Penn State has had trouble coming out of bye weeks under James Franklin. Coming into this game, James Franklin held a 3-7 record out of the bye. To mitigate that, they scheduled the best opponent they could have this season, as UMass didn’t pose much of a threat against this team.
And yet, even against the Minutemen, the Lions started out slowly. The Nittany Lions, in their first drive, fumbled the ball on a pass to Harrison Wallace, who came back from injury in this game. A punt after the second drive stalled, one in which they tried to throw the ball deep, no matter what, and the Lions got nowhere in their first two drives.
And this is where playing UMass, instead of Ohio State, Michigan, or Dantonio-era Michigan State, helps. In previous iteration of “the bye performance,” the opponent takes advantage of Penn State miscues. The Minutemen, on the other hand, couldn’t do anything to put Penn State on the defensive, and eventually the Lions settled down.
It started with a Daequan Hardy punt return for a touchdown. It would be one of two punt returns that Hardy would score on the day. There were explosives on other plays too, as Drew Allar had a couple of passes beyond 20 yards, one of which a 30-yard touchdown pass to Theo Johnson. Penn State won’t become Ohio State anytime soon, but having big plays available when they need them is something that everyone was looking for in this game. Now we’ve seen some of them. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have yet to have a big run like the ones they had last season, but they remain consistent, and, more importantly, continue to gain yardage with every run. That might not be as flashy as people may want, but it gets the job done.
All in all, this is exactly the kind of game the Nittany Lions wanted. An opponent that did not pose a threat, and an opportunity to ease into the second half of the season coming out of a bye, as opposed to the all too common, all too expected, and all too disappointing performances of recent memory.
Stats and Storylines
181 - Number of passes by Drew Allar without an interception. Not anywhere near the record, but none of us thought he’d go six full games without throwing at least one. If this number remains at zero after next Saturday, Nittany Lions fans may be celebrating more than just that accomplishment.
4.6 - Yards per rushing attempt. Who needs a 70 yard touchdown when you can have 10 7-yard runs instead?
8 - With the second shutout of the season, the Lions move to 2nd in the country in points allowed per game. Michigan is first at 6.7, and Ohio State is third with 9.7 points per game. Prepare for dogfights in the next four weeks.
109 - Yards by UMass. See that Iowa? Even the Minutemen can break 100.