Penn State dispatched FCS foe Villanova to the tune of 38-17 this past weekend. The Lions were the better team from the start, scoring on their first offensive play, and ultimately pulling ahead to a 38-3 lead before the third-stringers completely took over.
Overall, Penn State amassed 509 yards of offense, including 401 passing yards from Sean Clifford, who seemed intent on making big plays after the offense had been somewhat stifled in explosiveness through three weeks.
The win was enough for the pollsters to jump the Nittany Lions from #6 up to #4, as they clearly saw a playoff-worthy team dominate lesser competition, only letting up when the game was firmly in hand.
What is not to like, however, is the run game.
Villanova is a good FCS team. They have one of the better FCS rushing defenses.
They shouldn’t have limited Penn State the way they did.
34 rushes, 80 yards. 2.4 yards per rush. No rushing play longer than 13 yards.
That sort of rushing production is not going to cut it against the upcoming Big Ten opposition.
And lest you think that that’s an outlier, here are the stats from the first three games:
- vs Wisconsin: 18 rushes, 50 yards, 2.8 yards per rush
- vs Ball State: 48 rushes, 240 yards, 5.0 yards per rush
- vs Auburn: 33 rushes, 84 yards, 2.5 yards per rush
The only team that the Lions have flat out manhandled up front was Ball State. Against the other three defenses with a pulse - and I’m definitively putting Villanova in that category - Penn State has rushed a combined 85 times for 214 yards, coming in at 2.5 yards per rush.
I get that the Lions have not shown too much of their playbook through the first four games. I get that the offense is very much a work in progress, and we’ll continue to see improvements as the season goes on. I get that teams have basically tried to stop the rush entirely, daring Sean Clifford to beat them (which he has done four times now). I get that Mike Yurcich is a fantastic offensive football mind, who is willing to forego a dominating rushing game if it means that the passing game lights up the scoreboard.
But man, when Penn State absolutely needs 3 yards for a first down, do you trust them to get it? How many times did we see Auburn completely shut down the Lions on 3rd or 4th and short? How many times did we see a 3-man rush from Villanova stymie the offensive line? How many times did we see Wisconsin throw stunts and twists at the offense and get home?
Look, Penn State is 4-0, and is currently #4 in the country. There are, quite literally, hundreds of teams that would kill to have #pennstateproblems. As highlighted above, the defenses so far have done their best to stop the run, daring Penn State to beat them in the passing game, and so far the Lions are undefeated.
But it would feel a lot less like the Lions are playing with fire if they could just gain 3 yards when needed. When a 3rd and short isn’t met with bated breath.
If Penn State can sort out its rushing game, this team is going to be incredibly dangerous. They’re already very dangerous without a rushing game, but tack that missing piece onto the offense, and watch out.
Not many teams can keep up with the Lions if they just sort out that last little bit.