Head coach James Franklin’s Penn State teams are now 3-5 following their first loss of the season.
What makes this disheartening statistic even worse are the three wins Franklin does have coming off a loss are against Buffalo, Temple, and Indiana. The latter Penn State barely won, 34-27.
It’s a habit that has cost some of Franklin’s best teams even greater riches than the ones they eventually settled for. Everyone remembers the grueling losses to Michigan State in back-to-back years in ’17 & ’18. Nobody really cares about the loss that was buried in the 0-5 start last year, but it was still there.
And there there was today. Nobody could have imagined today.
Even with a battered and bruised football team, we all thought they had enough horses to handle a 2-5 Illinois squad with a first-year head coach, at home. We were wrong.
Credit the Illinois team for sticking to the game plan of wearing down an already depleted defense and keeping a inconsistent, but potentially lethal Penn State offense off the field.
But this loss feels deeper than the obvious X’s and O’s you could point to for why the Nittany Lions fell short in what seemed like 9 rounds of purgatory hell.
Perhaps it is the fact that Penn State fans, mostly, were pleading with their athletic administration, Board of Trustees, and anyone else who would listen that James Franklin is the right man for the job for perhaps the remainder of his coaching career. While that still is my belief, a loss to a far-less talented football team feels like a sucker punch to the stomach. It also provides at least a little doubt, if not a lot of doubt, in the back of your mind.
Sure Franklin will continue to recruit his tail off and bring in some of the best players in the country. Sure he will surround himself with all of the analytics and coaches to be able to make the right decisions. Sure he won’t always get so unfortunate with injuries and penalties at the most crucial of moments.
But what if his teams can’t break this hangover habit? Even after a BYE, why does a loss appear to hangover them for another week? In a college football season where one-loss was not a death sentence for the Playoff, but two surely was, why did they come out flat?
Those are the questions you have to ask yourself when you can’t find a way to get three yards for a 2 point conversion more times than a unequivocally worse opponent.
Matchup: Illinois Fighting Illini @ Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1)
Where: Beaver Stadium
When: Saturday, October 23rd @ 12:00pm EST
Penn State is coming off a heartbreaking loss in Iowa where they lost their quarterback for an unknown amount of time and their bid for a unbeaten season. With the quarterback situation up in the air, Penn State rolls out of their BYE and are back home for a matchup with Illinois. Find out what the For the Glory team has to say about this one.
Brandon Musso (4-2)
After a timely BYE week to hopefully get Sean Clifford as healthy as possible, Penn State returns to the field this week. They’ll take on the Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Illinois comes in with a 2-5 record, having struggled most of the season thus far.
On paper, this is a lopsided matchup. Penn State has superior talent but the quarterback situation will play a big part in how this game goes. As seen at Iowa two Saturdays ago, the Penn State offense is entirely different without Sean Clifford. When I first wrote this, the injury situation was quiet as per usual with James Franklin and Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux were splitting first team reps at practice. That all changed on Wednesday night when Clifford was spotted practicing, taking a third of the first team reps. This does suggest that while he may not be out an extended period of time, the fact that he’s taking a third of the reps might mean he may not be ready to play this Saturday.
Looking at the numbers, the Illinois offense and defense are one of the worst in the B1G. They rank last in total yards allowed allowed per game in the B1G. Now like I said, the Penn State quarterback situation will determine how this game goes. With a backup QB, this game will be closer but Penn State will win. With the Clifford starting, this game will be a blowout in Penn State’s favor.
Penn State 34 Illinois 10
Kraigen Rasalla (4-2)
Coming off the much-needed bye week, Penn State will see Illinois come to town for a homecoming matchup. The big question this week is: will Sean Clifford play, and if he does, in what kind of role? We saw him take snaps on Wednesday at practice. He has also been in full pads at practice with a knee brace on, as well. Per usual, Penn State and James Franklin do not discuss injuries too often so I think this is a wait and see until kickoff at noon on Saturday. But, even with this huge question mark, I think two weeks of prep will help backup options Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux in a major way. In addition, it helps that Illinois is perhaps the weakest team in the Big Ten. The Illini average the least amount of points per game (17.7 PPG) in the Big Ten and placing them 120th nationally. They are second to last in yards per game (313.6 YPG) in the Big Ten, just barely ahead of the vaunted, no-huddle Iowa offense (ok, that was a jab I felt I had to make). Illinois has struggled so much that first year coach Bret Bielema essentially called out the roster construction of this team because of the previous staff. He noted that there isn’t an offensive lineman in the 2-deep depth chart that was recruited to Illinois in the last three years doing anything of note for the Illini. Also, he mentioned the QB room is full of transfers, showing the lack of development at the position by the previous staff.
