shun Harris (3 for -15 yards), and Temple's John Christopher (1 for 3 yards) to 13 returns for...wait for it...minus six yards total. Marshall, Likely, Wynn, and Harris are among the nation's top returners, by the way. James Franklin, by his own admission, began asking his punters "to just kick it as far as you can", instead of looking for a coffin corner, at halftime of the Ohio State game. I thought he was nuts. It turns out the confidence he showed in gunners Campbell and Haley was well placed.
Lest we forget, we have true freshmen playing offense as well. Chris Godwin led Penn State in receiving Saturday, with 31 yards, and owned the only explosive pass play (21 yards). Mike Gesicki went without a reception. But he caused a timeout. In Penn State's opening drive, facing 2nd and Goal, John Donovan split the 6'6" vertical leaping machine out wide, singled up against a height-challenged cornerback. Temple called timeout just before Christian Hackenberg lofted a fade to the back corner.
Honorable mention goes to sophomore guard Brian Gaia. Gaia had his best game as a Nittany Lion. He also had his nose pushed over by his right ear in the second quarter. Gaia missed a couple of snaps while the medical staff taped it back into the center of his face. Then he went back on the field, pulled around the edge, and led the way for Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton to carry 37 times for 222 yards and 2 TDs. What else can you say? Gaia's (now) an offensive lineman.
Austin Johnson is murdering people in the trenches.
Nyeem Wartman is awesome.
When our tight ends block, like they did on Saturday and against UMass, Penn State runs for over 200 yards.
Akeel Lynch got a lane to the second level, and then made guys miss and broke tackles. That, as Joe Paterno told us 1,000 times, is the difference between a back, and a good back. You're now officially "good", Akeel.