The game on Friday night ended the way that everyone expected, with Penn State holding a comfortable 39-point advantage at the final whistle. How we got there, well, that freaked some Penn State fans out. Illinois held a brief 24-21 lead early in the second half before the Lions scored 42 unanswered points. There were murmurs from fans along the way, concerned that the Lions would not be able to find a groove, that is, until they did find that patented Penn State second-half surge.
Roster Spots Getting Clearer
- Chasz Wright entered the season in competition with Will Fries for the starting right tackle position. Fries won the job outright, which is what the coaching staff prefers on the offensive line. Wright was the only offensive lineman off the bench to play in the first half, spelling Fries in the second quarter. Wright played well, and he is still the 6th lineman, the first man off the bench. Were there to be an injury during a game, we may see Mike Miranda or C.J. Thorpe step in at guard if the hole is at that position. Otherwise, if it were a long-term situation, it is still possible that Wright would enter at right tackle, then the rest of the line would adjust to keep the best five players on the field. With two players having center experience, Menet and McGovern, and Ryan Bates able to move inside if Fries and Wright were each in the game at tackle, the Lions have plenty of options up front.
- The rotation at tight end seems to be taking shape. Jonathan Holland is playing well, and freshman Pat Freiermuth has taken his opportunity to play and done a great job both blocking and catching the ball. Nick Bowers made it onto the field for the first time this year, returning from injuries that have nagged him for the past few years. Bowers looked nice out there and though he has yet to catch a pass, he will be counted on if healthy. Holland has 7 catches for 114 yards this year, Freiermuth has added 4 catches for 45 yards. That’s roughly 3 catches per game for 40 yards from our tight ends. The production may increase as the season goes on, but for now, it is enough to provide a much-needed option for Trace McSorley. While we may not see Mike Gesicki numbers out of this group, we should remember that it took Gesicki a couple of seasons to become the productive player that he was for Penn State.
- Wide receiver appears to be shaping up with four players getting the majority of the playing time. Juwan Johnson, Brandon Polk and KJ Hamler have been starting and DeAndre Thompkins has gotten plenty of time off the bench. Mac Hippenhammer and Cam Sullivan-Brown are the next options off the bench and each brings a talent that supplements the first four wideouts.
- There was a great deal of speculation as to which players would get the most playing time at linebacker. Penn State had ten defensive series prior to the fourth quarter, when a massive wave of substitutions entered the game. The starters played the vast majority of the meaningful snaps before the game got out of hand. Koa Farmer played 34 snaps while participating in 7 of the first 10 series. Cam Brown played 42 snaps while playing in 8 series. Jan Johnson played 29 snaps in 6 series. Backup middle linebacker Ellis Brooks saw the most time off the bench when the game was yet decided, participating in 4 of the first ten series for a total of 18 snaps. Micah Parsons saw the field on 3 possessions for 14 snaps before the fourth quarter, Jarvis Miller played two possessions for 7 snaps. Once the game was in hand, the backups played the rest of the way, which will skew the overall snap-count numbers.
- It is no surprise that Yetur Gross-Matos and Shareef Miller are going to get the majority of the snaps at defensive end, while Shaka Toney and Daniel Joseph are the first two off the bench. The four were the only ends to see the field before the fourth quarter. Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor have locked down the majority of snaps at tackle, while Antonio Shelton and Fred Hansard were the first two off the bench. Givens and Windsor played 9 of the first 10 series, sitting out just the third possession of the game. Hansard and Shelton played 2 of the first ten series, while PJ Mustipher rotated in for one series.
- At safety we know that Nick Scott has one position occupied. Garrett Taylor got the start opposite Scott and played in all but the second series of the game through the first ten. Jonathan Sutherland was the first safety off the bench, entering during the second possession. Lamont Wade entered alongside Taylor on the third possession. It appears that while Taylor and Scott have the jobs won for now, Sutherland and Wade will continue to be in the rotation with Ayron Monroe also adding depth.
- On the outside John Reid got the start with Amani Oruwariye. Reid played the first two series before Tariq Castro-Fields stepped in for the next two. Donny Johnson and Zech McPherson played during the first ten possessions as well, with McPherson playing right corner on the third possession and Johnson playing nickel on the 6th and 8th possessions before leaving the game with an arm injury. While there is concern about Johnson’s injury status, and Reid’s ability to return to his previous form from the injury last season, it is clear that there are plenty of options for Brent Pry at corner while he figures these things out.
We can finally be in good graces with coach James Franklin while discussing the game with Ohio State. The week has come, the Buckeyes are next on the schedule. Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, coach Franklin? Oh, we are going to talk in length about this week’s opponent.
Some fans have been looking forward to this match-up since the schedule was announced. The game will have a national audience with interest coming from fans outside of the Big Ten, knowing that the result will impact the college football landscape from coast to coast.
It’s okay to talk about Ohio State now. With the extra day between games this week and the extra time on Saturday waiting for the prime time kickoff, there is no shortage of opportunity to discuss the game. It will get here quicker than you think, so savor everything leading up to kickoff.