Major questions at those key positions for Illinois make for an easy Penn State victory, even with questions surrounding who will be the starter under center for Penn State on Saturday.
Penn State 31 Illinois 7
Cory Lestochi (4-2)
QB1 Sean Clifford was throwing the ball during Wednesday’s practice and according to head coach James Franklin this wasn’t the first day he had been participating in throwing drills. Even more encouraging is the fact the reps between the three quarterbacks were split into thirds this week, giving me a hunch that we might see Clifford after all. My prediction? Clifford plays until PSU has a 2 touchdown lead, which might happen sooner than later against a mediocre Illinois football team. Illinois’ defense is allowing 164 rushing yards per game, which is good for 13th in the Big Ten. It shoots up to 180 rushing yards per game allowed against conference opponents. Their passing defense is also 13th in the Big Ten allowing over 250 passing yards per game. It’s safe to say their defense is porous. I am not too worried about the offense getting started whether it is Clifford under center or one of the backups, yes even if it is QB Ta’Quan Roberson. The reason I am not worried is because Penn State’s defense is going to suffocate Illinois’ offense. Their run game is middle of the road in the Big Ten, but what really has been the problem for them is quarterback play. They are dead last in passing yards per game in the Big Ten. It doesn’t matter if it’s former Rutgers QB, Artur Sitkowski (51.2% completion percentage) or former Michigan QB, Brandon Peters (48.8% completion percentage), the Illinois offense has struggled. The only weapon the Nittany Lion defense needs to focus on is Isaiah Williams. The former quarterback is the best athlete for Illinois and he can run, catch, and even pass. Don’t be surprised if he has one or two special plays that make you go “who the hell is this guy?” Still, Penn State rolls
I don’t always try to look on the positive side of things, but after a frustrating game, where everything that seemed to go wrong–did, maybe we need to find some positives from the disappointing loss on Saturday.
Let’s start with the defense. The unit was called upon for pretty much the entire game–especially in the second half. They were on the field for 75 plays and held Iowa to 2.4 yards per rush, and 110 total rushing yards (only 3 more than Penn State). They also held Petras to 55% passing and 195 yards, 44 of which came on one play.
Most impressively, was their ability to prevent Iowa from scoring off of turnovers. Penn State’s offense threw four interceptions–two by QB Sean Clifford and two by his replacement Ta’Quan Roberson–yet the Iowa offense only converted those turnovers into three points.
The injury to defensive tackle, PJ Mustipher appeared to be a death sentence for a defensive line that lacked tackle depth facing a run-heavy, Iowa offense, but the interior of the defensive line stepped up. Defensive linemen Derrick Tangelo anchored one spot well, while backups Dvon Ellies, who was banged up for a little, and Coziah Izzard showed encouraging snaps.
Special teams was also a bright spot for Penn State on Saturday. Iowa’s punter, Tory Taylor had a remarkable day pinning the Nittany Lions deep in their own territory and will probably earn B1G Special Teams Player of the Week. But Penn State’s K/P Jordan Stout had an unsung performance. All of his kickoffs were unreturnable–he hasn’t allowed a return yet this season. Stout also had five punts for an average of 50.4 yards with a long of 58. Imagine if Iowa’s uninspiring offense setup 15-20 yards closer per possession–I doubt it’s a three score game.
Finally, Stout connected on two field goals with a long of 44 yards. In a way, he salvaged the only Penn State, second half, scoring drive, by nailing the 44 yard field after Roberson took a sack on 3rd & 6.
