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Battles For Depth Chart Positioning Continue as Penn State Moves to Big Ten Play

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The Lions have outscored their opponents 114-16 in the past two weeks while getting a long look at players that will contribute in the future.

Kent State v Penn State

Penn State took care of business in its final regular season non-conference game. It was close until midway through the second quarter. The large lead by halftime gave coach James Franklin a chance to evaluate some of the backup players that will be counted on in the future.

It took Penn State just two plays to score a touchdown, a 56-yard pass to KJ Hamler, but a holding call negated the play. Trace McSorley found DeAndre Thompkins later in the drive for a great catch and 40-yard touchdown. After getting off to a slow start this year, Thompkins finished with four catches and 101 yards, including this one to get the scoring started. Thompkins stretched out fully while in full stride and held on to the ball.

The Penn State defense went offside three times on the first Kent State drive, allowing the only touchdown it would surrender on the day.

Midway through the opening quarter the second wave of Penn State linebackers took to the field. Micah Parsons, Ellis Brooks, and Jarvis Miller replaced the three starters. Thanks to a dominant series by the defensive ends of Penn State, including a fierce pass-rush by Yetur Gross-Matos on third down, Kent State went three and out.

Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders used their legs to carry the Lions down the field and on to a 14-7 lead. McSorley capped the drive with a touchdown from one yard out and Sanders had 35 yards rushing on four carries.

On the next defensive series Micah Parsons joined starters Jan Johnson and Cam Brown at linebacker and Kent State went backwards six yards after three plays. With 4:09 on the clock in the opening quarter the game hit a turning point. Punter Matt Trickett got off a twelve-yard punt off the side of his foot to give the Lions the ball 31 yards away from pay dirt.

A second wave of players other than the lineman and quarterback entered the game; freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth, slot receiver Mac Hippenhammer, and outside receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown joined running back Mark Allen on the field. Allen did the majority of the work on the drive, carrying it five times for 28 yards before McSorley ran it in from the two yard-line to give the Lions a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter.

Starting linebackers Koa Farmer, Jan Johnson, and Cam Brown returned for Penn State. On the interior line youngsters Fred Hansard and Ellison Jordan came on at tackle. Lamont Wade came in at safety for starter Garrett Taylor. A quick three and out, capped off with a sack on third down by Jordan, ended any chance of a comeback by the Golden Flashes.

The next four drives ended with punts as Penn State continued to filter in linebacker combinations. Cam Brown and Micah Parsons played alongside five defensive backs on the first series. Koa Farmer, Jesse Luketa and Jarvis Miller followed. Ellis Brooks, Parsons, and Brown played during the next possession. It was clear that the coaches wanted to get as many linebackers in the game as possible, and to try combinations of players together to see what results it would provide.

It was a tackle by converted-safety and Penn State starting quarterback, an early-season Heisman candidate, Trace McSorley, that ended the final serious threat for Kent State. McSorley hit Miles Sanders on the hands with a short pass, but the ball bounced off and into the arms of Kent State. Elvis Hines had a chance for a pick-six but McSorley chased him down to keep him out of the end zone.

The hustle play and nasty tackle by McSorley saved four points, as the Golden Flashes settled for a field goal on the ensuing drive, the final points they would score on the day. Had McSorley taken a half-second to hang his head and pout, or delayed pursuit due to not recognizing the situation, it would have been a touchdown.

Kent State made a critical mistake on the kickoff with just twenty-five seconds before halftime, down 21-10. The ball went out of bounds on the kick. Coach James Franklin made them tee it up again, knowing that the kick would be returnable for KJ Hamler. It was. Hamler took it back 52 yards to the Kent State 43. Four plays later, McSorley added a 13-yard scoring run to give the Lions a 28-10 halftime lead.

The starting linebackers played the first two series of the second half and then did not see the field the rest of the way as the younger players gained valuable experience. On the first possession for the Lions in the second-half, Mark Allen was in at running back. Once again he got the majority of the work. Allen carried the ball 6 times for 34 yards on the drive, the only player to touch the ball other than Pat Freiermuth, who had one catch. But that one catch was a beauty.

Freiermuth made a Mike Gesicki-esque catch for 23 yards on third and four to continue the drive that ended with a 7-yard Mark Allen rushing touchdown. At the bottom of the frame, Brandon Polk (10) is lined up in man coverage and sits down to draw the cornerback in. KJ Hamler (1) uses his speed to run at the safety while taking the defensive back lined up opposite him as far from the targeted area as possible. The safety is caught in a bind, having to to cover Freiermuth in the void created between the long and short routes of the wide receivers.

It was no routine catch, but if the freshman tight end can make it with any type of regularity, it will open up the other receivers as well as result in first downs such as this one.

DeAndre Thompkins made another great grab on the next drive, this one down the right sideline for 39 yards to the two yard line, to set up a touchdown by Rickey Slade. C.J. Thorpe was the first offensive line substitute to see action. He came in alongside the starters with 6:27 to go in the third quarter at right guard. Thorpe had a holding penalty to nullify a 70-yard touchdown by Cameron Sullivan-Brown, but the redshirt freshman’s mistake didn’t cost the team. Brandon Polk caught a 41-yard touchdown to take the score to 49-10.

Substitutions entered the game for the Lions at all positions. Sean Clifford entered the game at quarterback to start the fourth quarter. Clifford hit Daniel George on a play that went for 95 yards and a touchdown and Jonathan Thomas added a rushing touchdown to end the scoring at 63-10.

Notes

  • The kicking game was very solid and for a group of young players, there have been few letdowns. A couple of kickoffs bounced around the ten yard-line but managed to stay in bounds. A few kickoffs went all the way through the back of the end zone. Kent State was only able to return three kickoffs of the eight it received, for 46 yards. That’s six yards fewer than what KJ Hamler got during the only kick return of the day for Penn State.
  • Blake Gillikin punted twice and averaged 48 yards per kick. Kent State did not return either punt, but on the other side, the Lions got 93 yards on five punt returns. Penn State is solid or dominant in all facets of special teams at this point, and that could prove to be a huge advantage as the season plays out.
  • Garrett Taylor appears to have a pretty strong hold on the second safety spot alongside Nick Scott. Taylor played almost all of the snaps other than a handful that Lamont Wade got in the first half. In the second half Ayron Monroe saw a few snaps with the first team. Wade and Monroe will surely continue to see time and be in the rotation, but Taylor may not relinquish the starting spot anytime soon.
  • On the offensive line, Will Fries has won the job at right tackle. For now, that puts Chasz Wright on the sidelines, ready to come in if needed. Wright is 6th on the depth chart and has a lot of experience. C.J. Thorpe saw time with the first team today and that may indicate that Thorpe is considered 7th on the overall depth chart on the offensive line. Thorpe brings an attitude with him onto the field, and has a bright future, but the starting five seem poised to hold their spots unless injury or some other reason keeps them from playing.
  • Jonathan Holland and Pat Freiermuth shared the snaps at tight end with Danny Dalton out with an injury. Both played well. Freiermuth looks as though he is getting much more comfortable. The freshman provides a nice target at 6’5 and showed that he can stretch out and still take the ball in.