Penn State played as many players as we will ever see in one game on Saturday. The theme of the day was young players gaining critical game experience. It is coach James Franklin’s job to keep he and his team focused on winning each game, but after the first quarter most fans had a pretty comfortable feeling that the game would end with a victory for the home team.
The fans watched as a parade of young players entered the game on defense in the first half and then on both sides of the ball during the second half. It was amusing to see so many of the players that we fans have heard mention of but never have seen running around on the football field. Some of the players, while just freshmen, have been known to Penn State fans for a few years, since news of their plan to commit to the school was announced.
After falling asleep on Saturday night with thoughts of the young, talented players that saw the field for the first time in my head, I had a dream that seemed a bit exaggerated when I first woke up.
A toilet flushes and then Chris walks down the hall and back into the living room, the Penn State football game is on and his buddy Richard is sitting on the couch with a beer in hand. It’s late in the fourth quarter and the bench has been emptied for Penn State.
Me: Hey man, what is that guy doing out there on the field with no uniform?
Richard: The return guy? Oh, it’s the new rule where you can play up to five different signed recruits during a home game if the margin in score is over fifty points. They can play one series, in plain clothes, provided that they have signed their letter of intent.
Me: Oh, yeah. That’s right. Once they make all of their official visits, and then sign with a team, they can make their one on-field visit to the school. That is, if the score provides the opportunity.
Richard: Yup. Hey buddy, gotta ask, why aren’t you wearing pants?
Me: Football food with beer makes me bloated plus I have anxiety, so, you know, I don’t wear pants while watching football or in my dreams.
Richard nods and tilts back a can of beer as they watch the player. A plastic game credential hung around his neck by a string flaps in the air behind him as he returns the kick, wearing just jeans and a yellow hoodie.
Richard: That guy in the Hollister tee shirt, lined up at tight end, is the kid from Penn Hills. He’s gonna be great. That big offensive tackle from Tampa, the guy in the North Face jacket lined up beside him, had an offer from Virginia Tech.
The camera shows the Penn State bench, empty except for five tiny players wearing miniature uniforms, helmets, and elbow pads. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover is down on one knee so that he can see into their eyes. The center is staring at his right pointer finger, which was recently removed from his nose. The right tackle has his helmet on sideways but doesn’t seem to mind. The right guard keeps looking up into the stands; he doesn’t feel comfortable so far away from his mom with all of these people around, but he is trying not to cry in front of the big kids. All of their feet swing in the air a foot or two above the ground.
Me: That little dude there, the one that coach Limegrover is tying his shoes. He’s that 2025 interior lineman out of Camp Curtin middle school in Harrisburg. He’s like 5’4 and 158 pounds already. Good frame.
Four of the tiny offensive lineman lean forward and then jump down from the aluminum bench and head toward the playing field. Coach Limegrover takes the fifth little guy under both armpits and gives him a hand getting off the bench.
(End Dream Sequence)
When Sunday morning came around and I had a chance to gather the stats, it became clear that certain elements of the dream were not that far from reality, as can often be the case. Seventy-four players took to the field for Penn State. That is an incredible number. Many of them were in high school a few months ago. I thought about it all day Sunday as I watched football in my underwear.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint one single play that changed the game, especially during a 63-10 blowout. A play by one of the most experienced members of the program, a redshirt senior that turned twenty-three a few weeks ago, got the nod.
Trace McSorley threw a pass to Miles Sanders that went off Sanders’ hands and into Kent State defender Elvis Hines’s waiting arms. Hines had a clear path to the end zone, there was only one Penn State player that could prevent the dreaded pick-six.
At the time the game was 21-7 in favor of the Lions, nearing the end of the half. Had McSorley failed to run Hines down, it would have been a one-score game. Instead McSorley held him out of the end zone, and then the defense made a stop to allow just three points after the Kent State drive began just eight yards away from the end zone.
The Lions added a touchdown with four seconds left before the half and just like that, two minutes of game time later, the score was 28-10 at the break.
Three Plays In Two Minutes
The nice tackle by McSorley came just two plays after Kent State got a clean hit on him on first down. A defender came around the outside and got a blind-side shot on the quarterback. Though McSorley was facing the tackler, his eyes were up the field. Let’s take a look at the shot he took, one that he was not expecting.
Miles Sanders ran the ball on second down, setting up 3rd and 7 with just over two minutes to play in the half, the Lions leading 21-7.
Let’s take a look at the play in full speed. Notice how McSorley put on the afterburners once it became a foot race. His hustle saved the team four points and kept the game safely in favor of his team. Following the tackle, Trace gave Hines, the man he tackled, a brief and respectful glance.
Following a Kent State field goal and a long kickoff return by KJ Hamler, McSorley had a chance to make another play, this time the touchdown that all but sealed the game just before halftime.
When you watch the play for the first time it is easy to forget that they are playing football, and that it hurts to get hit. As McSorley crosses the goal line he takes a substantial shot to the leg, a clean hit that at a different angle can be seen for the force it had. The shot knocked McSorley into Juwan Johnson’s upper ankle, not a good place to take an injury, and thankfully Johnson was fine. Behind the play, after nailing one guy into another, Kent State cornerback Jamal Parker, all 5’8 and 177 pounds of him, sent one of Penn State’s best offensive lineman, Ryan Bates, tumbling end over end.
Thankfully everyone was okay. I’m sure Trace’s left thigh remembered the play on Sunday morning but Johnson and Bates were no worse for the wear. It was the third physical play for the tough quarterback in the closing two minutes of the half, and he shrugged it off as usual.
Nice work, Trace!