Offensively, it was quite a performance before Clifford’s injury. Clifford had 146 yards passing and another 36 on the ground with a touchdown and the Nittany Lions had scored on their last 3 of 4 possessions. Obviously, the quarterback play once Clifford departed with what is rumored to be a non-throwing shoulder injury, was abysmal.
However, before the injury, the receiver play was exceptional. KeAndre Lambert-Smith had 5 receptions for 61 yards. Jahan Dotson had 8 receptions for 48 yards, and Parker Washington had 3 receptions for 26 yards. The only disappointing performance was tight end Brenton Strange’s: two third down drops that would have really helped give Roberson some confidence.
Last, but not least, let’s discuss Ta’Quan Roberson. It’s obviously very easy to be negative about his performance because it may have been one of the worse halves of quarterback play in school history. The false starts weren’t entirely his fault, but it was clear the offensive linemen weren’t comfortable with his cadence. What was more worrisome was Roberson’s inability to throw the ball down the field. It takes quite a throw to overthrow Dotson, but Roberson was able to do it.
So how do I turn this into a positive? Well there isn’t a worst place to be thrown into the fire than Kinnick Stadium in a Top 5 matchup. Roberson then proceeded to fumble the first snap, compounding the pressure. With a BYE week to observe film and as Franklin says, “scout themselves”, Roberson can learn from his mistakes.
Furthermore, offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich has almost two full weeks to put a plan together for Roberson if he starts against Illinois. It’s also a huge benefit for the Nittany Lions to have an easy opponent in Illinois coming off the BYE. There is no way he can play worse than he did on Saturday. If Roberson can’t get on track against Illinois there will be no hope for him in Columbus at the end of the month.
Penn State now has almost three weeks to refresh and get healthy before a must-win matchup with the Buckeyes. I don’t know if they have the ability to win on the road, but optimistically, the next two weeks sets up as nicely as it could for the Nittany Lions.
Matchup: Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0) @ Iowa Hawkeyes
Where: Kinnick Stadium
When: Saturday, October 9th @ 4:00pm EST
After four straight weeks at home, Penn State finally heads back out on the road and as far as tough road games go, this is one of the toughest Penn State will play this season. They will be headed to Iowa City, Iowa to take on the No. 3 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. Penn State has had some good history at Kinnick Stadium but they have also had some devastating losses. Can they make 2021 part of the good history on Saturday? The For the Glory team tells you their predictions.
Brandon Musso (3-2)
After a nice win over Indiana last week, Penn State will leave the familiar confines of Beaver Stadium and get back on the road for the first time since their Week 1 win at Wisconsin. They are headed out to Kinnick Stadium to face the Hawkeyes in a matchup between two Top 10 teams. Although we’ve seen Penn State play some tough opponents in Wisconsin on the road and Auburn at home, I think this will be their toughest game thus far.
Kinnick Stadium is a notoriously tough place to play any Iowa team let alone a top nationally ranked team. Penn State has their hands full with this game and with a 4:00pm kickoff, there will be a portion of this game under the lights which further adds to the tough atmosphere. They will need to minimize mistakes and continue to win the turnover battle.
As far as football goes, it is once again going to come down to the Penn State rushing attack. Iowa has a great defense and they are particular good at stopping the run. They have averaged just 87 rushing yards allowed per game this season. If you combine that with the struggles the Penn State running game has had you could foresee a tough game on the ground. I’ve said it before, the Nittany Lions will need to run the ball better to be able to compete with the B1G’s top teams. If they can turn it around this week, they will have a much better chance of coming out of Kinnick with a win.
In the end, if they are going to finally get the run game going, this Hawkeye team isn’t the one that is going to allow it. I think the Nittany Lion offense sputters as they struggle to move the ball on the ground and lose a close one
Penn State 14 Iowa 17
Kraigen Rasalla (4-1)
This week Penn State has a matchup with Iowa that will have the national spotlight as both teams enter the game as top 5 nationally ranked teams. Outside of a small hiccup against Colorado State, Iowa has dominated their schedule, leading to their #3 ranking. In my opinion, Tyler Goodson is one of the best backs in the country. He is highly capable of making plays on the ground and through the air as he has at least 2 catches in each game this season. Last week, he had 2 catches for 85 yards and a TD against Maryland.
