Penn State played eight different true freshmen in Saturday’s 45-38 win over Appalachian State. Those freshman were K Rafael Checa, LB Jesse Luketa, DT PJ Mustipher, LB Micah Parsons, K Jake Pinegar TE Pat Friermuth, RB Ricky Slade and DE Nick Tarburton all saw playing time in the season opener.
In the past, that would mean that these eight freshmen would have burned their redshirt eligibility and, therefore, no matter how much more they played this season, they would have already used a year of eligibility. Starting in 2018, however, is the NCAA’s newest rule allowing players to play up to four games without burning a year of eligibility. The rule gives coaches around the country more chances to see their young players in game action and allows them to truly gauge each players skill level.
K Rafael Checa: Green:
Checa was Penn State’s starting kicker in terms of the kickoff duties and the true freshman was admirable in his debut. The Chevy Chase, Maryland native had six kickoffs on the day with an average 60.2 yards per kick while recording two touchbacks. It was a strong start for Checa. The only mistake that he made (if you want to call it that), was kicking a squib kick directly into the face of an App State player, resulting in a recovery by Micah Parsons for Penn State.
Checa was one of a few walk-on specialists to join the program this summer and the results so far are paying dividends for the Nittany Lions. As long as Checa continues to do well, he should be the starting kicker in terms of kickoffs going forward and throughout the season.
LB Jesse Luketa: Yellow:
The case for Jesse Luketa to play this fall is a very interesting one to say the least and it has been since he came on campus. It was never a given that the Canadian born linebacker would redshirt his freshman year but it wasn’t a given either that he was going to play in four more games. With that, Luketa perfectly fits into that yellow group.
His appearances on Saturday’s may have gone mostly unnoticed. For Luketa, most of his work against App State came on special teams and failed to record his first career tackle. Going forward, Luketa’s redshirt eligibility is ultimately going to rely on development of the linebacker depth and how comfortable the coaching staff feels at putting him out there. For now, I’d expect Luketa to get his four games in at the least but I can’t rule out him playing in five or more either.
DT PJ Mustipher: Green
Mustipher saw action throughout Saturday’s game against App State and while he only finished the game with tackle, he showed a great deal of promise. The former high four-star recruit still has work to do but that will come with time and experience which he will gain extensively throughout this season.
Mustipher is one of seven freshman that head coach James Franklin said had the green light heading into the season. After showing promise in his debut on Saturday, I would expect Mustipher to continue to have a green light this season and to play the entire season barring any injury.
LB Micah Parsons: Green
Entering Saturday, there was a ton of hype surrounding linebacker Micah Parsons. The five-star out of Harrisburg is one of Penn State’s best recruits ever and by being so brought high expectations with him to Happy Valley. If Saturday is any indication on how Parsons career is going to go at Penn State, it will be a good three or four years that the program has with the elite pass rusher.
When Parsons was on the field Saturday, you couldn’t miss him. His presence could be seen throughout the game and while he had plenty of freshman mistakes, his athletic ability and football IQ allowed him to make up for those mistakes on the fly and limit damage. In the end, he finished with four tackles on defense but his presence went far beyond his four tackles as he found himself in the backfield quite a bit. Parsons will be a full green light throughout the season and should develop quickly which is great news for Penn State going forward.
K Jake Pinegar: Green
Jake Pinegar’s first game as Penn State’s starting placekicker was a successful one. The Iowa native was perfectly on extra points during the game and his only field goal attempt of the day as well, a 32-yard attempt in the second quarter.
Pinegar was expected to be involved in the kicking duties this fall as long as all went well. After one week of action, it seems that Pinegar could develop into a strong kicker for the Nittany Lions and as long as he can stay accurate and consistent, he should be locked into the starting kicking job going forward. Right now ,it’s safe to say he’ll play the rest of the seaosn and burn his redshirt eligibility.
