Category Archives: Columns

The Good Things Surrounding the Penn State Football Program during the Pandemic

The Covid-19 Pandemic forced worldwide changes in how we live as a society. Usually Penn State fans are used to saying “We Are”. But, for the last few months, “social distancing” have been the two words most people around the country are saying the most.

The Pandemic forced the cancellation of many notable events in the Penn State Football world. Spring practice, Blue-White Weekend, players attending the NFL Draft, and commencement all went by the wayside. Instead, players are working out on their own, while coaches are communicating with them through Zoom meetings. Blue-White Weekend was cancelled. The NFL held a virtual Draft, thus forcing all players to hear their names called at home. Lastly, instead of walking a stage, players who graduated were honored for their accomplishments virtually.

But, as June begins, and the world is trying to return to some type of normalcy, I think now is a good time to reflect on some of the good things that have happened in the last few months within the Penn State Football Program. Obviously, fans have high expectations for the 2020 Nittany Lions after coming off an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl victory. But, let’s back on what we know has happened before we look ahead to the a very uncertain summer and fall of 2020.

Former Nittany Lions Finding New NFL Homes

While professional sports leagues were postponing their seasons because of Covid-19, the NFL Free Agency period was getting started. Several former Penn State players signed on to new teams ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

Blue-White Weekend Virtual Tailgate

Blue-White Weekend is more than just seeing a Spring Football game in Happy Valley. So, with it being cancelled in 2020, it was a huge loss for the Penn State community. But, the Penn State Football Program was able to at least salvage a little bit of that feeling fans get when they pay a visit to Penn State for Blue-White Weekend.

The Penn State social media team was able to put together a virtual tailgate for fans, players, and coaches to enjoy and come together as a community. There were trivia events, Spring Game schedule poster release, Blue Band show, live check-ins from coaches, including Head Coach James Franklin, and replays of classic Penn State games.

Although the numbers fell short for a traditional Blue-White Weekend, these numbers were still pretty solid in bringing together the Penn State Football community.

2020 NFL Draft

The NFL offseason was the excitement of the last few months for sports fans. This time, it was the NFL Draft that had people locked in to see who their favorite teams would select. There were zero Nittany Lions selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

But, Penn State fans didn’t have to wait long to hear one of their own have their name called in the second round. Yetur Gross-Matos went 38th overall to the Carolina Panthers where he will play for former Penn State player and current Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Shortly after, the Denver Broncos scooped up KJ Hamler with the 46th pick, making him key piece to a now young, formidable wide receiver corps in Denver.

In the middle to late rounds, former Nittany Lions were scattered across the draft ticker. John Reid went in the 4th round to the Houston Texans, where he will play for former Penn State Head Coach Bill O’Brien.

Cam Brown was picked by the New York Giants in the 6th round. He will have some familiarity on the coaching staff as recently departed Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer is now in the same role with the Giants.

The final Nittany Lion selected in the 2020 Draft was Robert Windsor, who joined Brown in the 6th round when the Indianapolis Colts selected him at 193rd overall.

NFL Undrafted Free Agents

Yes, Penn State had five players hear their name get called by Roger Goodell in the virtual NFL Draft. But, they had several more sign with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Here is the list:

Micah Parsons Hype

Since he was a 5-star high school recruit, Penn State fans have known how talented LB Micah Parsons is. After an All-America sophomore campaign, it is hard not to be excited to see how high Parsons may go if he decides to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. Mel Kiper Jr. certainly did not put a damper on the expectations with his early Big Board for the 2021 Draft where he ranked Micah Parsons at #5.

Recruiting Wins

Despite recruiting being in a dead period because of the global pandemic, Penn State has been fortunate to continue to thrive on the recruiting trail. As of May 31, they have the 17th best overall class on 247Sports and 12 commits currently in the class. Prior to the pandemic, only two players were committed to the blue and white. Liam Clifford, the brother of QB Sean Clifford, and Nate Bruce were the only two commits in the 2021 class. But, since March 26, 10 players have forced James Franklin to tweet “We Are… Better”.

4-star OT prospect Landon Tengwall gave his commitment on March 26, becoming the first player to commit during quarantine. From there,  players were committing left and right.

4-star S Jaylen Reed from Michigan committed to the Lions on April 9th. The very next day, Penn State landed three commitments. Another 4-star S, Zakee Wheatley committed, adding to the secondary depth of the 2021 class. Then, James Franklin once again dipped into enemy territory by landing brothers DB Kalen King and LB Kobe King out of Detroit, MI.

