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Bye Week Observations on Penn State’s 5-0 Start

The Nittany Lions are undefeated and #6 in the nation as they head into the bye week.

Iowa v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

5-0 By a Mile

Penn State is unbeaten heading into the bye week, and the starters have yet to play a full game. I wasn’t quite expecting that, especially with Illinois and Iowa’s defense capable of getting an offense, especially one with a new starter, completely out of rhythm. The stressful moments have been few and far between.

The Week 1 Victory Could be a Big Deal

The Nittany Lions kicked off the season with a satisfying 38-15 win against West Virginia (38-7 before starters came out). The Mountaineers were picked by most outlets to finish last in the Big 12, but they suddenly have a chance for a special season. West Virginia has won four in a row since losing to the Nittany Lions, with victories over Texas Tech, who many picked as a darkhorse Big 12 champion, at defending national champion runner-up TCU, and a convincing win in a rivalry game against Pitt. West Virginia’s remaining schedule includes Houston, Oklahoma State, Central FLorida, BYU, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Baylor. A 9-3 or even a 10-2 regular season could be in the cards for West Virginia, giving Penn State a huge boost to their resume.

Wide Receiver Remains a Question Mark

KeAndre Lambert has proved every bit the playmaker, picking up where he left off with a hot stretch to end the ‘22 season. Tre Wallace is the type to quietly put up 7 catches for 70 yards that helps keep the offense on the field, but has been missed the last few weeks. Tight ends Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson have both been playing at a high level, while running back Nicholas Singleton has become a more prominent part of the passing attack. After that, there are still many question marks.

James Franklin noted that he was still seeking consistency from the receivers just days before the season began. It seems like he’s still searching. He noted that a receiver would have a big day in practice, and then lose momentum the following day. It’s exactly what we’ve seen the first five games of the season. There is little doubt that developing better timing and communication will be a priority during the bye week. Penn State will absolutley need a healthy Wallace and improved play from the receiver group to keep winning the second half of the season.

Defensive Tackles Getting the Job Done

The defensive tackle position was the biggest question mark heading into the season behind wide receiver. While they may not have the ideal size in the trenches, they are an incredibly athletic unit who have no problems thus far making life difficult for opposing offensive lines. Zane Durant has proved especially disruptive, with 4.5 TFLs and two sacks, and is coming off a standout performance against Nortwestern. So far, so great as we wait to see what they can do against better competition soon.

Alex Felkins Answers the Call

It took two tries, but Penn State found its kicker in transfer Alex Felkins. After initial starter Sander Sahaydak missed two short field goals in week one, Felkins has proved a relaible option. Felkins is seven-of-nine on field goal attempts, with one miss being a 52-yarder that was blocked and the second a 45-yarder against Nortwestern once the game was already out of hand. Felkins is three-of-four from 40-49 yards, with a long of 47 yards this season.

Enjoy this Defense

Manny Diaz’s unit has been exceptional both on the stat sheet and the eye test. The defense enters the bye week ranked first nationally in total defense, yards allowed per game with a paltry 210.6 average, passing defense, and are near the top in every other team defensive statistic. They’re also an absolute blast to watch. A deep rotation with exceptionally smart, athletic and disciplined players that can bring pressure from anywhere, which constantly produces big plays, whether it be a tackle for loss that could instantly kill or drive, a strip sack from a quarterback under immense pressure, or that pressure resulting in yet another interception by a secondary that stick to their receivers like Gorilla Glue. This defense is special, enjoy them while you can.

Explosive Plays

Some fans are understandably growing frustrated with a lack of explosive plays. It certainly makes the game more entertaining, and it’s nice to know that your team can simply switch it on at any moment and out-athlete opponents.

I’m not too concerned for a couple reasons. First off, methodically driving the length of the field is incredibly difficult. It’s great to see that this offense continues to do so without negative plays or turnovers stalling drives. It’s also a winning formula to keep the opposing offense on the sideline for so long. Secondly, I think we do see the offense create more big plays as the season rolls on. Drew Allar is becomming more comfortable in the offense, and should be given more of a green light to let it rip. This will also open up the running game. Nicholas Singleton has come close to breaking a few already, and it seems like once he eventually breaks a long run for a score, something will click and we’ll see it more regularly - especially if defenses are afraid to stack the box with Allar going deep.

Life is Good

Penn State is undefeated and ranked #6. The team is filled with extremely likeable student-athletes, and we’ve got some colossal games coming very soon. Enjoy.