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Penn State Nittany Lions Drop To Program-Worst 0-5

It’s quite astonishing isn’t it? In a storied program’s history, Penn State has never started 0-5–until yesterday. Saturday’s 41-21 defeat to the Iowa Hawkeyes will also snap a streak of winning seasons dating back to the 2004 season. That’s right. Through everything this football program has been through in the past decade this season is on pace to be the worst by far.

The worst part? It doesn’t seem to be getting better. As first reported by Hardcore College Football (@hardcorecfb) prior to the game, TE Pat Freiermuth is out for the season with a disclosed shoulder injury that will require surgery. I am hearing it is a labrum injury, which would make sense since the injury occurred during the Ohio State game and Freiermuth attempted to play with it during the past two games. The shoulder labrum is tricky because depending on the severity of the tear it might not even hurt him unless he does specific tasks. Regardless, he will have loss of range of motion and strength in that shoulder until it is surgically reattached. (I am no doctor, but I suffered a football-caused shoulder labrum injury myself)

Besides the injury of Penn State’s best remaining player, HC James Franklin and OC Kirk Ciarrocca decided to roll with backup QB Will Levis to start the game. Although he was able to pound his way down the field in his second series he suffered the same fate as his predecessor–the turnover bug. So Penn State brought QB Sean Clifford back into the game, where as Ben Jones put it perfectly, fit his entire game into one quarter–the good and the bad. With the turnovers still the glaring issue with this offense and the Will Levis experiment failing, where do they turn now?

Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the game was the defensive line. Although Shaka Toney flashed, the majority of the game saw the defensive line being backed right into their fellow teammates standing four yards behind them. Typically, Iowa’s ground & pound offensive is no match for Penn State defenses–that was not the case today as Kirk Ferentz grounded his offense to his 100th career Big Ten win.

Finally, the effort seemed worse again Saturday. It looked like they showed some fight in the Nebraska game that might translate into better effort for the remainder of the season, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, after getting down in the first half (again), it looked like this Penn State team was begging for mercy instead of clawing their way back. Even as Clifford had 2 strikes for 2 TDs on 2 plays, the momentum never felt to be in Penn State’s sole possession. The only thing I can think of is this team has to find a way to start faster and pray that the other team gifts some early mistakes. Otherwise, we may be in for more of the same.

Next is a trip to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines, who in their own right are struggling after switching QBs after being down 17-0 to Rutgers. They fought their way back and put away the Scarlet Knights in triple overtime. If you stick to historical trends, don’t expect Penn State’s level of play to be better at Michigan, but it’s 2020 and maybe the Big House will serve these historically awful Nittany Lions well.

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.

Penn State Nittany Lions Head Into Uncharted, 0-3 Territory After 35-19 Loss to Maryland

The defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown in the second half on Saturday. I bring this up first because I want to get any smidge of positivity out of the way. Because. Well. Penn State sucked on Saturday afternoon against Maryland.

In my fairly young career viewership of this Penn State program, I can think of no loss more miserable, more distasteful, and more disheartening than the one we all witnessed yesterday. Yes, yesterday was even worse than the 2015 Temple game.

Perhaps the reason for the disarray is twofold. It was obviously awful from preparation to execution, but what made matters worse is there seems to be no obvious remedy that is going to change anything soon. The problem at its core isn’t the level of talent, Penn State demolished Maryland 59-0 last year. The problem at its core isn’t coaching decisions, Penn State’s coaching staff won 11 games last year. The problem is a collection, an assortment of disastrous player attitudes, pregame preparations, in-game decisions, inability to “move on” from previous losses, and apparently distractions.