The next week, CB Jeffrey Davis Jr., became the 4th defensive back to commit to the 2021 class. On April 29, Franklin received commitments from two players. 4-star QB prospect Christian Veillux committed, fitting Franklin’s highly coveted “one QB per class” rule. That same day, Sander Sahaydak from Bethlehem, PA committed to Penn State. Sahaydak is the #1 kicker on 247Sports in the 2021 class.

As the calendar flipped to May, 3-star prospects Rodney McGraw, a defensive end from Indiana, and Lonnie White Jr., a likely future WR from Malvern, PA, both committed to Penn State. But, since White Jr. committed on May 7, the recruiting trail has been relatively quiet.

Covid-19 has certainly forced many changes within our society. But, fortunately, good news has continued to come from the Penn State Football Program during these difficult times. Hopefully, there is more to come in the next few months!

How Can Penn State Catch Ohio State?

Photo by Kami Brand

In the Big Ten it’s the Ohio State Buckeyes and then everyone else. That is the undeniable truth.

In the past four seasons, Ohio State is 49-6 and boasts a 33-3 conference record (16′ loss at Penn State, 17′ loss at Iowa, and 18′ loss at Purdue). To put it plainly, it has been utter dominance.

So how do the Nittany Lions rise to the same level? Well, it’s important to note that Penn State has played the Buckeyes as well as anyone in the past four years: both the 2017 and 2018 games were heartbreakers with a single point separating the Lions from the Buckeyes. Last year’s game wasn’t as close, but it was also probably Ohio State’s most talented team since 2014 and it was in Ohio Stadium.

As close as the Nittany Lions were to knocking off the Buckeyes, there are also no moral victories in College Football. The pair of losses in 2017 and 2018 were a figurative Ohio State stiff arm–keeping Penn State out of arm’s reach.

Let’s take a closer look:


Recruiting is the fuel to any college football program. Obviously every program has to be able to develop their players to be successful, something Michigan has struggled with. But the top-tier teams are able to consistently develop their four and five star recruits. So it doesn’t matter how well the Iowas and Wisconsins improve their three star players, they will never consistently keep up with the schools that are recruiting and developing their blue-chip recruits.

That is simply why Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten.

 

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Look at the above data. Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten when it comes to recruiting. In 2019, the Nittany Lions did edge out the Buckeyes. The class has players who will look to make a major impact in 2020: Noah Cain, Brandon Smith, Adisa Isaac, John Dunmore, and Devyn Ford. But for the most part Ohio State has had their way when it comes to recruiting. Typical recruiting battles between the Buckeyes and Wolverines in Michigan and Ohio have been won by Ohio State. Furthermore the Buckeyes have stolen big time players from Pennsylvania like five star receiver Julian Fleming. To top it off, the Buckeyes have been recruiting on a national level rivaling the likes of Georgia and Alabama.

It’s no surprise that the strong 2018 and 2019 Penn State recruiting classes came after the Nittany Lions returned to greatness in 2016. However, the 2016 Big Ten Championship is long gone; high school recruits were only 11-14 years old when James Franklin raised that trophy. The Nittany Lions need to continue to defend why their product is better than Ohio State’s.

Because right now it isn’t.

On top of the recruiting imbalance, Ohio State continues to attract top-level transfers to their program. The most gut-wrenching one? Justin Fields transferring from Georgia to Columbus, who was at one time committed to Penn State. Just yesterday, Oklahoma running back and graduate transfer, Trey Sermon, announced he too will be transferring to Ohio State.

Penn State’s biggest addition via the transfer portal? A specialist. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have lost big time players such as Juwan Johnson, Justin Shorter, and Ricky Slade. Perhaps Penn State fans won’t miss any of them, but the program still needs to find a way to entice a couple playmakers where their depth is shallow.


It’s hard to compete against Ohio State with the number of blue chip players on their roster. But it’s important to note that Penn State doesn’t need to beat the Buckeyes every time they play them to narrow the gap. But when they have the opportunities to win, they must capitalize. The single-point losses in 2017 and 2018 halted the momentum of the entire program not because they lost to Ohio State, but how and when they lost. Losing by one-point, twice, leaves a stinging resonance within the entire program. Even a split in those games would have helped close the distance between the programs. Instead, losing both those games, then losing the following week to Michigan State lagged the program’s growth and let Ohio State separate.

The loss in 2019 didn’t change the opinions of many, Penn State wasn’t supposed to beat one of the best teams in the country on their home-field. But now let’s fast forward to the 2020 season.

Penn State is returning a ton of experience, a stout defense, and a couple game-changers on both sides of the football. Let’s focus in on the last point because I believe that is what makes the difference between the elite and the great programs. Having team speed and disruptive linemen help you dominate the lesser opponents, but the game changing playmakers are the ones that swing the game in your favor against evenly matched teams. Think Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin, KJ Hamler.

