As you’ll see below, we are starting with the dislikes for this game because it was mostly a torturous 3.5 hours. But if you just want the Drew Allar lovefest (how could you not just look at that smile), jump down to the “likes.”
1. Vanilla Game Plan
I think that as fans, we can sometimes have a skewed perspective on the teams we root for. Like when I watched Florida and Utah on Saturday night, I didn’t go into any 2nd quarter drive thinking that the game was in the balance. But yet when I watch Penn State, every series feels so important.
I bring this up because I know how I watch a game as a fan with a rooting interest is going to alter the way I interpret the game. I understand that bias and tendency I have. But yet as I sit here nearly a week removed from the game and having re-watched it a couple times now, I have to say just how incredibly bland Penn State appeared both offensively and defensively. Of course, this is a nice thing to say after a victory in which the offense scored 35 points and the defense forced four Purdue punts in the fourth quarter, but this felt like a “B-” game all around.
Offensively, I thought the Nittany Lions did a poor job attacking Purdue horizontally. How many runs off tackle did we see? How many times did Clifford keep it on an RPO? How many times did we get the ball out quick to Parker Washington? How many times with 12 personnel did we run play action with a tight leaking out into the flat?
I don’t love criticizing the play calling or game plans usually because:
- A big piece of this comes down to players executing, and the drops in particular were killers throughout the night. Those will get an offense off track and make it tough for an offensive coordinator to develop a rhythm.
- Mike Yurcich knows a ton more than I do, and I am sure he’d be able to explain why Penn State did the things it did.
And certainly, there’s something to an offense being too complex or too confusing, especially during game one of a three-month long season. But it wasn’t the complexness or lack thereof that frustrated me, it was the lack of creativity — simple as it may be — for a majority of the night.
The good thing? I thought that last drive was a big step forward and was far-and-away the best called and executed series of the game. Look at the screen grab here just before the snap on the Mitchell Tinsley RPO.
Trips to the boundary with Tinsley being given a five-yard cushion. Clifford doesn’t even fake the handoff and darts it right to Tinsley who makes easy work of the Purdue defensive back.
That’s not complex, but it’s a beautiful call on 2nd and short where you had the Boilermakers spread out. That’s what I want to see more of — pressure the defense with the athletes Penn State has. James Franklin and Co. work too hard on the recruiting trail to not be taking advantage of the fact the football field is 53 yards wide and 100 yards long.
Defensively, I’m more willing to give Diaz a pass just because Purdue is a tricky team to game plan against, and I thought he made the necessary adjustment a bit quicker into the night. In fact, he actually did the opposite of Yurcich — stopped getting too creative and played tighter man coverage into the 4th quarter. Turns out when you have the more talented players, you more likely than not win one-on-one battles.
2. What’s Actually Changed?
I predicted Penn State to go 8-4 this year and had Purdue labeled as a “swing” game so leaving with a victory under any circumstances is a good thing in my book. Still, one of the main takeaways I had from last Thursday was: this is basically the same team from last year, isn’t it? Like I get that I am more on the pessimistic side this year, but there was still this part of me that thought Sean Clifford would be Kenny Pickett 2.0, the offense would average upwards of four (4!) yards per carry, or Hakeem Beamon and Adisa Isaac would go Dudley Boys circa 2001 and actually put Aidan O’Connell through a table. And maybe we still see that; it was only one game after all. But just from that game, it feels like 2022 Penn State is basically 2021 Penn State — frustratingly talented, but one that will make things waaaaay harder than it should be.
1. Drew Allar Is My Everything
Alright, I was an actual Big-J Journalist in my dislikes, but now allow me the time to be an unabashed fanboy.
Drew Allar is perfect.
I’ve never been so stimulated from a six-play, 30-yard drive that ended in a punt in my life. The way he felt the rush, didn’t panic, simply moved up into the pocket, escaped to his right, and fired a bullet to Mitchell Tinsley for a first down?
The way he placed the football in Tyler Warren’s hands on a corner route like it was nothing? Honestly, I don’t even blame Warren for dropping that. When it was thrown, I forgot it was Drew-freaking-Allar throwing that and for sure thought it was going to be underthrown. Warren probably runs a corner route and automatically goes into defensive back mode because that ball is never placed there. That’ll take some getting used to.
Perhaps just as importantly though, didn’t it seem like Allar was ready for the moment? On the road, Big Ten opponent in a raucous atmosphere, and the kid seemed to be cool as anything. It was like he outside Holuba Hall on a Tuesday afternoon. I know that can sound sports movie cliche-like, but his temperament, composure, and confidence was just as impressive as the rocket arm.
Should Clifford be benched for Allar? Obviously, that’s not something I can say given like nine days ago I thought he was going to be redshirting as QB3, but that was a mighty impressive performance, even if it was limited. What I will say is this:
- Clifford is going to be given the benefit of the doubt. Outside of injury, you can sharpie Clifford in as the starter through the Michigan game, and more than likely the Minnesota and Ohio State games, too.
- If I were a betting man, I would bet the over of 1.5 Allar starts. Again, I do believe that Clifford is going to be given every chance to keep his job, but with his injury history and the potential of Penn State’s record come November 5, there’s absolutely a scenario where the Nittany Lions start to plan for their future.
Until that time, the coaching staff needs to everything it can to get Allar game reps — even if the score isn’t exactly what they want it to be. They can’t just wait for a four-touchdown cushion to put him, because otherwise, that redshirt very well might stay on.
I didn’t think anyone greatly stood out as a complete and total dude the way Jahan Dotson and Arnold Ebiketie looked like last year after the Wisconsin game. But if I had to pick two guys who excited me from the offense and defense it would be two of the transfers: wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley and defensive end Chop Robinson.
Tinsley lacks the top-end speed and suddenness that the former No. 5 had, but the guy is exactly what I thought he’d be: highly dependable. Sure hands, gets open, found soft spots in the zone, and came up with that massive 27-yard reception to put the Nittany Lions in scoring position on the game-winning drive. Penn State needs more from Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith because Tinsley can not carry the unit like Dotson did, but he’s a winning player.
As for Chop Robinson, it was a quiet night when you look at the box score — just one tackle since he didn’t get credit for the last play of the game sack. But his first step and bend really jumped out to me on the edge. This was a tough game in general for the defensive line since Purdue was getting rid of the ball super quickly especially early on, but really liked what I saw out of him in particular even if the sacks and TFLs don’t show it.