It’s safe to say that Penn State has surprised many after the first nine games of the season. Not only have they made many across the nation take notice in recent weeks, they have also exceeded the expectations of even the most ardent Penn State supporters.
Of the many unexpected twists and turns thus far, what has been the most surprising aspect of the 2016 season?
For me, it’s been the rapid development of the defensive line. Considering the DL was replacing three NFL draft picks in Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel, it was expected they would step back. When you also consider they would be relying on a majority of extremely inexperienced players, it seemed that the unit was bound to become a weakness that could sink the performance of the defense throughout the season, similar to the offensive line in 2014 that had to make use of true and redshirt freshmen nearly across the board. At best, it seemed that they would face plenty of growing pains and be inconsistent throughout the year.
How quickly things have changed. Not only has this defensive line shown improvement, they have become a major strength. This group is playing well beyond its years, often bullying offensive lines and creating massive pressure, especially in the second half. And thanks to another staggering performance on Saturday against Iowa, the Nittany Lions have held Big Ten foes to under 50 yards rushing in consecutive games for the first time since joining the conference in 1993. With many dominant defensive fronts throughout the years littered with early draft picks, it’s absolutely astounding that this group of newcomers is the one to accomplish such a feat.
This is all despite the fact that at any moment, the entire front four could be comprised of three or four players in their first year of eligibility. Additionally, junior Garrett Sickels and senior Evan Schwan have shown marked improvement from a year ago, and have emerged as forces coming off the edge.
So what say you, BSD reader? What aspect of the 2016 has come as the biggest surprise?