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Observations From the Box: Penn State vs. Iowa

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From Trace McSorley to Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State’s stars shone bright on Saturay

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to cover Penn State and Iowa as a member of the working press for the first time.

What a game it was.

It was a tremendous experience to have and was a great opportunity. I’m highly looking forward to returning to the press box for Penn State and Wisconsin in a couple weeks.

From the press box you have an interesting perspective of the game. Not only is your view from overhead, allowing you to really see the development and execution of a play, but it also allows you to take a step back and analyze the game from a whole new perspective.

Here are just a few observations that I made from Saturday’s 30-24 win for Penn State over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Trace McSorley is one tough son of a....gun

Entering the second half, I thought that there was no way Trace McSorley would come back out. The redshirt senior appeared to have suffered a significant enough injury that kept him from being able to use his right leg a ton. So when he was the starting quarterback in the second half I was taken aback a bit and I think a lot of the other writers were as well. As we learned in the postgame press conference and subsequent player interviews, Tommy Stevens was slated to be the second-half starter until McSorley pleaded his case and got the nod from the coaching staff.

From a game standpoint, it was interesting to see how Penn State would play it with McSorley in the second half. The fact that he couldn’t move well in the first half following the injury made it seem that he would be limited in the second half. But clearly he wasn’t as he then broke off a 51-yard touchdown run. It’s a shame that the win over Iowa likely won’t go much further than potentially getting the program one step closer to a third-straight New Years Six bowl. Either way it was a gritty game by McSorley and a play that may go down in Penn State history. While it wasn’t the game-winning touchdown, it did truly feel as though it secured a Penn State win when considering how Iowa’s offense played throughout the game.

The regression on special teams is unbelievable

Last season, Penn State’s special teams unit was one of the best in the country under the coaching of Charles Huff. But with Huff leaving last offseason for Mississippi State alongside offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, James Franklin handed the special teams reigns over to Phil Galiano. Through Penn State’s first eight games, however, the special teams unit has regressed massively from last year. That regression is despite having a solid veteran presence all around except at placekicker where freshman Jake Pinegar has struggled but appears to have turned a corner. Overall, however, the special teams have been horrendous all season and the lack of progression from week-to-week is just astounding as the year-to-year regression itself. James Franklin will have to assess the special teams at the end of the year and may have to make a tough decision.

Micah Parsons is a budding star

Every week I make sure to keep an eye on freshman linebacker Micah Parsons. This week was no different as I constantly checked when Parsons was on the field and it was a pleasant surprise (somewhat) to see the snaps more of a 50/50 split between Parsons and Koa Farmer. As it should be. Parsons has been getting better each week as he gets more comfortable at linebacker. Against Iowa, Parsons was second on the team in tackles with seven and is now the team leader on the season with 43 tackles. Parsons and Yetur Gross-Matos together could form a formidable duo on Penn State’s defense next year, to say the least.

Yetur Gross-Matos is an animal

I won’t talk too much about Gross-Matos since everyone else is but all I have to say is that Gross-Matos is an animal and is going to be one of the top defensive ends in the country next season. The Big Ten is officially on notice when he’s on the field. Gross-Matos is also incredibly kind and soft-spoken.

Tommy Stevens will do great things next year

We only got to see Tommy Stevens for a little against the Hawkeyes, but I already know that he’s going to do great things next year as the (presumed) starting quarterback. Stevens once again proved he’s a capable runner (much more sound runner than Trace) in his time on the field and has a cannon for an arm. Stevens looked like a natural when on the field against the Hawkeyes and while there were some rough patches while he was on the field, overall it was a solid effort and a nice sneak preview to next year.

On a similar note, I expect the deep ball to make a comeback next year in Penn State’s offense. We’ve barely seen it this year to the dismay of many but with Stevens’ arm, the coaching staff would be foolish not to take advantage

Offensive Line vs Hawkeyes front seven:

Overall, the offensive line performed solidly against the Hawkeyes dangerous front seven. They did allow three sacks and five tackles for a loss, but there were a few key situations in which they had to block well and they stood the test. They kept the Matt and Anthony Nelson from dominating the line of scrimmage and when former five-star A.J. Epenesa was on the field, he didn’t make too much noise either for the Hawkeyes. It was a good warmup for Michigan’s front seven this weekend, but the offensive line will need to perform better. It will be interesting to see who gets the start at right tackle on Saturday, Chasz Wright or Will Fries.

Defensive snaps:

Over the last two games, the Penn State defense has been on the field for nearly 200 snaps. That is simply just not a recipe for success and part of that comes down to the offense. In the fourth quarter against the Hawkeyes, the Penn State offense once again had a few quick possessions and those quick possessions almost gave the Hawkeyes enough time to win the game. That being said, the defense is going to be feeling those 200 snaps over the course of the week and if the offense doesn’t find a way to slow things down even a bit against Michigan, the defense could be out there for another 100 snaps on Saturday against Michigan. Penn State’s defense has struggled in the fourth quarter in each of the last four games due to the high snap count. As the Nittany Lions learned earlier this season against Ohio State and Michigan State, you can’t give good programs even the slightest chance in the fourth quarter or they will make you pay. Something has got to change in the offensive play-calling and execution when the defense needs a break.