Finally, the Nittany Lions get a well deserved week off, which gives us a chance to look back on the season to see what we’ve learned thus far.
This Defense Is Legit
One of the questions I pondered after the first three games of the season was if the defense was for real. It had only allowed 14 points through the non-conference schedule, but it remained to be seen if the unit could keep up its play as it headed into Big Ten affairs. Now six games into the season, any doubts about the defense have been alleviated. Penn State is allowing its opponents just 0.62 points per drive, the best in the nation. Of course, the Nittany Lions haven’t exactly faced a murders’ row of opponents — Indiana, ranked 67th in the country in point per game, is the best offense Penn State has faced to this point — but a unit doesn’t put up those numbers if it isn’t for real on some level.
Look across the board, and Penn State’s defense is up near the top in just about every statistical category: run defense, pass defense, sacks, tackles for loss, turnovers, red zone conversions, etc. And all of this despite not being the most talented group. Out of the starters, only Ryan Buchholz and Manny Bowen were four-star recruits, with the rest being three-stars. Of course, guys like Marcus Allen and Shareef Miller were stupidly talented three-star prospects, but this is still a unit that is producing at an unexpectedly high level.
Joe Moorhead gets a ton of credit with the offense, but man, the same really could be said for Brent Pry. He did an admirable job last season with a banged up defense, and now is showing what his worth is as a defensive coordinator. He’s getting everything out of his players, and it shows with how they play — disciplined, smart, and fast.
The Offensive Line Isn’t As Good As Expected
While the defense has surpassed expectations, the offensive line hasn’t quite lived up to its billing. Coach Limegrover’s group has struggled opening up holes for Saquon Barkley, and the pass protection hasn’t been all that much better. Right tackle specifically has been a cause for concern, with the Nittany Lions trotting out Chasz Wright, Andrew Nelson, and Will Fries at one point or another.
Penn State will certainly use its bye week to figure out what the next step is on the offensive line. One move that might make some sense? Kicking Brendan Mahon out to right tackle. Mahon played left tackle last year and performed strongly before succumbing to an injury, so there’s some precedent. If that’s a move to be made, Penn State would then most likely turn to either redshirt freshman Michael Menet or true freshman Mike Miranda to step in and play right guard, though both Wright and Fries have experience at guard as well.
As you can see, it’s a tricky situation. Although the offense line isn’t playing as well as it should be, it’s not like Penn State’s offense is struggling to move the ball or score points. And if that’s the case, do you really want to shuffle things around, especially when you’re heading right into the meat of your schedule? Decisions to be made, folks.
Hey, The Offense Is Still Good, You Know
Penn State hasn’t scored a touchdown on every single series, which means that some in the fan base are worried about the offense. But fear not, because this is still a potent group. Yes, it isn’t quite as explosive as last year, but it’s a much more efficient offense that doesn’t rely on the big play.
That being said, here’s the thing: the big plays will come. I don’t necessarily buy that Penn State has been saving all that much for the second half of the season, but I think there was a concerted effort to at least be a more balanced offense. Time of possession is generally a useless metric, but there is something to be said for taking what the defense gives you and having sustained drives, which is what the Nittany Lions were attempting to do through the first six games. But when push comes to shove, I think you’ll see this offense start to dictate things a bit more — a.k.a. attacking teams vertically. Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, and Mike Gesicki have the size and speed to flourish down the field. Now, it’s time to get them the ball.
Tyler Davis Has The Yips, Someone Please Help Him Or Maybe Just Give Him A Hug
I don’t claim to be a kicker expert (I’m a fullback expert, if you are wondering), but something is wrong with Tyler Davis and it would be cool if he figured it out. Everything else special teams related is ridiculously good so if Davis can start knocking through field goals again, that would be ideal because Penn State will need him in a dire situation at this some point this season.
15-0 or GTFO Is Still Possible
The Nittany Lions have flaws like every team, but there are very few squads in the country that have an offense, defense, and special teams unit that can perform at an elite level like Penn State’s can. All three phases will be tested in the coming weeks, as the next three games — Michigan, @Ohio State, and @Michigan State — will make or break the season. If the Nittany Lions get through this stretch 3-0, well, I don’t think I need to spell out what that means.
As Jared said a couple weeks back: “Buckle up those chinstraps, folks. It’s time to see what this team is made of.”