Penn State will still be looking for a few more game changers in their receiving corps, but they have promising prospects eager to prove themselves. All things considered, given how much Ohio State has to replace, this appears to be a season where Penn State can move one step closer to Ohio State.

And beating Ohio State every couple years along with capitalizing on other primetime matchups is the only way to narrow the gap and truly compete with the Buckeyes.

And if they don’t beat them in 2020 then they will just move further away.

Evaluating Penn State Players at the NFL Combine

This weekend five former Penn State Nittany Lions took part in the 2020 NFL Draft Combine to showcase their skills in front of NFL scouts, coaches, and general managers. Here is our evaluation for each of them.

KJ Hamler WR

Grade: B

The knock on KJ Hamler heading into Indy was always going to be his size. He didn’t necessarily help himself with his weigh-in under 180 pounds. That being said, the flashy receiver benched 15 reps at 225, which was impressive for any receiver. Hamler didn’t run his 40 this weekend though because of a tweaked hamstring. He claims he will run a  sub-4.3. It’s safe to say his stock will highly depend on that time, more than it would for other receivers.

Yetur-Gross Matos DE

Grade: B-

Yetur-Gross Matos was never going to wow anyone away with his bench press showing. The defensive end’s length was a talking point though. Gross-Matos was measured with 82 2/8″ wingspan and almost 35″ arms. That length is something that cannot be coached or taught. Like Hamler, Gross-Matos didn’t run his 40.

Robert Windsor DL

Grade: A

Robert Windsor went into Indianapolis with very little to lose and it showed. Windsor put together an impressive combine and boosted his stock. He ran a sub 5.0 forty, which would bode well for any interior defensive linemen. Furthermore, his hustle and pass rush ability appears on his tape as well as his measurables. I am not sure where he is going to go but I can see him lasting in the NFL for a long time.

Cam Brown LB

Grade: C

This was an important weekend for Cam Brown and he didn’t put his best foot forward. The linebacker only managed 16 reps on the benchpress, which was only one better than his former teammate, KJ Hamler. That disappointing result is partially due to his length, but it still doesn’t look good for an undersized linebacker. Furthermore, his 40 time, 4.72 was not as fast as he would’ve liked it. He will look to improve his stock at Penn State’s pro day, where he will look to get that 40 time possibly under 4.70 at the very least.

John Reid

Grade: A

John Reid closed out the NFL Combine for the Nittany Lions with a strong performance. The former Nittany Lion defensive back was once a possible candidate to leave early for the NFL, but was held back with a couple injuries. One important aspect of the NFL Combine is the medical evaluations during the week, which plays a pivotal role for players like Reid. If he passed those tests without any red flags then this week was already a successful one for him. Furthermore, his hips were as fluid as any during the on-the-field drills. He capped off his performance with a sub-4.50 40, which was one of the question marks heading into the combine. Oh and it doesn’t hurt when Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders says you look smooth:

Penn State Names Their New OC

After Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne left for the Head Coach position at Old Dominion, Penn State had an interesting decision to make. Would they stay in-house and hire a JaJuan Seiders to be their new OC? Tyler Bowens will be the interim OC for the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, so would he get an audition for the job? Instead, on Thursday, Penn State named Minnesota Offensive Coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca as their new Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach.

Penn State fans have some familiarity with Ciarrocca, familiarity that left them upset in November, but should excite them in December. As the Minnesota OC and QB Coach, Ciarrocca and the Minnesota offense carved up the Penn State offense in their November 2 matchup.

The Gophers dominated the time of possession battle and Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan had the game of his life. He threw for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 18 of 20 passes in Minnesota’s 31-26 victory. Seeing the efficiency of the Minnesota offense that day certainly hurt, but this was a possible preview of how the future Penn State offense could look.

As for 2019 as a whole, the Golden Gophers were 24th in the country in scoring offense, averaging 34.3 points per game.

Looking ahead, Penn State will continue to use run-pass-options in their offense under Ciarrocca, making the transition from Ricky Rahne to Kirk Ciarrocca quite seamless.

For The Glory would like to welcome Kirk to the Penn State family!

 

Penn State Extends James Franklin through 2025; Now, It Is Time to Start Appreciating Him

Rumors swirled throughout the week that James Franklin may be receiving a contract extension after his Penn State Football Team won their 10th game for the third time in four years. Those rumors came true on Friday when Penn State’s Committee on Compensation unanimously approved a new deal for the Penn State Head Football Coach. Although the official terms have not been released to the public just yet, the deal will run through the 2025 season.

