Saturday afternoon, Thursday evening, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Purdue Boilermakers engaged in a contest of American football at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. Penn State emerged victorious, 34-31. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
1. Welcome back, everyone! The offseason is far, far too long, and I’m certainly glad to see college football back.
2. This offseason, though, was a little shorter than most. A Thursday start to the season isn’t a bad thing. It’s nice to have the night (almost) to ourselves, playing a showcase game to kick off the traditional start to the season.
3. Of course, that means you have to play in a showcase game, and that usually means that you’re put in a difficult position to open the year.
4. For the third straight year, Penn State begins its season in-conference, on the road. Two of those games have occurred in Indiana.
5. This one was an 8:00 p.m. start. Under the light against Purdue, a team well known for ruining dream seasons.
6. Great. Just great.
7. Where’s Akron when you need them?
8. Honestly, though, it’s hard to understand how anyone with any ties to a college with a significant football program could possibly enjoy the NFL more. This Purdue crowd, on September 1st, was loud and raucous and amped to get things going.
9. This wasn’t the White Out. This wasn’t the Game or the Iron Bowl or Red River or the Backyard Brawl, or any significant rivalry you can speak of. This was Purdue/Penn State on September 1st and you’re not going to find a better crowd at any NFL game all year.
10. That’s why college football matters and that’s why it will always matter, despite changing rules, playoff structures, and conference memberships.
11. I won’t tread over the same ground we’ve heard a million times in the last few days, about how the fourth quarter took time off every fan’s life and how Gus Johnson nearly had his (weekly) aneurysm on live television.
12. I’ll just say this - Penn State, wounded from the last two seasons with a sixth-year quarterback and a superstar freshman reserve, goes west to play a school that lives for the upset. And they walked out 1-0.
13. I’ve found it difficult to analyze Penn State throughout the last 9 months. This team is, frankly, confusing. It has been for the last two years.
14. This did not provide a ton of answers – Purdue should be a good team, but it’s not clear they’ll be the Spoilermakers they were a year ago. But this isn’t Ohio State or Michigan. It’s not Wisconsin either.
15. And this one, against this Purdue team, went down to the wire. And in some ways, this team looked much like the November-January 2021 version of the Nittany Lions, which, I imagine, is frustrating.
16. Still, I’m having a hard time feeling negative about this result. Not only did Penn State win a conference game on the road at night, but they did it by overcoming (their own self-made) adversity.
17. James Franklin is “process oriented” and is always very focused on “going 1-0 each week.” He says all the right things each week and his players do too. Even so, I’ve made the joke multiple times this offseason that a great Penn State team will never finish with one loss. It is vastly more likely to go undefeated or lose 2 games.
18. History bears this out. Since its reemergence from college football purgatory in 2016, it feels like the first loss hangover sticks around for another week, which results in a catastrophic underperformance (see MSU ’17 and ’18, and Illinois ’21).
19. That Sean Clifford interception was the perfect moment for this team to curl up into a ball. The fact that it responded with an incredible defensive performance is, amazingly, par for the course. That they won it on that final offensive series is special.
20. There is a lot of talent on this team. There are also some odd holes and depth concerns…
22. I don’t know whether this win tells us anything about the rest of the season, but it tells me there’s some spirit in this squad. They gave me a reason to believe last Thursday night. At this point, rather than be sour about certain performances, I’ll take it.
23. I do know that expectations on this team are completely out of whack. The offense put up 35 on the road against a conference opponent at night in week 1. It had 400 yards of total offense, which doesn’t account for a number of drops from the receiving corps. The quarterback threw for four touchdowns, rushed for another, and passed for 282 yards. After throwing one of the worst interceptions this side of Outback Bowl Matt McGloin, he completed 6 of 7 passes and led a dramatic 80 yard scoring drive in less than a minute and a half to seal the deal.
24. I love Drew Allar’s arm too and he looked comfortable out there. But if the current starter’s name wasn’t Sean Clifford, would this be a discussion at all?
25. This game was terrible and awesome and hilarious and infuriating and it’s everything we all love about college football and I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
26. On to Ohio. Time to avenge the 2012 opener. Maybe we can have a linebacker return punts for old times’ sake.
27. We are…