Going to the defensive side, the big story with Iowa this year is the turnovers. They are #1 in the land in forcing turnovers at 3.2 per game, thanks to 2.4 interceptions per game, which is also #1. They have 8 defenders with at least one pick and 3 defenders with multiple interceptions, including Riley Moss who has 3 interceptions, 2 going back for touchdowns.
But, I think Penn State wins this game because they have done a great job of avoiding turnovers this season. They average less than one turnover per game this season and are ranked in the top ten in the country in that category. Sean Clifford has done a much better job protecting the football this year and the running backs haven’t lost a fumble, yet. I think an added emphasis on protecting the football helps Penn State win it. James Franklin wants to end every possession with a kick. A punt, a field goal, or an extra point. That will be the message heading into this game to avoid those turnovers.
James Franklin is 4-1 against Iowa, the only loss being the final loss of the 0-5 start to the 2020 campaign. His current 9 game winning streak started following the Iowa game. I don’t see Iowa ending it, though.
Penn State 23 Iowa 13
Cory Lestochi (4-1)
I’ve read, listened, and watched quite a bit of statistics, analytics, and takes on who will win on Saturday. I’ve been to Kinnick for the 2017 last-second win over the Hawkeyes. I know the magic that is bestowed in that stadium. I also know that James Franklin led teams are 2-0 as a top 10 team heading into Iowa City. They also bring with them numerous players and leaders that have already won there. All of the talk has been about the Iowa defense—rightfully so. Let’s spot Iowa 7 points for converting a turnover into points. Then let’s spot them another 3 for playing in that intimidating environment. Can QB Spencer Petras lead their offense down the field two additional times? I don’t think they can. Mostly because this Penn State defense is also pretty good (if you haven’t heard), especially in the red zone where they are only giving up TDs to opponents 33% of the time. Penn State wins and since it’s Iowa-PSU expect the score to be funky
But if I had to guess you sort of write it piece by piece. Perhaps you start with the chorus, then the bridge, then maybe the opening riff. Eventually, when it’s all said and done you have yourself a complete song built carefully from orchestrated pieces glued together.
In a way that’s what seems to be happening with the Penn State offense five games into the season. We have seen them let the air out of the football in some games, work more methodically down the field with quick passes in other games, and last night we saw them iron out a running game.
While it wasn’t a thing of beauty, I imagine it is quite similar to an artist trying to write that final stanza of their song. Fortunately for offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, he has time to sculpt a smooth product because the offense is able to rely on a catchy and impressive chorus that is sung by the Penn State defense.
It’s a chorus that has been played over and over again in this young season–making their presence felt in every game. Most importantly, it’s a chorus that is able to be turned up in crucial moments, like a turnover on downs after the in-progress offense gave Indiana the football at Penn State’s 13 yard-line. It’s the part of the song that you can’t seem to get enough of and yet can’t exactly figure out why it sounds so good. Sure they have an impressive and explosive front seven supported by a opportunistic secondary, but the Penn State defense, especially in the red zone, is becoming a statistical anomaly–opposing offenses continue to blow tires when they enter the red zone.
I assume when you are writing a song and have found a chorus that is as good as the one Penn State has, the rest of the song becomes easier to forgive. It’s easier to let go of a sloppy third down percentage or poor short-yardage execution, when everyone is in love with defense. It also make it easier to work on the other parts of the song knowing you can rely on the defense. In a way, Penn State has been able to use the first half of the season to find their offensive identity, something I don’t think they have discovered quite yet.
But we do know some things.
We know that they aren’t going to turnover the football at the same clip they did in 2020. We know QB Sean Clifford is going to extend plays and for the most part, make the right decision. We know the offensive line is going to give Clifford time in the pocket to throw the ball, even if their run blocking continues to struggle. We know that Penn State has the best wide receiver in the Big Ten, and maybe in the country. We also know the person writing this part of the Penn State 2021 song has written great songs before.
The Penn State 2021 song isn’t finished being written–their identity isn’t cemented–but they have their chorus figured out, and against most teams, that might just be enough. And if they are able to finish writing the offensive part of the song, they might be a one-hit wonder.
