It was a picture-esque performance from Penn State on Saturday as the Nittany Lions took down Ohio 46-10. The offense had its bright spots. The defense had its bright spots. Let’s get into what I liked, and some things I’m hoping to see in the future.
1. KeAndre Lambert-Smith’s YAC
For much of preseason camp, James Franklin pointed out that Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley separated themselves from the rest of the wide receiver room, while there were 3-4 guys fighting it out for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. KeAndre Lambert-Smith was one of those guys, with Franklin lamenting that Lambert-Smith needed to show more consistency. That lack of consistency has popped up through two games, with Lambert-Smith struggling with some drops early on the season.
What Lambert-Smith has also showed though is the other side of that — a tremendous ability to create magic when the ball is in his hands. Against Purdue, Lambert-Smith took a routine slant pass to the house because of his ability to keep his balance, bounce off a tackler, and pick back up to top speed in an instant.
There's no tackling Lambert-Smith @PennStateFball is back on top! pic.twitter.com/Kj6WKFv3nF— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 2, 2022
Despite a low usage day against Ohio, Lambert-Smith continued to show off that shiftiness by making Ohio tacklers miss and adding extra yardage on each of his catches.
For a Penn State offense that lacks a KJ Hamler or Jahan Dotson who can truly be an elite vertical threat to stretch the field, they’ll need their wide receivers to turn short gains into much more. Now certainly, Lambert-Smith is going to be more consistent and cut down on the mental mistakes, but his talent, athleticism, and burst is undeniable, and it’s something the offense will need if it wants to compete for a Big Ten East title.
2. Drew (!!)
Last week, I sat here and told you that Drew Allar is perfect. Obviously, that was a joke. Allar was 2-4 against Purdue and led the Nittany Lions to zero points. We all, myself included, got a little hot and bothered by the movement in the pocket and the big arm and just decided to anoint him as a football god. That was wrong, clearly. So now I sit here a week later, and I’d like to take a step back and have an honest discussion about him. Okay? Let’s do that.
Folks, Drew Allar is PERFECT.
You have a five-star all-everything freshman quarterback making his Beaver Stadium debut and he puts up 88 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions with a 75% completion percentage on a couple series of work — I mean, momma, I need to be held. You literally couldn’t ask for a better debut as Allar displayed his ridiculous arm strength and innate ability to sense pressure while keeping his eyes downfield.
Penn State's got a good one coming in QB Drew Allar. @AllarDrew x @PennStateFball pic.twitter.com/uE36RwVnGn— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 10, 2022
One of the most impressive traits he’s shown though is his ability to stay collected. When he was warming up before heading into the game against Purdue, he was smiling. When an Ohio defender very clearly headbutted him to try to get into his head, his reaction was similar: just a “You really think that’s going to work?” smirk. James Franklin pointed this out after the game as well, but the kid is just unbelievably composed for a true freshman.
There’s a long way to go in the career of Drew Allar, and certainly, there will be downs. He’s an 18-year-old kid. He’s going to force passes into spaces that aren’t there. He’s going to fumble at some point. But man, you watch him play quarterback for a couple plays, and you can just see he is different — and that’s whether you are a Penn State fan or not. The praise for No. 14 has crossed the blue-white lines.
As I said last week: this will be Sean Clifford’s job to lose. Penn State is realistically looking at a 5-0 start and potentially heading to the Big House with a Top 10 ranking — rightly or wrongly, James Franklin isn’t going to pull his starting quarterback if those are the circumstances. From there, we shall see.
Regardless of what happens the next couple of weeks, that shouldn’t take away from the excitement that Allar is bringing to this program and fan base. When you look at the college football landscape, there are three programs with different level rosters: Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State. Penn State, and countless other schools, just aren’t going to be able to match up position-by-position with those three. What the outliers need is a decided advantage somewhere else — whether that’s the defensive line, the offensive live, or at quarterback. It’s early, but Drew Allar could absolutely be that outlier for Penn State.
I WANT TO SEE...
1. More Nick Singleton
Sticking with topics we talked about last week, I complained that Penn State’s offensive game plan didn’t take advantage of their speed and athleticism by attacking Purdue horizontally. One of the things I wanted to see? Let the running backs run off tackle rather than inbetween. Give them the ball, let them get to the edge, and make a slower defense react to that.
Well, with Nick Singleton, it worked out well.
Get to know the name, B1G fans: Nick Singleton.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 10, 2022
The freshman RB goes 70 yards for his first career TD. ♂️ @NickSingletonn x @PennStateFball pic.twitter.com/h7rqFoTLqJ
Now granted, a few of Singleton’s runs weren’t totally designed to be run to the outside, but the point still stands: against a lot of defenses, Penn State is going to have a speed advantage — use it.
Nowhere is that speed advantage more prominent than with Nick Singleton. Like the aforementioned Allar, you really couldn’t have asked for a better Beaver Stadium debut than what the five-star Singleton did on Saturday: 10 carries for 179 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by three runs of 40 yards or more. It’s those explosive plays at the running back position that Penn State has sorely missed the last two years, with Keyvone Lee’s 44-yard scamper against Indiana last October being the lone run of 40+ yards in the last 22 games for a Penn State running back.
Those big runs are of course impactful because of the yardage gained, but perhaps just as importantly, it changes how a defense is going to scheme against an offense. So often the last few seasons, we’ve seen teams crash down against Penn State’s running game because they knew there was a limited risk in having a running back bounce it to the outside for a big gain. With Nicholas Singleton and his 4.4 speed, that threat is back in a big way and it will help all aspects of the offense in the process.
2. Stack the Box Against Auburn
If you haven’t been keeping up with the Auburn Tigers through their first two games, here’s what you need to know:
- Passing: 27-for-44 for 280 yards, 6.36 yards per attempt, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions
- Rushing: 79 attempts for 496 yards, 6.27 yards per attempt, and 8 touchdowns
One of these things is not like the other, and it doesn’t take Buddy Ryan to realize what the defense is going to have to do to stop Auburn’s offense: stack the box. Bring a safety into the box, play single high safety coverage, and make TJ Finley and/or Robby Ashford beat you with his/their arm. If they are able to do that, you tip your cap to them. But make them beat you in uncomfortable positions doing things they haven’t done.