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2023 Opponent Snapshot: West Virginia

The Nittany Lions will open the season in prime time at Beaver Stadium against an old familiar foe from their days as an Independent.

West Virginia University vs Pennsylvania State University Set Number: X37311 TK2 R3 F9

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a series of 12 posts doing a quick “snapshot” preview of each of Penn State’s upcoming 2023 football opponents in order of the schedule. We kick off the series today with West Virginia.

Quick 2022 Recap

West Virginia had a rough 2022 to say the least, starting off with a pair of losses including one to historical rival Pitt and an overtime loss to Kansas (who, it turned out, was actually not that bad). They would go on to win the next two against Towson and Virginia Tech before riding the strugglebus throughout Big 12 play, with their only conference wins coming against Baylor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State by less than a touchdown. When it was all said and done, the Mountaineers sported a 5-7 overall, 3-6 conference record, good enough to sit around at home for the bowl season. Despite the disappointing season however, WVU opted to bring head coach Neal Brown back for 2023, albeit on a scorching hot seat.

Offensive Player to Watch: RB C.J. Donaldson

Donaldson was arguably the Mountaineers’ best running back last season, racking up 526 yards on 87 carries (good for six yards/carry) and eight touchdowns through the first seven games before suffering a season-ending injury. The coaching staff treated Donaldson with kiddie gloves during the spring practice slate, but fully expect him to be healthy and ready to go by the time they visit Happy Valley. Given that WVU lost their top four receivers from last year, expect them to lean heavily on the ground game to try and limit the number of possessions PSU’s offense gets and keep the game from getting out of hand.

Defensive Player to Watch: DE Sean Martin

The 6’5” 280-pound defensive end racked up 34 tackles last season, including four sacks, making him one of, if not the top guy returning on the defensive side of the ball. If the Mountaineer defense is going to improve upon a rather dismal showing from last year though, one in which they ranked ninth out of ten teams in the Big 12 in points allowed (nearly 33 points per game), they will need even more out of guys like Martin and for others to step up around him. It’s a very tall ask when you have to play at PSU right off the bat.

West Virginia Wins If

It will a take combination of Penn State’s offense repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with dumb turnovers (especially on their own side of the field), as well as WVU being able to move the ball consistently enough on offense to give the 17.5-point underdog Mountaineers more than a Dumb & Dumber one-in-a-million chance to pull off the upset. Look for WVU to try and establish the ground game through Donaldson and some read options with their quarterbacks Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol.

Don’t be surprised either, if WVU’s defensive coordinator decides to stack the box in an effort to keep Nicholas Singleton/Kaytron Allen in check and make Drew Allar attempt to live up to his five-star billing in his starting quarterback debut. It’s a risky move alright, but it’s probably their least bad amongst a bunch of terrible options.

Penn State Wins If

Look, it’s no secret the Nittany Lions are the deeper, more talented team in this one. With what seems to be a championship-caliber defense along with a solid duo at running back and an offensive line that for once appears to be a strength (as opposed to a question mark), PSU can lean on its defense and ground game to grind the Mountaineers down to a fine paste over four quarters and ultimately win without too much discomfort.

Allar doesn’t need to light it up, either. He just needs to be serviceable, and his performances last year have showcased he can be far more than just serviceable. As long as this PSU team doesn’t continually beat themselves, the fans at Beaver Stadium should be treated to a nice season-opening win under the lights against an old foe they haven’t faced since joining the Big Ten 30 years ago (PSU and WVU last played each other in 1992). Neal Brown may be wishing he was fired at the end of last season by the time this game is officially in the books.