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53 Random Thoughts on Idaho

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A look back at opening weekend against the Vandals

Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Idaho Vandals engaged in a contest of American football at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious by the score of 79-7.

Wait, what? 79 points?

I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below:

  1. Welcome back, sports fans! School is back in session and college football season is underway. Is there anything better?
  2. I’m much more excited to see this team than I was to see the 2018 version. It’s odd, for sure. After all, the 2018 Nittany Lions featured perhaps the program’s greatest quarterback, a superstar running back recruit, an electrifying freshman receiver, and a solid defense.
  3. Still, as I randomly mentioned in my Kentucky thoughts from January, that team felt like one in transition. Trace McSorley may have been a senior, but he didn’t belong to 2018. He belonged to 2016 and 2017, and will forever be linked to the great Penn State stars that graced the field during those years.
  4. Last year just felt out of sorts - Trace was too veteran, but missing his squad. The rest of the team too young. The fact that they came **this close** to taking out Ohio State and won 9 games despite the ahem offensive inconsistencies speaks volumes about how James Franklin has raised the talent level in this program.
  5. This was supposed to be the Tommy Stevens Show, a season I’ve been looking forward to. That’s been preempted. Looks like Tommy had a nice start to his senior year with Joe Moorhead and the rest of CLANGA!, but he’s down in Starkvegas now and I’ll just hope that I don’t have to root against him this year at all.
  6. I have to say, based on what we saw Saturday, the Sean Clifford Show seems like solid replacement programming.
  7. So Joe Jonas is on the sidelines again, eh?
  8. Is Joe Jonas the new Keegan-Michael Key?
  9. Has anyone actually seen Joe Jonas and Keegan-Michael Key in the same place at the same time?
  10. Feels like it’s inevitable that we’ll get a College Gameday segment featuring the two of them, where Key plays James Franklin, doesn’t it?
  11. Clifford talked about how he was amped to start the game and his nerves got the better of him the first few series. I’ll defer to him, and saw that to some extent, but I actually thought the first drive (minus the muffed exchange that led to the field goal) was well executed on all sides.
  12. For instance, the first completion to Justin Shorter established two very important points.
  13. First, that Shorter was a weapon that was ready to be utilized this year, and one that can get yards after the catch.
  14. Second, that Clifford can rifle it accurately on throws behind the sticks.
  15. The end around to KJ Hamler was just as useful. We begged last year for the offense to use Hamler in various ways. “JUST GET HIM THE BALL IN SPACE!”
  16. So we did that, and quite successfully.
  17. Ultimately, the drive stalling in the red zone was frustrating, but not a total loss. The Clifford keeper gained nice yardage, even if it looked like Slade could have walked into the end zone. And Hamler was wide open on the pass that got batted down.
  18. That tipped pass wasn’t even poorly thrown. The defense just made a nice play. Tip your cap to ‘em, since obviously they couldn’t stop much today.
  19. Frankly, it’s a little unnecessary to comment on every aspect of the offense, since it all amounts to this - it worked, it worked well, and the guys played inspired football. So instead, a few thoughts overall on offense.
  20. Ricky Rahne took a lot of flack last year for basically not being Joe Moorhead. Duly noted, but honestly, I always felt like he would’ve had a much better looking offense had the receivers, you know, received the ball well. So a tip of the cap to Coach Rahne, as well, for putting together a game plan that both dominated an inferior opponent from top to bottom while also showing off creativity to put his players in the best position to gain yards and score points.
  21. Along those lines, the receivers all played well. Including Justin Shorter. I hear he was dinged up last year. But so far, so good.
  22. Pat Freiermuth is, well, just excellent. Big, tough, fast, sure handed tight end. Glad he seemed to be fine after taking a hit on the goal line.
  23. Speaking of which, the first play of the game where they flagged Garrett Taylor was just infuriating. It was obviously not targeting, and everyone in the building (and on TV) knew it except the officials.
  24. Even the officials might have known it. The rule change that requires all targeting calls to be “confirmed” before an ejection might actually have an unanticipated side effect. The officials will, in an abundance of caution, make the call, then wait for the booth to make the actual determination on it. Better to be safe than sorry, after all.
