Category Archives: Penn State’s Prey 2019

One year later, Micah Parsons Proved Me Wrong

The Linebacker U banner in the south end zone is hung up by the students in Nittanyville every game. The banner has been passed down for years. Throughout its tenure it started becoming tradition to have only the most impressive PSU linebackers sign the banner. Sometimes a player is asked to autograph the banner because of their emphatic on-field performance and other times its because of how much they meant to the program. I wasn’t so sure Micah Parsons was ever going to sign this banner.

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Embarrassingly, in my close circle of friends I was never a big believer in the true sophomore linebacker.

Early on in his recruiting process I had inside “sources” that led me to believe that the high schooler was often in trouble and it was a possibility it was going to carry over into college. Even before he flipped his commitment to Ohio State, I never voiced it, but always felt Penn State would be better off without the distraction. When he was invited onto the College GameDay set, I was convinced that he would go to the Buckeyes and we would never hear from him again. The means at which he ended up back at Penn State were strange (as is the rest of college football recruiting nowadays) and made me even more skeptical about his future.

Then it was announced that Parsons would be playing linebacker–a position he had never played before. I thought this would limit his productivity and the true freshman would be lost all year long. I knew he had raw athleticism but I figured the immaturity I thought he demonstrated in high school would prevent his growth. I did think he could make it as a linebacker, but I had low expectations for him heading into his freshman year.

More importantly, I assumed that he would be a possible cancer on the team and he could even stint the growth of other players on the team. I expected him to set up shop in  head coach James Franklin’s doghouse for the next three years and even possibly transfer.


It’s safe to say I was wrong about every single part of it. Embarrassingly, flat-out, wrong.


He has been on campus since January of 2018 and has showed no signs of immaturity. In a complete 180 from what I expected, Parsons has quickly taken a leadership role on the defense. Not only has he NOT been a cancer for this football team, I wouldn’t be surprised if he roots out other possible cancers on the team. He is focused on his craft and dedicated to his team. You can sense his hunger for championships and you know that rubs off on his teammates.

Does he sometimes tweet overconfidently? Yes, but that is the type of attitude you want from your linebacker. Especially when he has the ability to back it up. And that is the most remarkable part about Micah Parsons that I grossly misgauged. It is that he is a stud at linebacker and it looks like he has been playing it all his life.

The true freshman had 83 tackles last year, which led the team. To give you an idea how special it was, his 83 tackles is only 27 tackles shy of Marcus Allen’s 110 for fifth in a single season at Penn State. Did I forget to mention he only started one game? Coach Franklin summed it up best, “I think about how much production he had last year and he never played linebacker before in his life.”

I was entirely wrong about Micah Parsons and I am excited for him to keep proving me wrong. The rest of the Big Ten should look out because this guy is the real deal. I am sure he will be signing the Linebacker U banner by the time he graduates.

Penn State’s Prey 2019: Buffalo Bulls

(Follow me on Twitter @Cory_Lestochi)

Following a home opener with the Idaho Vandals, Penn State will turn their attention to the Buffalo Bulls (10-4, 7-1 MAC) in week two. Don’t let the fact that this opponent hails from the MAC conference fool you, the Buffalo Bulls, have drastically improved under head coach Lance Leipold.

The former division three head coach, who went 109-6 at Wisconsin-Whitewater, is now in his fifth year as the head coach of the Bulls. Buffalo has improved their win total by four wins in each of the past two seasons. More impressively, the majority of the coaching staff has stayed put with no Power Five schools successfully poaching Leipold despite his recent success. The ten wins earned in the 2018 season is the most in program history.

Leipold and his Bulls will return to Beaver Stadium for a 7:30 PM kick on the second week of the season. Beaver Stadium just happens to be the place where Leipold coached his first FBS road game in 2015 when the Nittany Lions beat the Bulls 27-14 and a freshman phenom, Saquon Barkley’s hurdle over a defender made highlight reels across the country.