Matchup: Indiana Hoosiers (2-2) @ Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0)
Where: Beaver Stadium
When: Saturday, October 2nd @ 7:30pm EST
Penn State improved to 4-0 last week with an easy win over Villanova but you guessed it, they have another tough one on the schedule this week. In the Nittany Lions annual Stripe Out, the Indiana Hoosiers will come to town for a primetime showdown at 7:30pm EST on Saturday. For now, check out the For the Glory team predictions.
Brandon Musso (2-2)
Last week was a rather uneventful game against Villanova but Penn State won nonetheless. There’s not much more to be said about that game other than the rushing attack still seems to be struggling even against an inferior opponent like Villanova. This will be something to watch as the season progresses because they are going to have to get it going to legitimately compete for a B1G Championship.
As far as this week goes in the Nittany Lions matchup with Indiana, they better be ready for a showdown. Penn State has again drawn the ABC primetime slot meaning yet another hyped up game with much anticipation. Additionally, as much as Franklin will try to downplay it, the vast majority of this Penn State team was on the field when they were dealt a crushing loss on a questionable replay review in Bloomington last year. I have no doubt in my mind there’s quite a few players on the Penn State side hungry for revenge after that loss. I think if you combine that with the energy that will once again fill that stadium for a night game, you have the recipe for some juiced up players ready and focused.
As far as the football itself, Indiana has played a tough schedule thus far, having lost to top ranked teams in Iowa and Cincinnati. I think this is important to look at because it allows you to look deeper into their performances against some of the country’s best. One of the things that stuck out to me in those tough games was Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. While he was probably the difference in their win over Penn State last year, he has played well below those standards against Iowa and Cincinnati this year. In those games, he has QBR rating of 15.6 and 32.7 respectively. This will be the key to game this week. If Penn State can limit Penix Jr. to those similar numbers, they should be able come out with a win on Saturday.
I think he plays well, but not well enough and Penn State wins a close one that comes down to the wire.
Penn State 28 Indiana 21
Kraigen Rasalla (3-1)
This week calls for a big time revenge game and a Stripe Out at Beaver Stadium as Indiana comes to take on the undefeated, 4th ranked Nittany Lions. The Hoosiers have underwhelmed so far this year, getting blown out by Iowa in the season opener and losing 38-24 to Cincinnati after holding a 14-0 lead in the first half. However, after last season’s opener where Penn State lost in OT to Indiana despite being in control of the game the whole way, I’d expect Penn State to come out with a lot of energy. I think the energy will be especially noticeable after Head Coach James Franklin called his team out for a lackluster practice last week in preparation for Villanova. With ‘Nova being an FCS opponent, I am not surprised with the let down. But, with revenge on the mind and a highly anticipated matchup looming the following week, I think the Nittany Lions come out extremely motivated and beat up on the struggling Hoosiers.
Penn State 35 Indiana 16
Cory Lestochi (3-1)
Let me preface this by saying I’m a huge Tom Allen fan. What he has been able to do at Indiana is spectacular and miraculous. That being said, a lot of people in the preseason overhyped the Hoosiers.
They are struggling mightily on offense, mostly do to the turnover bug. Quarterback, Michael Penix Jr. looks half as good as he did last season.
Defensively, they will still be a tough out especially if the Nittany Lions continue to stall in the running game. I wanna see a blowout, but this Indiana team has too much heart and until Penn State shows their dominance in the running game, I think it stays close for the majority of the game.
Matchup: Villanova Wildcats (3-0) @ Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0)
Where: Beaver Stadium
When: Saturday, September 25th @ 12:00pm EST
What another MASSIVE win over the Top 25 Auburn Tigers last week in the White Out! The Nittany Lions improve to 3-0 on the year and currently sit at No. 6 in the AP Poll. The quality of competition will take a bit of drop when the Villanova Wildcats come to town this week but its another game on schedule that Penn State must win. So lets get to it, here’s the For the Glory team’s predictions:
Brandon Musso (1-2)
Last week was another huge win for the Nittany Lions who now have two Top-25 wins on the season and have improved to 3-0. Saturday’s game was as hard fought game as you might see this season and Penn State made the plays they needed to win it.
