When the Peach Bowl was announced, it was looked at as one of the better matchups. One of the best defenses in the country in Penn State going up against one of the best offenses in Ole Miss. Whose strength would win out?
Unfortunately, we never got to find out. Penn State had opt outs from Chop Robinson, Kalen King, and Johnny Dixon. Adisa Isaac’s snaps were extremely limited. Abdul Carter, after starting off strong, got hurt in the second quarter and was visibly limping when he returned before being pulled in the second half.
This isn’t to make excuses for the Nittany Lions. Ole Miss came in with a fantastic game plan and won the game when it was for the taking. The Rebels wide receivers made great catches in the face of strong coverage. Lane Kiffin disguised calls perfectly, confusing the Nittany Lions before (and during) the snap multiple times.
But this Nittany Lions team without its full-strength defense is like a boxer trying to win the fight without throwing a right hand. You can only throw jabs for so long before the opponent realizes there is no power punch coming, and they can just hunt you down.
Speaking of lack of power, I present to you: the Penn State wide receivers. Woah, buddy. It was a tough year for the group, but if this wasn’t rock bottom, I’m not sure what is. The group didn’t record a catch until the fourth quarter, and once again struggled to get separation the entire afternoon. They finished the game with 7 receptions for 93 yards, with all receptions and yards coming from Liam Clifford and Trey Wallace in mostly garbage time.
The offense obviously has other issues beyond the receivers. Drew Allar struggled with sensing pressure all afternoon, which got him completely out of rhythm when anticipating throws. He needs to be better. But the pukefest that was the offense this year starts with the struggles at wideout, and today was the cherry on top of the disgusting vomit sundae.
There’s going to be a lot of discussion about what this “game means.” It’s a New Year’s Six against a ranked SEC opponent, but as we discussed, the Nittany Lions were down multiple All-Big Ten players. On the other hand, Ole Miss had just one opt out and few players on “pitch counts.” In my mind, this game alone was an unfair litmus test for the Penn State program.
But looking at the big picture, this game summarizes this season for the Nittany Lions in the sense I’ll look back on it and just be reminded of a missed opportunity. A season that started out with so much promise ended in a whimper.