But this Bulls team will look grossly different than a year ago. Buffalo only returns 9 starters and has 23 true freshman or junior-college transfers that are new to the program. Therefore, the squad will have a lot of growing up to do if it wants to keep up in the MAC this season.

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Defense (25.9 PPG, Returning Starters: 3)

Only returning three starters on the defensive side of the football does not look promising for any team. The Bulls lost three starting defensive linemen but do have experienced backups to fill their roles with Chibueze Onwuka, Eddie Wilson, and DeShondrick Foxworth (combined 45 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) at the defensive tackle position and Malcom Koonce, Taylor Riggins, and Ledarius Mack (combined 32 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) at the defensive end spot.

At linebacker, returning from a sensation freshman campaign, James Patterson (77 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 forced fumbles) could be used in any of the linebacker positions. He will have an even larger role to play this year with the departure of LB Khalil Hodge (all-MAC first-team, 144 tackles). Matt Otwinowski (13 solo tackles) appears to be the next man up at the inside linebacker position despite little experience.

Things don’t get better for the Bulls when you reach the secondary–they lose three more starters. Safety Tyrone Hill (46 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, and four pass breakups) must take a larger role in only his second season. There is no simple way of replacing Cameron Lewis (all-MAC first-team, 32 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) and it wouldn’t be surprising if Penn State takes full advantage of this inexperienced secondary that will be left out to dry with minimal pass rush.

Offense (34.6 PPG, Returning Starters: 5)

Anytime you lose the conference player of the year on offense, you are going to take a step back. That is exactly what is going to happen when Buffalo tries to replace QB Tyree Jackson (3,131 yards and 28 TDs). Although coach Leipold has said there is a three-man race between Kyle Vantrease, Dominic Johnson, and Matt Myers only Vantrease (375 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) and Johnson (4 yards, 1 INT) have in-game experience. My money is on Vantrease being named the starter due to his versatility, but Johnson is the biggest quarterback among the group.

Whoever is under center will also have to find a new leading receiver. Anthony Johnson (two-time All MAC, 57 catches, 1011 yards, 11 TDs) is now with the Tampa Buccaneers. But he isn’t all that is departing. The Bulls have lost their top six receivers ( combined 2,861 yards and 28 TDs). The returning leading receivers are a backup tight end and running back. Look for Daniel Lee (57 catches, 846 yards, 6 TDs combined in two seasons) from Cisco College to step in and play a major role.

The offensive line does return four starters and will only have to replace the center position. Look for left guard Paul Nosworthy to play a pivotal role in anchoring the Buffalo offense.

Jarrett Patterson, and brother of Buffalo’s James Patterson, will be the star at running back. Patterson (1,013 yards and 14 TDs) will look to continue the success he had in his redshirt freshman season. Hopefully the presence of an experienced offensive line can expand Buffalo’s running game and take the pressure off the aerial attack.

Cory’s Take

Buffalo is coming off what could be considered its best season in program history. Coach Leipold is the real deal and the last time Buffalo came to State College, they brought intensity (and a lot of rain). Unfortunately, the Bulls simply have too much to replace on both sides of the football and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is over before halftime. I don’t see how Buffalo will be able to stop Penn State’s offense through either the air or the run and Buffalo’s offense will not be properly armed for any sort of shootout.

Too Early Prediction

Buffalo Bulls: 6

Penn State Nittany Lions: 42

 

Penn State’s Prey 2019: Idaho Vandals

(Follow me on Twitter @Cory_Lestochi)

The Penn State Nittany Lions will kickoff the 2019 football season on August 31st, at 3:30 PM in Beaver Stadium. They will host the Idaho Vandals (4-7, 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference). The Vandals, who were placed on the schedule when they were still a part of the FBS division and the Sun Belt conference, recently moved to the FCS division and the Big Sky conference. Some picked the Vandals to compete well in the 2018 campaign, so their 4-7 season was quite disappointing and surprising to many.