  25. Maybe.
  26. Ultimately, that’s going to take time and potentially result in more flags. Including on the first play of the season. I’m all for reducing the risks of lifelong injury from this game - it’s going to keep football around longer and allow the best athletes to continue playing. But we’ll see how this goes.
  27. This stable of running backs is very interesting. You have three elite recruits and one veteran who was under the radar guy with track speed.
  28. That doesn’t even account for Nick Eury - we’ll get to him later.
  29. What I find so fascinating about this crew is that they all appear to bring something different to the table.
  30. Ricky Slade appears to be the most explosive, with the biggest burst of them all. That was borne out last year as well. He may also be the best receiver, but that’s yet to be seen.
  31. Journey Brown probably has the highest top end, straight line speed. Like a young Stephfon Green?
  32. Noah Cain has elite skills, but is clearly a pile mover. If you need 3, he’ll get you 5. If you need 7, he’ll get you 5.
  33. Devyn Ford looks well rounded, but it’s not obvious to me that he’s the best of the group at any particular skill. Obviously he has enough vision and lateral speed to get around the corner, with enough speed to breakaway from the pack.
  34. Nice effort by Justin Shorter to get down the field and throw a block for Ford. I don’t think Ford would have been caught had he not been looking back for a defender. But that’s a freshman, first game mistake. I’d rather have the 81 yard touchdown run and that error than Ford sitting on the bench. Worth it.
  35. Was anyone else hoping we could keep on a 20 point quarter pace as the game was moving along?
  36. This defense. Wow. Best since 2005?
  37. We’ve had very good defenses since then. Many of them. Each of them seemed to have one fatal flaw that was exposed at the wrong time.
  38. In 2008, for instance, weaker than usual linebacker play was covered by remarkable defensive line talent. But USC exposed the cover 3 secondary and the linebackers in the Rose Bowl.
  39. The 2016-2018 defenses suffered from similar issues - talent in the defensive backfield and on the line, but a weak middle that got picked apart when missing Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda.
  40. The team, however, doesn’t seem to have deficit at any of the starting 11 on defense. The line play is outstanding and potentially 3-deep. The linebackers are so strong that two 5-star recruits are playing garbage time and special teams. And the secondary has proven playmakers in most spots (John Reid, Garrett Taylor) and up and coming talent in others (Lamont Wade).
  41. Likewise, that 2005 line featured 7 top tier defensive linemen, 3 All-America caliber linebackers (with Sean Lee in reserve as a true freshman), two excellent safeties in Calvin Lowry and Chris Harrell, a lockdown cover corner (Anwar Phillips) and an All-Conference ball hawk (Alan Zemaitis).
  42. I can’t wait to see this squad get to work.
  43. Garbage time was enjoyable, and I couldn’t care less about complaints that James Franklin is “running up the score.”
  44. First of all, how ridiculous. This game was over before the half. What did people want the team to do, kneel the ball and punt for the last 30 minutes?
  45. Second, the benefit of a game like this is allowing the backups to get actual game reps against a real opponent in front of a real crowd on national television. Most of the time, backups come in with 3 or 4 minutes left and everything’s a formality. The beauty of this game was that the second, third, and fourth stringers all got to get into a groove and run actual plays.
  46. I honestly didn’t know much about Will Levis before Saturday, but at this point, I feel very comfortable with him behind the wheel if the Big Red Dog can’t go.
  47. Weston Carr feels like a stereotype waiting to happen from an overambitious color commentator. Odds someone calls him “Penn State’s Wes Welker” or “Penn State’s Julian Edelman” this year?
  48. CJ Thorpe’s reaction to Brandon Smith’s hit stick is everything.
  49. The team’s reaction to Nick Eury’s touchdown says everything you need to know about Nick Eury. It’s not often the fifth string running back gets the chance to take a curtain call in front of the Beaver Stadium crowd. He got his opportunity and made the most of it.
  50. I don’t know if we’ll see much of Nick Eury this year with the 4 guys ahead of him, but it was awesome to see how happy they all were for a guy that epitomizes college football. He’s an unheralded workhorse that toils in relative anonymity because he loves his school and the game. That was a sight to see.
  51. If you don’t want to hear it from me, just ask the Greatest.

52. See you next week, Penn Staters. It’s good to be back.

53. We are.