If you were paying attention down south, you’d know what an emotional game like last week’s can do to someone. The Auburn Tigers needed every bit of luck to go their way in order to survive Georgia State. Bo Nix was knocked out of the game. The Tigers rushed for 166 yards, while the Panthers gashed Auburn for 267. It was that kind of day.
But this game was hardly the exception. No. 5 Iowa needed a late game push to beat a dismal Colorado State team. No. 3 Oklahoma needed a last-second field goal to do the same. No. 20 Michigan needed Rutgers to forget how to play football in the fourth quarter to come out alive. No. 20 Michigan State needed overtime. Nos. 25 Kansas State, 21 North Carolina, 14 Iowa State, 9 Clemson, and 7 Texas A&M weren’t so lucky. All of these lost to either an unranked team or a team ranked much lower than they were. No. 18 Wisconsin, although ranked lower than No. 12 Notre Dame, was favored by six points coming in, only to lose by 28.
What’s the point? In a week where it seemed like winning games as a ranked team was a chore, Penn State came out, put away its inferior opponent rather quickly, let the backups get some time, and moved on with their lives. Things could have been a lot worse for the Nittany Lions, but instead they were able to learn what they need to work on in the next couple of weeks while giving some rest to its starters. As No. 1 Alabama would tell you, that’s what top teams do.
On the first offensive play of the game, Sean Clifford threw a beautiful pass to Jahan Dotson. It would go for 52 yards and a touchdown. Villanova would respond with a field goal, and just as quickly, Penn State would go back to work with another long pass, this time to Parker Washington, for another touchdown. Fast Forward to the fourth quarter, and the Lions would find themselves up 38-3, and it was time for the backups to get some time.
Villanova would use the opportunity to run their offense, getting on the board twice more to make the score respectable. Marquis Wilson would play both sides of the ball during the fourth, and Ta’Quan Roberson got to throw a couple of passes to the aforementioned Wilson, who seem like a good pair to look forward to in the future.
Back to the lessons, the Nittany Lions had a lot of trouble establishing the run in this game. Penn State ran for 80 yards as a team, and even if you removed the negative yardage plays, that’s still only 93 yards. Yes, Villanova sells out to stop the run, and they’re quite effective at doing so this season. The Wildcats are still an FCS team, and Penn State should have no trouble establishing consistency in the running game against such a foe. Were it not for Clifford’s career day, this game would have felt a lot different than it ended up feeling.
Speaking of Clifford, the 401 yards and four touchdowns are the most in a game by a Nittany Lions quarterback*. Clifford spread the ball around, involving eight different guys in the receiving game. Given how poor the running game was going, it was good to see Clifford maintain the same level of performance from a week ago. As games get tougher and tougher, it appears as more of the burden will fall on Clifford to put the team on his back, and so far he’s doing just that.
A boring week, enough misses to have plenty to talk about in practice, a Saban-like quote from James Franklin, and the meat of the schedule ahead of the Lions, things are starting to come together. Let’s get ready for the next couple of weeks folks!
P.S.: Here’s the Saban-like quote:
I think for us we took a step. I feel like our guys, a little bit, were enjoying people patting them on the back. We talked about it all week long, and I don’t know if we had the same edge today that we’ve had the previous three weeks, but we found a way to win. There’ll be a lot to learn from this, there’ll be a lot to grow from this, and we’ll go from there, but we have found four different ways to get wins, and we’re going to need to learn from that and grow and take another step this week.
*I looked. Apparently Kerry Collins never did that. Insanity.