Penn State’s overall stock took a hit in week 1 as the Nittany Lions took a loss in excruciating fashion to host Indiana.
Today, however, we’ll start with the bright spots, of which there were a few for Penn State.
1. Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh
Under the guidance and tutelage of first-year defensive line coach John Scott Jr., Penn State defensive ends Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh shone against the Hoosiers. Toney led the Nittany Lions with seven tackles, including two sacks which should’ve ended the game and an additional QB pressure. He also had the highest pass-rush win rate in the national according to Pro Football Focus at 41 percent. Oweh had just two tackles in the game, but finished right behind Toney with a 36 percent win rate, good enough for second best in the nation.
2. Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields
The Penn State defense was largely excellent against the Hoosiers. It held Indiana under 250 yards of total offense and completely shut down Michael Penix for the majority of the game, including a stop that for all intents and purposes ended the game. But enough dwelling on that. While Toney and Isaac had a big role in that, so did starting corners Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields.
Castro-Fields was a hot commodity heading into last season, but injuries and inconsistent play saw his stock fall. He was back at his best on Saturday, Keeping Whop Philyor quiet and adding five tackles to go with one pass breakup. Porter Jr., meanwhile, made a great first impression in his first-career start. He also notched five tackles to go along with one pass breakup and a sack in the first quarter.
3. Keyvone Lee
Lee was called into action way sooner than many expected or hoped for, with Journey Brown potentially out for the season and now Noah Cain following suit. The big, bruising back out of Florida only carried the ball six times, but ran for 36 yards on the day, an average of six yards per carry. Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense requires his backs to get into and through the hole in a hurry, something Lee showed a pentient for doing.
1. Penn State’s overall 2020 season
Who knows if we even get through an entire season? If Wisconsin is any indication, there’s a good chance we don’t. But either way, unless Penn State has another miracle up its (redacted) on Saturday against Ohio State, a season that started with playoff hopes could be all but over just two weeks in. Nothing like risking permanent myocardial damage for a trip to the Citrus Bowl, eh? Will bowl games even be a thing out of the playoff? Between the early loss and injuries to Journey Brown and Noah Cain, things got bleak in a hurry.
2. The running back room
I truly believed that entering the season Penn State had the best running back room in the nation. Journey Brown was poised to make his mark as the best back in the conference, if not the nation. Noah Cain is a bulldozer personified, who also has impressive vision. Devyn Ford is a nice mix of pace and power, and the two freshmen each added something new to the fold. The Nittany Lions were positioned well enough that even an injury or two would mean they still have one of the top position groups in the country. Turns out, those injuries (and illnesses) would come to the definitively two best backs and the room and would keep each out for the entire season. Welp. I still believe in Ford and really like the two true freshmen (see above), but there’s now a lot more question marks than answers.
3. The Offensive Line
Look, I’m not gonna question Phil Trautwein after one week. That’d be stupid and insane and anyone doing so should feel bad. But boy was that a stinker. Pass protection was fine enough, the starting quarterback is just a bit skittish. But where the hell is push in the run game. Taking out Sean Clifford’s 122 yards (a good chunk of which came on designed runs, to be fair), the Nittany Lions carried the ball 35 times for 135 yards. That’s a mediocre 3.86 yards per tote. Stinky, stinky, stinky! This was supposed to be one of the best units in the Big Ten, led by a Rimington candidate at center, a left tackle who starred as a redshirt freshman, and two maulers at guard. What happened? CJ Thorpe and Mike Miranda in particular were disappointing. Might be time to see what Caedan Wallace and Des Holmes can do with an opportunity, even if it means swinging Will Fries inside.