There’s a lot here to talk about so we’re going to skip all the formalities and just get into the takeaways from Penn State’s win over rival Pittsburgh.
1) The offensive line is going to be a big issue going forward
There’s not much to say here, it’s pretty evident in how they’ve played the last two weeks. The offensive line is once again not a strength for Penn State, but a weakness. Multiple times on Saturday, Sean Clifford had almost no time to get rid of the ball because the offensive line couldn’t handle any pressure brought on by Pitt. In the first half alone, the Panthers had three sacks. Outside of one big run by Journey Brown for 85-yards, the Nittany Lions struggled to move the ball on the ground as well. It was a controversial decision to bring back Matt Limegrover this offseason, especially after a disappointing 2017 and 2018 performance out of offensive lines that should’ve been much better than they were. Limegrover will need to have this line turn it around and quickly or he may not have a job when this season comes to an end.
2) The defense has a lot of room to improve
After a disappointing performance last weekend against Buffalo’s run attack, the Nittany Lions bounced back on Saturday and performed well against the Panthers. The Panthers ran the ball 25 times on Saturday afternoon for just 24 yards. A really strong improvement there. That being said, that’s really the only place the defense improved. The secondary struggled against Kenny Pickett, allowing him to complete 35 of 51 passing attempts for 372 yards. He, however, did not throw for any touchdowns in this game. The Nittany Lions secondary consistently got beat on Saturday in the short game, the middle, and on the deep passes. It was an afternoon to forget for the secondary. The pass rush started off slow on Saturday but really came around in the second half, as they finished with three second-half sacks. They’ll need to pick up their game in first halves going forward.
3) How bad are ACC refs….?
There were so many bad calls during the game on Saturday’s it’s hard to believe just how bad a reffing crew could be. We’re not going to spend too much time on this but here’s just a few calls they missed…. A missed unsportsmanlike conduct, two missed targeting calls (back-to-back plays too!), multiple blown holding calls, and calling Dan Chisena for punt-catch interference when he hit the punt returner after he caught the ball. It was unbelievably bad.
4) Pick a running back and stay with them…
There’s keeping your running backs fresh and then there’s handicapping your offense. Penn State did the latter on Saturday in their 17-10 win over Pittsburgh. Journey Brown looked solid on Saturday but not great outside one long 85-yard run. It would’ve been understandable had they stuck with Journey. The second best running back, however, was Noah Cain, who on his lone series of the game had six carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t seen again in the game, a really questionable decision. When the offensive line can’t block a mannequin, you’re going to need a guy to push through opposing defensive lineman and that’s Cain. Devyn Ford and Ricky Slade both played as well in the game but didn’t show a ton. Ford had five carries for nine yards while Slade had four carries for four yards. Slade, the former five-star may have a few more chances to show his worth but right now he’s looking at potentially getting buried on the depth chart.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t rotate running backs at all. Just stick with the hot hand sometimes.
5) Slow starts can’t become a thing...again
In 2016, Penn State was notorious for starting slow, and in the last two weeks, they’ve started pretty slow. That simply can’t happen going forward. While they should beat most of the teams on their schedule just because of talent, they won’t be able to survive slow starts against teams like Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions need to use this bye week to figure out what the problem is with the offensive line as well as the reasons the defense can’t seem to get off the field.
6) The Sean Clifford stock took a hit on Saturday
Saturday wasn’t Sean Clifford’s best performance and it’s a stock that maybe puts a reality check on the first-year starter. Clifford at times looked really good, but he struggled having to adapt to Pitt’s pressure, making the correct reads, and missed several deep throws that would’ve changed the course of the game. If Penn State is going to have a chance to win the Big Ten East, they’ll need him to really take a big step forward going forward.