Penn State is coming off its BYE week, a much-needed break for the team.
After starting 5-0 and jumping up to the #4 ranking in the country, the injury bug hit the team, ultimately leading to a loss at #3 Iowa, and a tumble to #7 in the rankings.
The opening slate of games included at #12 Wisconsin to start the season, home against #24 Auburn, and a batch of not-ranked-but-competitive opponents, each with unique story lines that made for a tougher front half of the schedule than perhaps some envisioned.
Still, the Lions got to the break at 5-1, which was about the best case scenario for the team back in the pre-season.
Now, it’s time for the team to get healthy, and get back to work.
The biggest injury the Lions need to rectify, hands down, is to quarterback Sean Clifford. Penn State was carving up the Iowa defense, putting up 17 points in just 17 minutes of game play, when Clifford went out with an undisclosed injury, never to return.
In his stead, Ta’Quan Roberson was thrown into the fire, and unfortunately was unable to lead the Lions to victory. The hope, for me at least, is that the last week has seen Roberson see a TON of run with the first team offense, gaining more comfort with the overall system. I’m also hopeful that offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has now had a chance to reevaluate Ta’Quan’s strengths, and game plan accordingly.
It’s not just the quarterback position that’s dealing with injuries. Safety Jaquan Brisker has had a lingering shoulder issue all season. Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie went out periodically against Iowa. Running back John Lovett started the game at kick returner and later returned in street clothes. Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher is done for the year.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the second half of the schedule is harder than the first half. They’ll play at #5 Ohio State, home against #6 Michigan, and on the road at #9 Michigan State in the back half of the season.
The good news is “easier” games pop up between each of those difficult games. This week, the Lions get Illinois at home before heading to the Shoe. The Lions head to Maryland the week after before the Wolverines come to town. A homestand against Rutgers takes place before the final road trip at East Lansing.
Penn State still has all of its preseason goals ahead of it - a Big Ten Championship and playoff berth are both still on the line, and the Lions control their own destiny. If the team can get healthy - or overcome the injury issues they’ve accrued so far- this could still end up being a very special season.
It’s time to get back to it.