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30 Random Thoughts on Penn State’s Win Over Villanova

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Musings on the weekend that was in State College

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Villanova at Penn State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over 100,000 fans poured into Beaver Stadium for the third consecutive Saturday, this time to watch the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Villanova Wildcats engage in a contest of American football in State College, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 38-17. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below.

1. 2021 has given me scheduling vertigo. I’m completely off-balance.

2. Penn State started on the road against a Big Ten heavyweight, came back to face the defending MAC Champion, then hosted an SEC team that has won a national championship in recent memory.

3. And now, a team from the Colonial Athletic Association.

4. It’s nice to finally have a moment in the schedule to take a break. I’m not suggesting Ball State was a world beater, but they were a competent Group of 5 team that had players who had the potential to make things interesting, especially in the midst of an early season Power 5-heavy schedule.

5. That’s not to suggest Villanova isn’t competent. For their level, the Wildcats are a legitimate contender. Given the number of upsets pulled off by FCS teams this season alone, it’s worth taking them seriously lest you get upended.

6. Competence at that level, though, clearly has its limits here.

7. Mark Ferrante’s team was disciplined and well coached. They limited penalties, took advantage of some modest opportunities to score points, and had enough guys in the box that could block and tackle well enough to hold Penn State’s running game in check.

8. Even if an FCS team does all of those things, it’s still reasonable to expect that at some point, the difference in athleticism between these two programs would be displayed.

9. That point, it turns out, was 2 minutes into the game.

10.

11. Jahan Dotson is hard enough for FBS squads to handle. But man coverage by Villanova against one of the best receivers in the country? Come on.

12. I’m going to keep taking victory laps on Sean Clifford as long as I can. It’s fashionable to say he looks like a different quarterback and a new man, but every ounce of this performance was in him all along. It just needed to be coached up and channeled properly, which includes putting him in an offense that plays with proper pace.

13. Over the last two weeks, Cliff’s completed 81 percent of his passes. Even I’m not going to suggest I saw that kind of efficiency coming. Beyond that, I’m willing to say he threw the 3 best passes of his entire career in this game – the touchdown on the opening drive to Dotson was on the money, the 52-yard slant-turned-touchdown to Parker Washington was a laser put in exactly the right spot for yards after the catch, and the late-third quarter toss down the sideline to Dotson in Nova territory put Penn State in position for its final score.

14. It helps to have exceptional weapons around you. Even if you put Dotson head and shoulders above the pack, Washington has turned himself into a reliable game breaker and KeAndre Lambert-Smith has all the tools to be a great third option.

15. That doesn’t even account for the tight ends, all of whom are terrific options in the passing game.

16. Not always so much in the running game, though. Watching Tyler Warren whiff on a block in slow motion was not exactly a ringing endorsement of that room.

17. The execution was mostly solid on offense, but really, this is a team that basically could do whatever it wanted in the passing game because its athletes were just much, much better athletes than their counterparts.

18. On the Lambert-Smith touchdown and Washington’s second score, Penn State’s guys just straight up ran around Villanova’s guys. It looked like a high school game.

19. Lots of consternation about the result here and how long it took to get there. That feels all wrong to me.

20. This is not a video game and not every game, even against this level of competition, can end 70-0. Even so, at one point in this game, Penn State was up 38-3.

21. Six of Nova’s first seven drives were 6 plays or less. Each of those 6 drives netted 15 yards or less. Two of them ended with Villanova moving backwards.

22. That 7th drive, by the way, the one where Villanova kicked a field goal? That one should have ended in an interception, but for a questionable roughing the passer call.

23. (Ji’Ayir Brown essentially replicated that play in the third quarter)

24. It’s fine to look for reasons to constructively critique your team, and I recognize that most sports fans are never happy. I can’t get on board with that here.

25. Penn State played Villanova. It won by 3 touchdowns. It was literally never in doubt – the first Villanova drive ended in a 3-and-out, losing 9 yards, and Penn State scored on a 52-yard touchdown on its very first offensive play.

26. As my esteemed colleague noted on Sunday, boring works too.

27. Win your clunkers, and all that. But if a 35 point lead in the fourth quarter is a “clunker,” then Penn State is having a mighty fine season indeed.

28. On to Indiana.

29. Wear blue. Or white. Honestly, just read this chart.

30. We are…