Saturday was as close to a nightmare performance for Penn State as you could get, without actually losing a game. All credit to Appalachian State, which came to play and nearly upended a top 10 team for the second time this century. But given the talent disparity between the two teams, this game shouldn’t have been as close as it was.
Part of that is on the offense - an offensive line that isn’t as good as hoped and receivers whiffing on catchable balls doesn’t help. But the offense still put up 38 points in regulation.
No, this game’s result is on the defense. We all expected the defense to take a step back, especially at first, but at every level the defense looked out of sorts. The defensive line got little push. The linebackers over-pursued. The secondary got beat regularly. The team looked like it was replacing eight starters from last year’s squad.
So is the team terrible and destined for a losing season? I don’t think so. I think more than anything else, the defense needs to jell. Let’s not forget that App State opened the game with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Let’s not forget that App State recovered an on-side kick late in the game. The Mountaineers came to play, yes, but also benefited from some low-probability plays. Either of those go the other way, and PSU probably walks out of Beaver stadium with a 14-point win.
The tackling needs to be surer. The linebackers need to learn their positions. The defensive line needs more push. The secondary needs to improve in coverage. But all of those things will come in time, after the new starters have gotten valuable reps under their belt. Will this team go 11-1 as I predicted? Maybe not, but let’s not throw the towel in on the season just yet.