TE Pat Friermuth: Green
Friermuth saw the field early and often against Appalachian State and it could be argued that he solidified himself as the second string tight end behind Jon Holland. Friermuth was used in both passing and blocking situations and proved more than adequate at the latter, making him even more invaluable to offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne. The freshman just had his 20th birthday, making him a good deal older than most of his classmates, so it’s not surprising that Friermuth has proven to be a bit more physically mature. He’ll almost certainly surpass the four-game threshold.
RB Ricky Slade: Green
Like Parsons, a lot of hype surrounded running back Ricky Slade as he made his debut on Saturday. The 5-foot-9, 198-pound running back saw himself make an impact in his debut as well as he six carries for 39-yards and a score. His average of 6.5-yards per carry was the highest on the team.
Slade showed off his power and speed on Saturday as well which should make him an exciting running back to watch in 2018 and beyond. He won’t become the feature back until next season but it’s not out of the question for him to become the undisputed #2 running back on the depth chart by the end of the month. He was expected to be a heavy freshman contributor entering the season and those expectations should be the same going forward.
(UPDATED) DE Nick Tarburton: Yellow/Green
Tarburton saw playing time on Saturday according to Penn State’s participation reports but he did not record any tackles and had little visible impact. We’ll have to go back and watch a little closely to see how he performed. That being said, the linebacker turned defensive end was given a yellow/green light heading into the season and there’s no reason that should change after week one. Expect him to continue to have a yellow a light going forward though there could always be more depending on his production.
Freshman that Didn’t Play:
With seven true freshman making their debuts this past weekend, that means 14 members of the 2018 recruiting class will have to wait to do so. Some of those 14 players will make their debuts in the upcoming weeks and play up to four games while several will not see a single second on the field this season. The following players are players that we should see at least in a few games this season.
WR Justin Shorter: Green/Yellow
Shorter is battling an injury right now though we’re not exactly sure of the specifics regarding the injury. The feeling around Shorter is that as long as he’s healthy and up to speed in the offense, he’ll get his playing time. That being said, depending on the severity of the injury and how fast he’s able to pick up the offense, it could push him into the yellow category.
DE Jayson Oweh: Yellow/Green
Personally right now, I feel that Oweh is the yellow grouping. Oweh is physically a freak and if you put him on the field, he’ll find a way to make plays off his athleticism alone. That being said, football wise, Oweh is still rather raw though that also may make him the defensive player with the highest ceiling.
Oweh didn’t make an appearance this past weekend which would’ve been a great opportunity to do so. His playing time over the next three games will be key, if he gets ample playing time and is able to show off his abilities and the overall ability to get the job done will be important.
WR Jahan Dotson: Yellow/Green
While Dotson didn’t play on Saturday, it’s fairly likely he’ll see the field not long into the future. James Franklin said during last week’s coaches show that he intends for Dotson to play, it’s just a matter of how much. The Nazareth native was the talk of the town after camp and could provide a needed spark for a wide receiver corps that was a bit disappointing in week one.
DT Judge Culpepper: Yellow
The Florida native will most likely be a yellow for this season as long as Penn State’s depth at defensive tackle stays healthy and out of trouble. Culpepper already has NFL size at nearly 310-pounds and while he had an impressive camp, there’s no need to rush him in and waste a year of eligibility if he’s not truly needed this season.
WR Daniel George: Yellow/Red
Considering the receiving depth that the program has this year, it seems highly unlikely that George will see playing time in 2018. It will already be hard enough for Justin Shorter to climb the depth chart while being a few weeks behind. George has the size and skill set to be a huge receiving threat for the program down the road but his time probably won’t come for at least another year.
Red Light Players:
None of these remaining players should see playing time in 2018 and you can read about each reason here.
QB Will Levis
TE Zack Kuntz
OT Rasheed Walker
OG Bryce Effner
OG Juice Scruggs
DT Aeneas Hawkins
LB Charlie Katshir
S Isaiah Humphries
CB Trent Gordon