Head coach Paul Petrino has been at the helm for six seasons and has amassed a dismal 23-48 record. However, there is some optimism that the Vandals can turn things around this season with a more favorable schedule–Penn State will be their toughest opponent.

It won’t be easy for the Vandals to storm into Happy Valley and secure a win, but if they want to, they will have to find a way to play better defense.

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Defense (37.5 PPG, Returning Starters: Unknown)

Idaho’s defense was physically beaten time and time again against a variety of Big Sky offenses in addition to and understandably Fresno St and Florida. The 35.7 ppg is slightly high due to the annihilations of Fresno St and Florida, but don’t that doesn’t excuse the Vandals effort on defense.

Matters get worse for the Vandals as two returning senior starters, linebacker Ty Graham and safety Denzal Brantley, left the program for family needs. To add insult to injury, Idaho’s leading returning tackler, and linebacker, Christian Ellis (81 tackles) and tight end, Dalton Cash were arrested on theft charges and will miss the season opener against Penn State. Idaho will also miss Kaden Ellis, the linebacker was drafted 244th to the New Orleans Saints in the NFL Draft and is the brother of Christian.

Reinforcements have arrived this offseason though, with 10 defensive players transferring into the program. Three of these transfers come from the FBS level (2 from Boise State and 1 from Western Michigan). Additionally, Idaho does bring back Jalen Hoover (54 tackles and 2 blocked punts) and Lloyd Hightower (28 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble)  in the defensive backfield.

With the suspension to Christian Ellis and the departure of Kaden Ellis, Idaho will be defenseless to the stable of running backs in Penn State’s backfield and will lack their leaders–this is not a winning recipe against Penn State.

Offense (24.91 PPG, Returning Starters: 8)

The good news: the Vandals bring back four offensive linemen from a year ago. The bad news, Idaho lost both their No.1 and No.2 rushers and the No.3 returning rusher is Mason Petrino, the senior quarterback. If Idaho plans to have success on offense, they will need to find a running game that was missing in 2018. Luckily they have a comittee of running backs that may be the solution: Junior running back, Dylan Thigpen missed last year with a leg injury and will be back this year, the occasional running back and also linebacker, Jack Bamis may see a more extended role in the backfield, big-frame back, Roshaun Johnson provides physicality, and Idaho welcomes freshmen Nick Romano and Khalil Forehand.

As mentioned, Petrino (245 yards and 3 TDs) adds a running element to the offensive attack. This may be imperative because Petrino is coming off of a unimpressive 59.8% completion rate with 1,933 yards, 15 TDs and 9 interceptions season. With a more productive running attack, Petrino may be able to have more success throwing the football, something he may struggle to do with Penn State’s pass rush and experienced secondary. Don’t be surprised if the Nittany Lions pick off the Vandals quarterback a couple times.

Idaho will also have to replace their leading receiver from a year ago, however, this seems more than capable with Cutrell Haywood (51 catches, 489 yards, and 6 TDs) and Jeff Cotton (49 catches, 656 yards, and 7 TDs) returning.

Cory’s Take

Idaho struggled in their first year in the Big Sky conference and they shouldn’t expect anything different when they face-off with a Big Ten heavyweight. The good news for the Vandals is they catch Penn State in the first game of the season–where the Nittany Lions will still be looking to find their stride. Last year, the Nittany Lions almost let App. State steal one in State College, partly because Penn State hadn’t found an identity yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vandals keep it close til halftime, but the lack of depth, running game, and the suspension of Christian Ellis will prove to be too much for Idaho. Thankfully for the Vandals, Idaho’s schedule eases up the rest of the way, with only one other FBS opponent, Wyoming, on the schedule. Reaching the FCS playoffs is still a realistic possibility, regardless of the outcome on August 31st.

Too Early Prediction

Idaho Vandals: 10

Penn State Nittany Lions: 45

 

 

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