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No. 15 Penn State vs. Idaho: Game Preview

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The 2019 football season is finally here!

NCAA Football: Penn State Blue-White Game Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State kicks off the 2019 season with its first-ever meeting with the Idaho Vandals.

(#15)Penn State (0-0) vs. Idaho (0-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -40

TV: BTN- Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play), James Laurinaitis (analyst), Elise Menaker (sideline)

Weather: A pleasant and sunny day with high of 76.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 45-21, 6th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 69-36, 9th Year

VS. IDAHO: First Meeting

Paul Petrino:

IDAHO RECORD: 23-48, 7th Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

NOW THE FUN PART....

IDAHO OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The Vandals will be experienced on offense, returning eight starters including four offensive linemen and quarterback Mason Petrino. Unfortunately, they will be facing a speedy, physically-imposing Penn State front seven that will be looking to inflict some pain after eight months off.

Petrino is coming off a solid season, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 1,933 yards (175 ypg), with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s also a regular part of the running game, finishing third on the team with 362 yards and three touchdowns on the ground last season.

Petrino’s favorite target is junior Jeff Cotton, a versatile 6-2, 204 lb. receiver who showed up big against Idaho’s top competition a year ago. He recorded 96 yards and a touchdown against Fresno State, three catches for 38 yards and a score at Florida, and eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Washington, the eventual 2018 FCS runner-up. Curtell Hayes is also back after catching 51 passes for 489 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman.

The Vandals will be looking for an answer at running back after losing its top two rushers from 2018. Sophomore Roshaun Johnson is the most experienced back with 18 carries for 99 yards. It should be noted he had his most productive game against a stingy Florida Gators defense, with 31 yards on five carries.

It would be reasonable to expect a pass-heavy attack from the start for the Vandals to leverage the experience at quarterback and receiver. Penn State’s defense will need to get in Petrino’s face early to make sure the Vandals offense doesn’t find its rhythm.

Penn State’s defense returns plenty of talent and will look similar to a year ago. Jesse Luketa will receive his first start at outside linebacker, in place of Cam Brown who is suspended for the first half following a targeting penalty in the Citrus Bowl. Lamont Wade earned a starting spot at safety after mostly sitting and learning as a true sophomore when he was moved to the position after playing cornerback as a true freshman. Wade could be in for a breakout season if he lives up to his potential. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Antonio Shelton also joins the starting lineup after appearing in every game in 2018.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. IDAHO DEFENSE

Idaho’s defense did not fare as expected after the Vandals moved down to FCS, allowing 37.5 points per game — ranking at 109 among FCS squads. To make matters worse, they will be without their best returning defensive player, Christian Ellis, who is serving a one-game suspension for an off-the-field incident during the offseason.

The Vandals have brought in some reinforcements on defense, adding 10 transfers. Three of those players come from the FBS ranks- one from Western Michigan and two from Boise State. Defensive end Kayode Rufai contributed 12 tackles, a TFL and 0.5 sacks for Boise State as a sophomore last season.

Linebacker Charles Akanno is one to look out for. He broke out towards the end of last season, developing into a disruptive force who regularly found his way into the backfield.

Unlike the Nittany Lion defense, there is plenty new with the offense. Sophomore Sean Clifford takes over at quarterback after being very impressive in a tiny sample size as the backup quarterback last season. Don’t be surprised to see the Nittany Lions passing more than normal for a game like this, as Clifford will be looking to find chemistry with some new faces at wide receiver. Justin Shorter will be joining returning starters KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson at receiver. The five-star prospect could be in store for a huge season after redshirting as a freshman.

Penn State will finally look to make the most of a deep stable of running backs. All four backs- Ricky Slade, Journey Brown, along with true freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, are all expected to receive regular carries and are currently listed as the “OR” as a starter at the position.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Penn State’s kicking game seems to be on the upswing heading into 2019. Punter Blake Gillikin could easily be a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, as he has continuously proven to be one of the nation’s top punters and the best at his position in some time for Penn State. Kicker Jake Pinegar found his groove around midseason after a rocky start to his true freshman season, and should be a reliable option moving forward. Virginia Tech transfer Jordan Stout will take over kickoff duties, and will excel as he nearly always puts the ball through the back of the end zone.

Hamler will be the primary return man for both punts and kickoffs. Unless you’re brand new to Penn State football, you know that Hamler has rare explosiveness that will lead to some huge returns throughout the season.

Cade Coffey handles triple duty as a kicker for the Vandals, and could find his way to an NFL roster someday. The sophomore has a massive leg, averaging 44.14 yards per punt with 20 that traveled more than 50 yards as a freshman- including an 80-yard blast. Coffey connected on eight of 11 field goals in 2018, with a long of 44 yards.

PREDICTION

Penn State-56, Idaho-6

Nothing against the fine folks at Idaho, but if this game is competitive into the second quarter something is terribly wrong. The Vandals are coming off a 4-7 season against mostly FCS competition, and the two FBS games (against Fresno State and Florida) resulted in combined 142-23 drubbings.

There will likely be more passing from Penn State than expected in a game like this to help Sean Clifford gain chemistry with his receivers group. This will lead to a 280 yard, three touchdown performance from Clifford before making way for Will Levis, Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr. to see some live action for the first time. Ricky Slade breaks off a 60-yard touchdown run early, with Journey Brown and Noah Cain adding scores as well. Jahan Dotson leads the team with eight receptions, including a touchdown on the opening drive.

On defense, Micah Parsons halts an early Vandals drive with a strip sack, while Yetur Gross-Matos and Robert Windsor each get to the quarterback twice. Sean Simmons shows he’s back with a sack and two TFLs. True freshman Keaton Ellis gets his first career interception in the second half as Penn State rolls.

Let’s get to it!