This Saturday, Penn State stays home but luckily doesn’t have another Power 5-ranked opponent coming to town. They will get a little bit of a break with the Villanova Wildcats. Although on paper Penn State has superior talent, there no reason for the Nittany Lions to take their foot off the gas pedal. It can’t be a let down game because of the opponent you see on the schedule. Keep pushing and play hard to keep the early momentum rolling.
Villanova comes to also boasting a 3-0 record with some pretty impressive offensive performances. Through those three games, they are averaging 45.3 points and 454.7 total yards per game. It will be a fun and challenging matchup with the Penn State defense that has been very good so far this season. I think this will be the key to the game. If Villanova wants to continue its offense ways they will need to battle, as Franklin calls it, championship level defense. I don’t foresee Penn State having any big issues stopping the Wildcats’ offensive attack and coming out with a comfortable win.
Penn State 45 Villanova 13
Kraigen Rasalla (2-1)
The Nittany Lions have a little bit of a breather this week with Villanova making the trip across the state to come to Happy Valley. The ‘Cats are the last non-conference opponent for Penn State before they resume conference play with Indiana next weekend.
We can call the Auburn game the “Sean Clifford Game” where Clifford went 28/32 for 280 yards and seemed to step up at every key moment when Penn State needed it. Because of that and because of the opponent, I think OC Mike Yurcich takes a bit of the load off Clifford against Villanova. Through the first 3 games, Clifford has over 30 passing attempts in 2 of them. The other game was Ball State where he had 29. It’s not that the Nittany Lions haven’t had a balanced attack. They average 32.3 pass attempts and 33 rushing attempts per game. The difference is the passing game has been explosive, while the run game hasn’t found its explosiveness, yet. Noah Cain is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry as the leading ball carrier. I think this is the week where we see multiple runs of over 20 yards from Cain and the deep crew of backfield mates John Lovett, Keyvone Lee, and Devyn Ford.
Penn State finishes their non-conference schedule by showing they can beat you in yet another way, by being explosive in the run game.
“I’ve always believed I played better when the stakes were higher”–Quarterback Sean Clifford
The stakes had never been higher than what they were last night. With a rare SEC opponent, Auburn (2-0), entering Happy Valley for an early season White Out in primetime, the Penn State QB shined.
Talk surrounded Clifford and his counterpart, QB Bo Nix all week leading up to yesterday’s matchup. Everyone was wondering which inconsistent quarterback would step up and Clifford answered their questions with a methodical and precise performance.
Clifford’s final stats were emphatic: 28/32, 280 yards, 2 TDs through the air and 5 rushes for 24 yards on the ground. The only error was a intercepted pass before the half on which he was hit while he was throwing it. Otherwise, perfect.
Not only was he perfect, but offensive coordinator, Mike Yucich, called an almost perfect game. The playcalls and reads were designed to give his signal caller confidence early and often. Penn State hit numerous wide receiver screens early in the game, got their tight ends involved over the middle, killed Auburn underneath with the short passing game, and when they needed a big play they went to their best player, wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
But it all started with Sean Clifford. Clifford looked not only confident, but also patient in the pocket. The 3rd & 7 on the first drive of the game, where the offensive line protected him for eons was a good sign to come. The big boys up front protected Clifford all night long and didn’t allow a single sack–though the horrible intentional grounding called on Clifford was registered as a sack. With the time in the pocket to make the right decisions, Sean Clifford dissected the Auburn defense through the air.
Meanwhile, besides two well-timed back shoulder throws on third downs, Bo Nix couldn’t get anything going in the passing department. Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers were able to ride star running back, Tank Bigsby for the majority of the game. However, as the game got into the late stages of the 4th quarter, Auburn still failed to throw the ball: sometimes because of inaccurate throws, sometimes because of hurried throws due to pressure, and sometimes Nix’s inexperienced receiving corps failed him.
Nix finished 21/37 for 185 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions–though Penn State’s defense was credited with at least 5 pass breakups, one of which was almost a pick-six by LB Brandon Smith right before the half. Head coach Bryan Harsin and his offensive coordinator Mike Bobo refused to open up the passing game for Nix even in obvious passing situations; for example, they decided to run the ball on third and long early in the game near midfield.
