1. The Sanders-Slade Duo
The best part of the “Penn State is mediocre without Saquon Barkley” takes that emerged from the weekend is that Penn State had tremendously high-level running back play from Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade. That isn’t to discredit Barkley in any way — he was a generational talent at running back — but Sanders and Slade have the chance to be a dangerous duo.
The sudden movements Sanders makes, and just his overall “feel” for making guys miss is extremely impressive. I’d like to see him keep things a little bit more north and south, just because against faster defenses, I don’t know if he’s quite the speedster to get to the outside. But if Saturday was a preview of what’s to come, it’s clear that Sanders will live up to his five-star billing.
Oh, and speaking of five-stars...
I mean, Slade’s explosion through the hole is ridiculous. Even prior to that run, you could see that it doesn’t take him long to reach top-end speed. While I thought Mark Allen actually looked pretty solid too, it really shouldn’t be a question in my mind that Slade should take over the bulk of the backup carries. He’s the home run threat that could open up Penn State’s offense in even more ways.
2. Finding A Way To Win
Penn State shouldn’t have needed a fourth quarter drive against App State to send the game to overtime, but there are surely benefits from the team now having been in that situation, and coming out with the victory.
I said this on the podcast, but I’ll say it again: this Penn State team is relying on a lot of new names and faces. Mike Poorman pointed this out, but Penn State was starting 10 players for the first time on Saturday. Compared to last year when Shareef Miller was the lone Nittany Lion making his starting debut, that just points to the abnormal amount of turnover within the top of the roster.
While I would have preferred a comfortable victory, those young guys — like KJ Hamler and Miles Sanders, for example — getting that taste of leading the team to victory should hopefully pay dividends down the line.
I DIDN’T LIKE...
1. Excessive Defensive Substitutions
I get the theory behind the heavy rotations: keep guys fresh, and it also helps develop younger guys. But it just seemed like Penn State was trotting out a new crew at linebacker (other than Cam Brown, who it felt like played the entire game) or along the defensive line every other series. For a unit that is trying to grow together, it can be tough to do that when there are so many moving pieces.
This isn’t to say that Penn State’s starters should be playing 70-plus-percent of snaps, but I think there would be some benefits to tightening the rotations in certain spots. Defensive tackle, especially when Kevin Givens returns, is a spot that probably doesn’t have the depth to go into the third-team like it did on Saturday.
2. The Secondary
It’s hard to point out any single one player because that was a group effort by the secondary in the fourth quarter. Sure, Zac Thomas made some terrific throws, but the secondary collapsing when Penn State has double-digit leads is becoming a reoccurring theme which is a bit troubling.
Fortunately (?), I don’t think the secondary could play much worse. I mean, that could have possibly been the worst game that John Reid and Amani Oruwariye have had here at Penn State throughout their entire careers. The chances that each falters to that level again during the same again doesn’t seem likely, but at the same time, App State isn’t going to be the best passing attack the Nittany Lions face in September.