1. Keyvone Lee
Starting the obvious with this, but I’m not sure how anyone could have watched yesterday and not felt good about how well the true freshmen skill position’ers — specifically running back Keyvone Lee but also wide receiver Parker Washington — are playing.
Coming into the year, Lee was fourth or fifth on the depth chart, so his rise specifically was unforeseen — and certainly not one Penn State had hoped for. That’s nothing against Lee, but I am sure that the Nittany Lions would not have preferred to lose both Journey Brown and Noah Cain for the entirety of the season (and in the case of Brown, for his career). But yet, that unfortunate luck has given Lee the opportunity to impress. On Saturday, he stepped up in a big way for Penn State, grinding for 134 rushing yards and one touchdown. The key word there: “grinding.” This was not the case of a young running back benefitting from a dominant offensive line — Lee earned all of his yards, using his 6-foot-0,
thicc 230-pound frame to his advantage.
Lee isn’t a speedster — or as Deion Sanders would say, Lee can’t “run-run.” As evidenced from a couple of his runs this weekend, Lee will get caught from behind quite frequently. But he has a tremendous combination of power, balance, and vision for a young back. You could see the vision specifically down the stretch. When Michigan began to pack the middle awaiting the true frosh, Lee began to bounce it to the outside, picking up massive gains that were crucial in giving the Nittany Lions the game.
We shall see how serious Devyn Ford’s injury is, and whether he’ll be back for Rutgers, Michigan State, or the B1G West team that Penn State will play in the final affair of the year. But regardless of Ford’s injury status, it’s clear that Lee has earned, at the very least, a good share of the carries moving forward.
2. Brandon Smith Making Strides
Sticking with the young guys impressing, I think Brandon Smith deserves some props. To put it succinctly he hasn’t had the breakout year that most — specifically me; that First Team All-Big Ten selection is looking unlikely — were expecting. He’s struggled playing the SAM linebacker spot, which asks him to drop back into coverage and play in space. While Smith clearly has the athleticism to flourish there, he’s at his best when attacking, which has led to the aforementioned struggles.
This weekend though, I thought that Smith began to put things together. Did he look like a future first round pick? No, not at all. But I thought Smith looked much more comfortable, and he did a much better job of being in the right spot. Now, the next step is making some game wrecking plays — forced fumbles and interceptions — but for now, the consistent steady play is enough.
Yup, we get three “likes” today because Penn State friggin’ won. It was so refreshing watching a Penn State game without wanting to jump out of a window. It wasn’t the prettiest game the Nittany Lions have ever played, but a win is a win is a win. I will not be picky about victories in 2020 and neither should you.
I DIDN’T LIKE...
Jordan Stout has proven to be an elite kickoff specialist, and thus, we expect eliteness from him game-in and game-out. It’s safe to say that his play on Saturday wasn’t to the expected level, as he sailed two kickoffs out of bounds, giving Michigan prime field position at the 35-yard line.
Was it windy in Ann Arbor? Did I not realize that Jordan Stout was kicking with his opposite leg for funsies? Was that actually not Jordan Stout, and instead was former walk-on wide receiver/kicker Evan Lewis in a wig? I don’t know what the reason is, but I want to get back to the reality where Stout only kicks bombs.
2. Lack Of Common Sense Rules In Sports
This is something I’ve long thought about, and just never really had the opportunity to write about, but with the “illegal” bat from Shaka Toney on Saturday, it’s given me an excuse to go on this diatribe.
I get the need for strict, fully-explained rules in sports. I get that you don’t want to leave things up to the interpretation of one person versus another. But if you are just a random joe schmo who watched the game on Saturday, and you saw Shaka Toney bat the ball to prevent it from going out of bounds, the first thought that comes to your mind isn’t “he can do that?” it’s “what a heads up play!”
Sometimes in sports, it’s just that simple. If something doesn’t jump off the screen as a penalty or a foul, then it probably isn’t or shouldn’t be. Running over to keep a ball inbounds certainly fits that bill.