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Observations From the Box: Nittany Lions Future Looks Bright

Saturday’s win over Wisconsin showed Penn State fans why they should be excited for the things to come.

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

The defense is making strides:

I think you can make the argument that the defensive performance against Wisconsin was the best of this season. You can surely argue for the Iowa game, but outside of two drives the Badgers were kept silent on offense. During the last two home games, the defense has allowed just one touchdown (not counting the fake field goal touchdown by Iowa).

Overall against Iowa and Wisconsin, the defense has allowed 17 points and 619 yards over the course of 145 plays. That’s an average of 4.2 yards-per-play which is .6 less than its season average of 4.8 yards. That number is also inflated by Jonathan Taylor’s 71-yard touchdown on Wisconsin’s first drive of the game. Without that play, the Nittany Lions have allowed 548 yards and an average of 3.8 yards per play.

No matter how you look at it, the defense has made strides despite being on the field for a significant amount of snaps throughout the season, including 346 snaps in their four games prior to defeating Wisconsin. The defense will lose three starters this offseason, but returns a great deal of talent.

Micah Parsons, Yetur Gross-Matos have bright futures:

These two young defensive players are the future of the Penn State defense and both will be playing in the NFL in the not-too-distant future.

Earlier this season, you could see the potential that Micah Parsons had and how it could translate to the linebacker position. Now, 10 games into his college career, it’s becoming more and more evident that Parsons is not just playing above expectations but is already a cornerstone of the Penn State defense.

It’s nothing against Koa Farmer, Farmer has shown tremendous perseverance through his career and has never given up. he’s a true “Penn Stater”. That being said, Parsons is a rare type of athlete for Penn State and one that the defense hasn’t seen in some time. He’s nowhere near perfect and he still has a lot to clean up but it’s no argument anymore, when Parsons is on the field, the Penn State defense is better.

Parsons should enter next season as a potential preseason All-Big Ten First Team selection and could even potentially find himself on a few watch lists.

Gross-Matos hasn’t received the national attention yet but the Virginia native has quickly become one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten and potentially the entire country. The former four-star defensive end has 15.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks this season. Both numbers are good enough for second best in the Big Ten.

Next season, there’s a good chance that he enters the season as a preseason All-Big Ten First Team selection and potentially even a preseason All-American. He’ll be playing in the NFL two years from now.

Are we sure that Jahan Dotson is not DaeSean Hamilton?

No, seriously. Jahan Dotson on the field looks like a mirror image of Penn State’s all-time leading receptions leader, DaeSean Hamilton. That being said, Dotson sooner than later will no longer be compared to Hamilton every time he’s on the field. In his short amount of time on the field the Nazareth (PA) native has already proven to be a reliable and electric target who can pick up the big first down when needed. He’s still looking for his first career touchdown but that seems like only a matter of time at this point.

This team can play Big Ten style football (kind of):

After Saturday’s game, I had to take a step back and think “When was the last time Penn State played a football game in a traditional Big Ten football style?”. Obviously, it would have to date back to the Paterno years but the closest that we may have since then was the overtime win over Minnesota in 2016.

There was nothing flashy about the offense on Saturday. It was your traditional power run game from both sides (minus the lack of a fullback for Penn State) and the passing game was mostly short-to-medium yardage attempts. They were safe and efficient passing attempts, it resulted in Trace McSorley’s highest completion percentage of the season at 76 percent.

Yes, Wisconsin is suffering a down year, but overall the Nittany Lions were able to adapt their play style that gave them the best chance to beat Wisconsin. It was a statement for the team in some ways after getting clobbered by Michigan the week before, who is another traditional power-run team.

They won’t always be able to win in the style they did against Wisconsin but it’s a good sign that they were able to make necessary changes that gave themselves the best chance to win.

New Year Six Bowl?:

Maybe not a total observation from the box, but it’s amazing to think that with the season Penn State has had and the way they’ve played at times, this team could play in a third-straight New Year Six Bowl. If they do make an NY6 Bowl game, it will be the first time since 1980-1982 that the program has done so.