Matt Limegrover & The Offensive Line
At one point, around the end of the third quarter on Saturday, I tweeted that the Penn State offensive line had been much improved from previous versions. The was, for some reason, met with ire and I received a lot of push back. The Nittany Lions then went on to ice the game with a 75-yard drive that lasted over eight minutes and developed mostly on the ground. Sure, the offensive line may not be one of the best in the country, but Sean Clifford usually has the necessary time to throw and the run game has shown the ability to get tough yards between the tackles. If that’s not improvement, I don’t know what is.
Sure, it wasn’t pretty, but a clearly hobbled Sean Clifford responded pretty well to a poor showing in Minneapolis. Clifford went just 11 of 23 for 179 yards in a score, badly missing his favorite weapon in KJ Hamler in the second half. But he added 10 carries for 55 yards and two scores, including an electric 38-yard score when the Lions badly needed it. Clifford got back to doing what he was doing best during the 8-0 start, taking care of the ball and making big plays when they’re needed most. He’ll need to do that at an extremely high level in the game to come.
Once again, Brown was the focal point of the rushing attack with the absence of Noah Cain, who is expected back this week. The Meadville product carried the ball 21 times for 100 yards and a score. He broke off a 35-yarder for the touchdown early in the second half and caught two balls for 20 yards. With Brown, Cain and Devyn Ford, the Nittany Lions are looking very good at the running back position going forward.
I wanted to pare this down into units or maybe players, but really it was a disaster all around. If you want a bright spot, I guess the linebackers were fine. But what has happened to this secondary. Garrett Taylor and Lamont Wade can’t seem to get on the same page as to what the coverage is. Tariq Castro-Fields is either getting burnt or can’t find the football, and John Reid has been largely fine but unspectacular (a big step up from his teammates, to be fair). Honestly, the lone bright spot has been the play for freshmen Keaton Ellis and Marquis Wilson.
And the defensive line, what’s up with that? Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney have been inconsistent. Robert Windsor has absolutely disappeared since the bye week. Jayson Oweh has flashed but needs to finish plays and learn to keep contain. I think the talent is there to get this defense back on track, but if they don’t figure it out quickly the Buckeyes could be looking at a 50-burger and the Nittany Lions could be staring down another meaningless bowl game in Tampa or Orlando.
Maybe I’m a fool, but I still believe in the talent of Justin Shorter and Dan George, which is why it was puzzling to see Dan Chisena starting on Saturday. The situation was made worse when Hamler went out injured. Honestly, credit to Ricky Rahne for switching to a run-heavy offense and finding some points, because without Hamler and Cain the offense could’ve completely face planted. Jahan Dotson has been fine, but he’s a good No. 2, not a No. 1. Pat Freiermuth is receiving bracket coverage. So your options were mostly Chisena or Mac Hippenhammer, who did come up with a nice catch. But given my preseason expectations, the wide receiver unit has been a huge disappointment, particularly Shorter and George. Maybe it’s time to see some Zack Kuntz flexed out in three tight end sets.