Let’s start with the player attitudes. When Penn State dropped to 0-2 their hopes of a CFP berth or even a B1G title appearance went out the window. There wasn’t anything tangible to play for–for a team that had national aspirations. We knew this could be a problem. But the good teams, no, the elite teams, coaches and players alike, find new things to be motivated by. The best teams don’t even need to be motivated because their discipline and the way they perfect their craft is what drives them. This coaching staff and players don’t display that right now. As a good friend would say, “they don’t have any dogs on this team”. It’s hard to disagree with him when gazing onto the field Saturday. The defense again came out without a chip on their solider and has now given up at least 30 points in the past four games spanning back to last year (which is a school record). The offensive line, which was supposed to be a stronghold for this team, is having their lunch money taken from them. So why is this happening? Can this group of blue chip-caliber players seriously find nothing to play for? I get it. It sucks you can’t win a Big Ten Championship. You lost to Ohio State, again. But play for the pride of the university. Play for the coaches you came to school for. Or, at the very least, play for the guys like Pat Freiermuth, who came back just to win something.

I now feel like a recording, but the pregame preparations continue to plague this program. Again, Penn State starts out slow in the first half. And now, instead of it just being an offensive problem, it appears to be a lethargic epidemic, spreading to the other side of the football. Infecting a Brent Pry group that we typically could count on. Sure they lost Micah Parsons, but is that really an excuse for the touted defensive line to be blown off the ball? Does Maryland catch you with a nice wrinkle to your man coverage on the first drive for a touchdown? Yes, fine, I will concede you one mistake. But how do you let them catch you in the same coverage on basically the same play again? To the same WR? Maryland doesn’t have the armada of five star athletes that Ohio State has, they had one 5 star WR on their team and preceded to gut you with him over and over again.

Everyone who said this weekend was going to be close cited the same trend as before; Penn State doesn’t play well after loses. After losing to Indiana they lost to Ohio State. Last year, after losing to Minnesota they lost to Ohio State. Previous years, after losing to Ohio State they lost to Michigan State. It’s always been a trend and it continues to be a trend. Why can’t the players move on? Why can’t the coaches move on? If a team is expected to go 1-0 each week, why does it seem like we are looking in the rearview mirror? Why can’t we move on and beat teams we are supposed to beat after losses?

Finally, this team is distracted according to wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who continues to be the only star shining bright on this otherwise black hole of a season. After the game, Dotson said this:

We are not as one right now. We’re not a unit right now. There are distractions that we shouldn’t be focused on right now. We’ve got to be focused on getting in the win column, nothing else. We’re not a good football team right now. We’ve gotta have everyone 100 percent bought in, and we’ve gotta work. Monday is a day off. We’ve gotta see every guy in the building. Literally from top to bottom, we’ve gotta see every guy in the building, just doing something to get better every single day. That’s where it’s gonna start. It’s gonna start tomorrow. We’ve gotta have everyone 100 percent bought in. We’re gonna see who really wants it. Who wants to be here, bought in. And if you don’t, there’s not time for that. We’re 0-3, it’s time to turn the season around, and we’ve got to do something different.

Pretty outspoken for one of the more quiet leaders on the team. They say the best teams are player-led, not coaches-led. Perhaps this is the beginning of that foundation, because if not, well…

Penn State Lands Two More Class of 2021 Commits

Photo by Kami Brand

The Nittany Lions are on a recruiting run as of late. You almost began to wonder if they were going to cool down for a little bit. Then, early-afternoon Wednesday, head coach James Franklin & company did it again. Then moments later, again.

Penn State lands one of the nation’s top kickers, in the 2021 class, Sander Sahaydak from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Kickers aren’t put through the same evaluation as most recruits, but he is still considered highly touted.

Moments later the Nittany Lions found their quarterback for the future when former Canadian, now Maryland native and four star quarterback, Christian Veilleux committed. He is a 247 Top 300 player and the 15th best pro-style QB in his class. He was also holding offers from numerous schools including Clemson.

With these two commits, Penn State’s 2021 class now sits at 10 verbal commits, which is 14th best in the country, currently 6th best in the Big Ten.