It was a tale of two different sidelines as Clifford and Co. continued to gain confidence with three 80 + TD drives, with the last one acting as the dagger. Bo Nix’s final two drives ended with two incompletions, one on a 4th and Goal dull endzone fade and the other as time expired. Both passes were defended by Penn State’s safety Jaquan Brisker, who has played as well as anyone in the country through three games.
I don’t think anyone but Sean Clifford saw this sort of impressive transformation in just a short few months working with Yurcich. And now with two of the tougher defenses Clifford will see this season out of the way, the sky appears to be the limit. Especially if they can find a way to run the ball more consistently.
Maybe we should start buying stock in Sean Clifford–we know he already has.
Matchup: Auburn Tigers (2-0) @ Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0)
Where: Beaver Stadium
When: Saturday, September 18th @ 7:30pm EST
It’s WHITEOUT WEEK! The most exciting atmosphere in college football is back this week for the first time since 2019 as the No. 22 Auburn Tigers come to State College. It’s still rather early in the season but Penn State is now onto its second opponent that is ranked in the top 25. This huge day will start with College Gameday in the morning leading up to a primetime matchup on national TV! It’s only a few days way now so lets get right to the For the Glory team’s predictions
Brandon Musso (1-1)
Luckily, the Nittany Lions didn’t allow last week’s game to become a let down game and handily dealt Ball State a loss in Beaver Stadium. If last week was a break for them, then they better be ready for yet another tough matchup this week. The No. 22 Auburn Tigers roll into town for a huge matchup that will be the first White Out since 2019. The implications on this game are huge and there are plenty of distractions. The annual White Out always brings quite a bit of attention to State College, including ESPN’s College Gameday that will kick of the day in the morning. The festivities will roll on throughout the day while fans hope the players can block out the distractions and concentrate on another season defining game.
If it’s the White Out then you know a tough opponent is coming to town. Auburn is nationally ranked and on paper, a good team that will provide a tough challenge for Penn State. Through two games though, it’s tough to fully assess the Tigers because they have only played two non-Power 5 teams. Both games were dominate blowouts against inferior teams. This game will provide a full assessment of both teams.
As I said before, it’s really tough to get full assessment of this Auburn team but their first two games have provided some numbers to work from. On defense, they have been stout against the run, averaging just 21.5 rushing yard allowed per game. If Penn State wants to win this game, they need to win upfront and use the rushing attack to get the offense in a rhythm. As far as the Auburn offense, they seem to place an emphasis on their own rushing game. The Penn State secondary has been solid so I’m more worried about the defensive line stopping that rushing game. A win will mean Penn State needs to limit the yards per carry. 4-5 YPC allowed will not get the job done and might see the Tigers slowly run down Penn State as the game goes on.
Despite the small sample size, I think Auburn is a good team and I think Penn State will ultimately drop a close one.
Penn State 28 Auburn 31
Kraigen Rasalla (1-1)
This week, I have two predictions. One, I KNOW will come true. The other, I am fairly confident will come true.
The first one is that this weekend’s whiteout against Auburn will be the craziest crowd in Beaver Stadium history. I was at the first ever “White House” against Notre Dame in ‘07 and the double OT loss to Ohio State in ‘14 and those were insane crowds. I wasn’t at the ‘05 white out against Ohio State, nor the ‘17 and ‘19 white out games against Michigan. But, I’m willing to bet with this being the first whiteout since that 2019 Michigan game and a ranked SEC opponent coming in, this crowd will be absolutely bananas. Book it.
On to the game. Penn State took care of business last week and avoided any trap game conversations. The offense, led by QB Sean Clifford, attacked the Cardinals on the edges and allowed Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson go to work. I expect new OC Mike Yurcich to show this edge attack with screens and rollouts. Then, use those plays to set up deep balls like we saw in the Wisconsin game.
