Mid-way through the 2020 season, Penn State now finds itself sitting at 0-4 on the year and with a bevy of question marks.
Each of the Nittany Lions’ four losses share common themes, such as slow starts and brutal turnovers, but there was a small, subtle glimmer of hope in Saturday’s loss. We dive into that and more in this week’s edition of three takeaways.
1) Will Levis has to start against Iowa
By absolutely no means was Will Levis perfect for Penn State after coming on in relief of Sean Clifford on Saturday. Levis completed less than 50 percent of his passes against Nebraska and really struggled in the red zone where accurate throws are a must. But he did do a number of things well. Firstly, he didn’t turn the ball over. Secondly, he created big plays, most notable a 74-yard pitch and catch to Pat Freiermuth. By the time Levis really got the offense moving it was always going to be tough to come all the way back, but the Nittany Lions came damn close. It was clear the offense was more functional and more confident with him at the helm and even if he’s not the long-term fix, he absolutely needs to be QB1 against Iowa and probably beyond.
2) Plays are there to be made
I’ve seen a lot of heat so far this season on Kirk Ciarrocca and, honestly, most of it I don’t understand. After watching back the Maryland and Indiana games, Ciarrocca regularly called and designed plays that left open wide receivers or a numbers advantage in the running game. Penn State’s problem has been those receiver either not being seen, being over throw, or the running lanes not being blocked correctly. We saw when Levis came in and the ground game got going that the offense can move the ball. Even on the third down QB draw in the red zone with a little over a minute to go in the third quarter, Levis had acres of space to walk in had he seen the right hole.
Defense is another discussion, but it’s clear the offensive scheme can work if the players can execute properly.
3) It may be time to move on from Brent Pry
So, I’m going to couch this point by saying the defense really wasn’t all that bad on Saturday. Like against Indiana, Penn State held the opposing offense to under 300 total yards and while it gave up 30 points, 10 of those game on a fumble recovery for a touchdown and on a short field after what should’ve been a pick six. As a whole, however, the defense just hasn’t been nearly good enough. Too many times Penn State corners played off coverage on Saturday despite a QB who would struggle to throw his laundry in the hamper accurately. The run defense didn’t show up until the second half and neither did the pass rush. Once again, Penn State’s inability to come out prepared in the first half cost it a ball game and we’ve seen that become a theme under Pry.