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 Β 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:

Top Reactions to the Lawsuit Filed against Penn State, James Franklin

Yesterday, a lawsuit was filed by former Penn State DB Isaiah Humphries and his representatives against Penn State, James Franklin, and ex-teammate Damion Barber. The lawsuit accused Penn State players of hazing Humphries and numerous other players, Franklin and his staff of knowing about the hazing, and essentially accusing the Penn State coaching staff of setting Humphries up to fail in practice.

So, with such a huge story coming out with details that have such strong claims against the Penn State Football program, of course social media was a buzz about the lawsuit. Those in the anti-Penn State crowd of course made their headlines and comments revolving around the “I am going to Sandusky you” threat mentioned in the lawsuit. And others made their comparisons to the Jerry Sandusky scandal when this lawsuit came out yesterday afternoon.

But, many in the Penn State community, including the players and the university itself, gave their thoughts on the lawsuit and many of them are quite suspicious of why this lawsuit was filed.

First, here was Penn State’s official response to the lawsuit.

It appears that Penn State did their own investigation and sent their results to the Centre County District Attorney. The District Attorney went over the case and decided charges should not be pursued. The case seems pretty cut and dried based on the statement from the university.

Now, many of the players that were on the team with Isaiah Humphires gave their reactions, as well.

This one is from 2019 Penn State captain Garrett Taylor.

Taylor was in the same position group as Humphries and as a captain, his word carries a lot of weight with the team, the coaches, and the media that covers the team. Another captain and another member of the defensive backs group Jonathan Sutherland, a player who had racist comments toward him this year and handled them with the utmost grace, seems to side with Taylor here.

Lamont Wade, yet another player who was in the Penn State defensive backs group with Humphries added several comments on Twitter, as well. In addition, Wade entered the transfer portal after the 2018 season, just as Humphries did. However, Wade obviously came back to Penn State and had a big 2019 season while Humphries opted to transfer to the University of California. Here is what Wade had to say.

All three of these players beat out Humphries on the depth chart and Wade seems to think that has something to do with this lawsuit coming out yesterday.

Cam Brown, another captain of the 2019 team, added his comments.

Former Penn State Offensive Lineman Ryan Bates took to Twitter and was very adamant on the lawsuit. He later deleted the tweet from his Twitter account.

Overall, it seems that from the Penn State players that this is the case of a disgruntled player who did not earn his playing time and wants some type of revenge for it. The university has conducted their investigation and the Centre County DA reviewed the case and found no reason for charges to be filed. Specific financial terms have not come out of what Humphries and his camp are looking for from this lawsuit.

But, the consensus around the Penn State Football program is that these allegations are false and they are willing to strongly defend the program until this lawsuit is settled.

Former Player Sues Penn State and James Franklin

A lawsuit has come out revealing hazing allegations involving the Penn State Football program and its players. Former Penn State Isaiah Humphries claims to have been hazed by former teammates Damion Barber, Yetur Gross-Matos, Micah Parsons, and Jesse Luketa. In the lawsuit, Humphries names Penn State, James Franklin, and Barber as defendants.

The hazing allegations are of both sexual and threatening nature. There are several key points that Humphries mentions in the lawsuit that build his case.

  • Forcing victims on the ground and shoving their genitals in their face or putting them between the victims’ buttocks and humping them.
  • Jesse Luketa threatened to gun down Humphries if he ever visited “his city” in Canada.
  • Players would say “I am going to Sandusky you” in the locker room in reference to the Jerry Sandusky case.
  • Hazing occurred in places on campus such as the Lasch Building.
  • Coaches witnessed the hazing but did not do anything to stop it.
  • Underclassmen were threatened with sexual assault.

Humphries entered the transfer portal after the 2018 season and claims in the lawsuit that he did so because of the hazing. He ultimately decided to go to the University of California. He sat out the 2019 season because of transfer rules.

Humphries’ lawyer for the case is attorney Steven F. Marino. Marino is the same lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the James Franklin and the university in the fall of 2019. He represented former team doctor Scott A. Lynch, who filed suit because he claims James Franklin urged him to have injured players return to the field.

More to come as more details come out, players react, and the university and Coach Franklin speak to the media.

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