As Penn State Drops to 0-4 After A Loss To Nebraska, It’s Time To Approach The Remainder Of The Season Differently

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times–or even four times? Then what?

After the loss to Indiana, most fans and critics alike judged this Penn State football team still as a College Football Playoff Contender and a possible B1G Championship Contender. Even after losing to Ohio State at home, most analyzed this team, including me, from the perspective that this team is still supposed to be good if not great.

But now after dropping back-to-back games to not so good opponents in Maryland and Nebraska, it’s time to reevaluate how we assess this Penn State football team moving forward. I don’t mean we go easy on them or find excuses for them. I mean looking at this team with a different lens–from a lower level of expectations.

If you want to continue to judge this team as if they are near the top of the college football world, that’s your choice. But I am sick of writing the same gloomy column week in and week out. The storyline hasn’t changed.

Penn State came into this season unprepared and behind the chains. Did COVID-19 set them back? Of course it did, but it also was something every other program had to plan for. It was unfortunate that they lost Journey Brown, Noah Cain, Micah Parsons, and had to break in a new offensive coordinator, but that is no excuse for the product we have seen half way through the season.

So I could sit here and tell you all the things the coaching staff continued to do wrong on Saturday, like: continuing to defer the ball to the second half when the defense has shown no signs of life early in games, not pulling Sean Clifford after that awful interception, not giving Will Levis–or any other QB more first team reps in practice this week, kicking a 56-yd FG down three scores in the third quarter, down by just seven throwing three fade routes during a streak of eight continuous incomplete passes while a decent inside running game was working, and not obviously disciplining players for behavior penalties like the unnecessary roughness on Brandon Smith or the taunting by C.J. Thorpe.

But I think it’s time to look at the moral victories. Yes, if this team was in contention for B1G titles and more; moral victories would not be good enough, but the sad fact of the matter is: This team isn’t close to that right now. Most 0-4 programs are trying to take away things they can build off of for next season and that’s where this team should be. Punt this season, because there is only 2-3 winnable games left on this schedule and I find it hard to believe they win more than one due to the psyche of the team.

Therefore, let’s look at the positives. If you aren’t done being angry at this team and coaching staff, I understand, but my optimistic personality requires me to find something good to takeaway from Saturday:

  1. The team fought back. Again, after being down in the first half due to awful play and 10 points off turnovers, the team came back in the second half and played better. The offense got a spark from Will Levis and for a moment there it felt like this team was actually alive. When Penn State scored, the defense got a stop, and there was a solid punt return by Jahan Dotson; it was the first, full, good, team sequence in quite awhile.

2. The young guys show promise. Freshmen tailbacks Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee combined for 99 yards on the ground with just 12 carries. Both also had runs for over 30 yards. WR Parker Washington had some incredible catches late and racked up 5 receptions for 70 yards, while KeAndre Lambert-Smith had 3 catches for 35 yards. The offense as a whole racked up over 450 yards and did some nice things. With the weight of the 2021 season on these guys shoulders it was a pleasant to see them doing well in the reps they saw.

3. Defense showed moments. Overall a pretty sour day for Penn State’s defense that was aided by a Nebraska WR, who dropped an easy TD pass. But they did hold Nebraska under 300 total yards and finally got a turnover by way of a tipped ball caught by LB Brandon Smith. It was the first turnover since the Indiana game. Also DE Jayson Oweh and LB Jesse Luketa played well combining for 18 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 pass breakup and 1 QB hurry.

That’s really about it. Penn State yet again had chances to win the game, but turnovers, specifically the hideous interception and the scoop and score was too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome. It has been the plague that this Penn State team has yet to find a cure for.

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