Penn State waltzed to a 35-7 win over Purdue on Homecoming Day at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 28-0 lead and then put it in cruise control for the last 40 minutes, walking away unscathed and largely unbothered.
Now, however, things begin to get serious as Penn State begins a brutal three-game stretch featuring Iowa at Kinnick Stadium, a home White Out against Michigan and then an ever-worrisome trip to East Lansing to take on Sparty.
But before we get there, it’s time once again to assess whose stock is rising and whose is falling it the Penn State Stock Exchange.
I will acquiesce and say that Purdue does not have the most dangerous defensive line in the world, but Penn State’s offensive line was very good on Saturday. The big boys up front allowed just one sack and regularly provided Sean Clifford with a clean pocket to throw from. The Nittany Lions also rushed for 196 yards on the day and while some are complaining that the majority came in the fourth quarter, I’d argue that wearing down your opponent is actually good and not bad.
Will Fries has been fantastic for much of the season. Rasheed Walker doesn’t look like a freshman, and the interior line is starting to come together, particularly Menet and Miranda. Limegrover has done a good job in recent weeks, but next week is the first true test of how far his unit has come.
Noah Cain has, admittedly, had the best blocking of any Penn State back this year. He’s also had the benefit of facing tired defenses. But it’s clear at this point that he should be the Nittany Lions’ number one back. Cain gets into and through the hole faster than any other back in the unit and is a nightmare to bring down. He also showed his versatility in the passing game a bit on Saturday with a nice gain on a swing pass. I’m all for continuing a rotation, but it should be shortened (a la a playoff pitching staff) and Cain should be seeing the (Nittany) lion’s share of the carries.
Wooh boy, Sean Spencer’s unit got after it on Saturday. Penn State recorded 13 tackles for loss against the Boilermakers and 10 sacks, one shy of the program record. Shaka Toney had the poor Purdue right tackle at his mercy and is showing that there’s a place for him at the next level. Yetur Gross-Matos is back to playing like an All-American and future first-round pick, and the defensive tackles are getting up field in a hurry. The last two weeks, Penn State’s defensive front has been as good as any in the country.
KJ Hamler is unquestionably the most dangerous offensive weapon Penn State has, but Jahan Dotson may be the best receiver. Dotson had just two catches for 79 yards and a score on Saturday, but watching him work is a treat. He has fantastic football and always catches the ball with his hands, rather than letting it get into his body. Dotson’s continued effectiveness should open things up for Hamler as well as the returning Justin Shorter as we move further into the year.
Penn State’s special teams were, uh, not very special on Saturday. To recap: Jordan Stout had a kickoff that went out of bounds, KJ Hamler muffed a punt, a punt hit Jonathan Sutherland, Jake Pinegar missed a 35-yard field goal and Dan Chisena got hit in the head with a punt. A true team effort!
I think the unit is talented enough and that Joe Lorig is good enough at his job that this stuff gets fixed fairly quickly, but if you do that against an opponent with a pulse you’re going to be in trouble.
This one hurts me. I still believe very strongly in Ricky Slade’s ability. We saw last year how his speed can change games, but it just hasn’t clicked this year. Whether it’s fumbling or indecisiveness, Slade has been the least impressive of the four backs throughout the year. Maybe all it will take to get him going again is one big run, because the talent is clearly still there. But right now Slade’s stock is close to bottoming out. May be a good time to buy low.