This is excellent news for Penn State as they keep one of the best coaches in the country. Here is Franklin’s tweet after his extension went public:

Penn State has had quite a run under James Franklin since 2016. As you can see here, the Nittany Lions have been one of the best programs throughout the country over the last four years.

The “Underappreciated” Coach

That right there is the definition of a model of consistency. But, Senior punter Blake Gillikin has described Coach Franklin as “underappreciated” in recent talks with the media. In my opinion, he is downright disrespected by some in the Penn State fan base and quite honestly, I am sick and tired of it.

James Franklin is one of the best head coaches in the country. And that is not just my opinion. The stats back that up and national writers and analysts say the same exact thing. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic is one College Football writer who certainly understands how great of a coach Franklin is. In an article from before the 2018 season, Feldman had this to say about Franklin.

“… you’re a fool if you don’t think Franklin is one of the 10 best coaches in the sport right now. If I’m ranking the Top 5 coaches in college football right now, Franklin’s one of them.”

You can read the full article here, but a subscription to The Athletic is required.

But, that is just the opinion of one of the most respected College Football writers in the country. Unfortunately, there are some Penn State fans throughout the country who do not see James Franklin as that Top 5 coach. Here are some examples.

Since 2016, Penn State has a record of 41-11, with a winning percentage of 78.8 percent. How many Power 5 conference teams have a better winning percentage than Penn State during that span? Six, just six. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Wisconsin. What programs around the country have we outperformed during that stretch? LSU, Washington, Michigan, and Notre Dame, just to name a few.

Yes, winning on average ten games a year is very mediocre football. What else would we expect from James Franklin and Penn State?

Yes, I hope Penn State wins the National Championship next year, too. With James Franklin as the Head Coach it is reasonable to say they have a chance every year. But, Penn State has not won a National Title since 1986. Did you run out of patience when Joe Paterno was leading Penn State to an unbeaten season in 1994 and not being named National Champions? Or losing heartbreaking games on the road in 2005 and 2008 as Penn State’s only defeats? If 2020 is finally the time to call it quits, then I am more than happy to have this “fan” find another team to cheer for when they win it all and bash them when they come up just short.

 

Sir, believe it or not, some bowl projections have Penn State going to the Rose Bowl. THE ROSE BOWL. Is that a mediocre bowl game? Penn State went to the Rose Bowl in 2016 and lost 52-49 in an all-time classic. The team that beat them had the #3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft at QB in Sam Darnold and one of the top wide receivers in the NFL today in Juju Smith-Schuster. Then in 2017, Penn State went to another New Years’ 6 Bowl in the Fiesta Bowl and won it against Washington. That is a pretty good looking participation trophy sitting in the Penn State trophy case.

I am not even sure if this is true and nor do I care enough to look it up. But, how much did this fan miss any of the players that left? I am sure he did not miss them at all. Did he miss Danny Dalton’s 0 catches for 0 yards this year for Boston College? But, I am sure he was on his feet cheering when Lamont Wade was wrecking havoc against Ohio State this year.

Players leave programs and it is not always because of the head coach. Some leave because of playing time. Danny Dalton is a good example of this, as Pat Freiermuth beat him out in 2018. Some players leave because of family matters, as well. But, yes, please blame James Franklin for an 18-22 year old college kid making a grown up decision.

Don’t Hate, Appreciate

Penn State fans: we are so lucky to have James Franklin as the Head Football Coach at Penn State. Ask Vanderbilt how lucky we are. Franklin posted back-to-back 9 win seasons at Vanderbilt before he left for Penn State. AT VANDERBILT. Before Franklin got there, the Commodores went 2-10 in the two seasons prior. And since Franklin left, they are just 27-47 with a winning percentage of 36.5 percent.

I know Penn State fans are grateful for the job Bill O’Brien did in 2012 and 2013 in keeping the program together through sanctions. But, not as many fans are grateful for the job James Franklin has done after O’Brien.

Still dealing with the NCAA sanctions, in 2014, Franklin took the eventual National Champions to double overtime at home and won the Pinstripe Bowl with 65 total scholarship players. According to Franklin, due to injuries and redshirt players, that number got down to 41 during the season. In 2015, he led them to another bowl game despite not having his program back to full scholarship numbers. Then, since 2016, all he has done is win.

  • 2016 Big Ten Title
  • Rose Bowl Appearance
  • Fiesta Bowl Victory
  • 3 undefeated seasons at home
  • 3 10-win seasons
  • 2 11-win seasons
  • 2 Top-10 AP Poll finishes

The numbers show that James Franklin is one of the top college football coaches in America. Now, that he is receiving a contract extension to stay at Penn State, it is now time to appreciate just how great of a coach he is.

 

 

 

 

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