They kept testing him. Over and over, in key situations, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell attempted to find the receiver covered by Penn State’s top cornerback, Joey Porter Jr. Time after time, Porter Jr. rose to the occassion to stifle the Purdue offense enough to let the Nittany Lions squeak out a victory in dramatic fashion.
The Thursday night kickoff meant that many football-starved fans tuned in to Penn State’s season openener with Purdue. For those that may not have been as familiar with the Nittany Lions, Porter Jr. was the one player who stood out amongst the rest throughout the evening. He was the guy who made the casual observer take notice as a special player who will be playing on Sundays in the near future.
Porter Jr.’s performance created buzz well outside of Happy Valley. Following week one, he was named the Bednarik National Player of the Week. The honor recognizes his effort as the best individual defensive performance in all of college football for week one. It also gives an early boost for his hopes of winning the Thorpe Award, which is handed out in December to the nation’s top defenive back.
Porter Jr. may not have seemed perfect, but he was close to it. He made a brilliant read on a ball to make a near-interception that would have given Penn State the ball in the red zone...if Porter himself didn’t take it to the house. Unfortunately the ball slipped out of his hands, resulting in a completion for the Boilermakers. He was also penalized for pass intereference in the end zone, on a flag that was understandable but easily could have stayed in the ref’s pocket. You may also consider O’Connell’s 356 yards passing on the night a mark against the secondary - until you realize he had 58 passing attempts, with many completions at the expense of the inexperienced linebacker crew.
It was a historical night for Porter Jr. - his six pass breakups set a new Penn State record, and tied him for the most in a single-game in Big Ten history. He also led the team with eight tackles.
WR Mitchell Tinsley - The Western Kentucky transfer produced the first points of the Nittany Lions’ 2022 season, and never looked back. He immediately proved he is ready to be a difference-maker in the Big Ten, finishing with eight catches for 84 yards. He also created a pass intereference penalty by badly beating his man, that may have otherwise ended with Tinsley in the end zone for a second time.
S Keaton Ellis - Ellis was active all night in the secondary, and broke up four passes - several in crucial moments that played a vital part in Penn State’s late victory.
TE Brenton Strange - It’s only week one, but Strange already has a highlight-reel play that will be on of the best plays of the ‘22 season. As time was ticking away at the end of the first half, Strange snagged a pass, shook off a couple defenders, then raced his way to the end zone with just :02 left in the half (shoutout to Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith for some key downfield blocks). He finished with two catches for 77 yards and the score.