It would be best to call this selection the Penn State MVP that stands over six feet tall. Both Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley played well enough to earn the MVP this week, but a breakout performance by a young receiver gets the nod instead.
Entering the fourth game of his redshirt sophomore season, Juwan Johnson had just seven receptions on the season. He matched that number in one game versus the Hawkeyes. The much-anticipated 6’4”, 226-pound wideout has 11 career tackles on special teams and just 16 total receptions including his total on Saturday. To say this was his breakout game would be an understatement.
Of course, we all remember this catch, the first touchdown of his Penn State career, which secured the victory for the Lions.
The final drive of the game, which could go down as one of the more important moments in this Penn State football season, began with McSorley targeting Johnson. Johnson was targeted eleven times on the day, just one fewer than all of the other PSU wide receivers combined. Check out this route. Johnson starts split out wide right at the very top of the screen. He then ran an underneath crossing route, right in front of the linebackers, using them to screen the defensive back that was running with him. The pattern was well-designed and executed, but the finish on the play, considering the circumstances, was equally brilliant. Had Johnson not used his left hand to keep upright, diving across the first down marker, the clock would have continued to run and precious time would have drained off the board. It was the eighth catch of his career, in a hostile situation, and he had the presence of mind to get the extra yards.
His second catch on the final drive was another nice example of Johnson being able to think his way through the play. Initially there wasn’t much there but when McSorley scrambled to his side, Johnson slid behind the defender, caught the ball, and once again had the presence to casually step out of bounds, preserving the final Penn State time out and stopping the clock to allow the team to regroup.
Johnson finished with 7 catches for 92 yards. Both numbers surpassed his career total entering the game. It is possible that the flow of the game, or the manner with which Iowa defended the Penn State offense, dictated more attention toward Johnson. It is also possible, considering the high number of plays specifically designed to get the ball to him, that we have seen a passing of the guard. Will Johnson become the most-targeted receiver for the Lions moving forward?
Andrew Nelson- There was a great deal of attention paid to the right side of the Penn State offensive line during the game. Will Fries platooned at right tackle with Nelson, eventually taking over the spot later in the game. Nelson did not play his best game, that was clear. He may be fading out of the Penn State lineup in the coming weeks, as younger, more healthy players such as Fries pass him on the depth chart.
That being said, it should be acknowledged that Nelson has given a great deal to this football team, and the university. He was the bright spot on a horrible offensive line a few seasons ago. He missed most of last season, watching his friends succeed and go on to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl from the sideline with a knee injury. He rehabbed the injury, went to practices, classes, and carried himself as a true leader for the team all the while. We can sometimes be critical of a young man’s performance on the field, and rightfully so, but we should always remember that this guy gave we fans, his teammates, and the school everything that he had to give. He conducted himself in a way that should make us all proud to be associated with the school and program. He has had a great deal of success on and off the field all while maintaining an honorable demeanor.