Opinion: Young Nittany Lions are Still Unidentified Walking into BIG Conference Play

There is a difficult aura to explain around this team right now

Perhaps that’s not surprising for a pride of Nittany Lions who are trying to balance two things at once: attempting to live up to the past greats, who explosively and emotionally clawed their way out of sanctions and into Penn State lore and reaching the impossible bar of expectations set by those people who demand even more from this group than the former.

Those people might have a point though. The Nittany Lions’ defense has been talked up to be one of the best in the country. Their offense is loaded with four and five star recruits. On paper, this team has more talent across the board than say the 2016 team.

Speaking of that 2016 team. Let’s not forget how horrendous they looked on both sides of the ball early in the season. Crippled by injuries and forced to throw green players like Cam Brown into the fire, that squad struggled to find an identity until the second half of the Minnesota game.

Like-wise, this year’s squad has similar experience concerns as we wrap up non-conference play. They have loads of talent and have shown flashes of greatness, but also have been troubling inconsistent. Even though it’s early, the signs have everyone on edge wondering what Penn State are we going to get this week?

The defense, especially the defensive line, has failed to live up to the bill. Fans were expecting an avalanche of speed, strength, and aggression from these Wild Dogs. Although they have been good against the run, they haven’t been disruptive enough in the passing game. This has forced Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry’s hand into dialing up more blitzes and consequently leaving more holes in the secondary.

The offense was expected to get off to a slow start, but this slow? Beating up on the hapless Idaho Vandals has inflated their numbers, but it doesn’t stop the average fan from seeing the lack of identity and flow. One game Pat Freiermuth comes onto the scene. In one game each, both Dotson and Hamler had two touchdown receptions. And last week against Pitt, freshman running back Noah Cain seemed to have the hot hand in the 3rd quarter, just to be pulled for the remainder of the game. It’s like Offensive Coordinator, Ricky Rahne is just sampling his team to see what’s going to work and what isn’t for the Big Ten play.

Perhaps the answer to this team’s struggles so far are simple: Penn State has played a lot of young kids and have substituted quite a bit. This has been quite noticeable in the secondary, defensive line, running backs, and receivers. Everyone seems to be given a chance to demonstrate their talents. With different personnel comes with slightly different strategies–especially on offense. These small tweaks look nice on the whiteboard but can sometimes lead to what we have seen: A few impressive plays here and there and the rest just a rigmarole.

This method is fine for the lesser opponents that Penn State has faced so far. However, the remaining opponent’s talent level (besides Rutgers) is going to demand a higher level of play from the Lions.

As this young team braces for Big Ten Play, they are going to have to tighten the screws, find consistent playmakers, and grow up fast. If we learned anything from that 2016 team it’s that you never know when a young squad is going to put it all together, but when they do…look out.

Photo taken by Kyle Canillo (@KyleCanillo)

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