Something I haven’t been able to say in a few years is that I trust Sean Clifford in this game more than I trust Auburn QB Bo Nix. Nix is off to a strong start this year, completing 74 percent of his passes and leading the Tigers to a 2-0 record. However, in his career, Nix is dreadful on the road. He has a completion percentage of 54.5 percent away from Jordan-Hare Stadium, 10 points lower than at Jordan-Hare. His TD:INT ratio is 20:1 at home and 9:10 on the road. Not great! If you are Auburn at least. Yes, the Tigers will count on Tank Bigsby (10 yards per rush in 2021) and Jarquez Hunter (15.1 yards per rush in 2021) to carry the load on the ground. But, if you want to win a big game, you need your QB to make a big play. Based on the numbers, you can’t count on Bo Nix to make the big throw on the road.
Penn State wins, gets their revenge for the 2003 Capital One Bowl, and real chatter begins around the country surrounding them and the College Football Playoff.
Penn State 27 Auburn 17
Cory Lestochi (1-1)
This game has been incredibly difficult to predict for me. The Auburn Tigers come in to Happy Valley for the annual White Out untested with blowout wins over Akron and Alabama State.
They are led by QB Bo Nix, whose father was the quarterback the only time Penn State beat Auburn (series is tied 1-1). Nix is now in his third season as a starting quarterback and he has yet to fully blossom. The biggest knock on him has been his play on the road where his numbers are drastically worse than when he plays in Jordan-Hare. RB Tank Bigsby is a guy that is gonna cause some problems and they also have a true freshman RB that is quick.
Defensively, they are athletic and full of talented players. They also possess experience at the linebacker position. In a neutral site game, I think this game is a toss-up mostly because there is a lot we don’t know about these teams. Penn State is favored. Penn State has the more impressive resume. Penn State is more battle tested. Penn State is at home, and boast a White Out crowd that is itching to be back in that environment. Most people are predicting a 4-7 point win for Penn State and while my head agrees with them, my heart tells me there is a chance for this thing to snowball into a blowout. I think Auburn’s defense is good enough to prevent that, but I think Auburn’s offense that started slow against Alabama State will be slow again on Saturday. Then, a mistaken-ridden Nix will leave his defense out to dry too many times. I’m going homer pick big time.
“I am a hybrid” said DE/LB Jesse Luketa after his monstrous, 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL, interception for touchdown, performance. The former starting LB has made a smooth and impactful transition to the defensive line. A move that demonstrates the selfless attitude of this defense.
The defense set the tone once again on Saturday afternoon. This time grounding the Ball State Cardinals passing attack led by WR Justin Hall, who finished the game with 6 receptions for 35 yards and at least two drops. The defense was also able to force two interceptions and sacked the quarterback one time–an impressive feat when the ball was getting out of the opposing team’s quarterback’s hands fast.
Most importantly, the defense showed that their bend, but don’t break mentality, demonstrated against Wisconsin, was no fluke. They held Ball State to two short field goals, with the longest one being 24 yards. It wasn’t until the backups came in did the Cardinals find the end zone–aided by two 15-yd penalties.
And although the defense was impressive it was the offense that marched up and down the field all day long. In the first half they were able to score on their first three possessions, giving their defense a 17 point cushion. Quarterback Sean Clifford showed the ability to get the ball out quick, extend the play when he needed to, throw it away when he wasn’t comfortable throwing it into tight coverage, and he even broke a 41 yard run.
Yet again the offense did not turn the ball over, although RB Keyvone Lee did temporarily cough up the pigskin before falling back on it. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt since the backup averaged 8.5 yards per carry and was obviously the most violent runner for the Nittany Lions.
In the air, the Nittany Lions look more balanced than ever. Ten different Nittany Lions hauled in a pass, including a comforting six catch, 57 yard game by WR Parker Washington, who also had an impressive one-handed grab. WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith also had a difficult catch over the middle on a tight throw by Clifford.
The offense did stall some in the second half and Kicker Jordan Stout hasn’t necessarily relieved the pressure put on him after missing one 45 yard field goal attempt. But they didn’t do anything stupid and they didn’t show too much with the Auburn Tigers (2-0) coming to town for a College Game Day, White Out extravaganza.
Sometimes that’s all you need from your offense–don’t do anything stupid and move the ball–the Nittany Lions did that and more on Saturday. When your defense is playing with their hair on fire, complementary football will win you a majority of your games.
It’s yet to be seen how the offense will respond if the defense comes back down to earth, but for now they can rely on the “hybrid” and the mentality he has helped instill on this defense.