2021 continues to give Penn State great news. In addition to Tariq Castro-Fields and Jahan Dotson, Jaquan Brisker announced his return to Penn State for 2021 on Monday. Like Castro-Fields, Brisker was a senior who chose to take advantage of another year of NCAA eligibility because of COVID-19.
This is a HUGE gain for the Penn State defense. Brisker was the best player on a unit that finished third in the Big Ten in yards per game (328.8 yards/game). He nearly doubled his tackle output from 31 tackles in 2019 to 57 in 2020, in four fewer games. Brisker also had 5 pass deflections and one interception, which took place in the Michigan State victory.
Brisker’s performance as a tackler is what made him a darling of the football analysis website, ProFootballFocus.com. He earned first team All-American honors by PFF. PFF noted that Brisker missed just one tackle in 60 attempts, which made him one of the best tacklers in the nation, regardless of position.
The return of Jaquan Brisker, Tariq Castro-Fields, and another year of experienced players such as Jonathan Sutherland, Joey Porter Jr., and Keaton Ellis should make for one of the better secondary groups in the Big Ten in 2021.
After a single season at the offensive helm, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca is gone. Head coach James Franklin wasted little time finding a solution to the dismal offensive performances, countless turnovers, and inefficiencies in the red zone. The solution: former Texas offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich.
Mike Yurcich, although highly touted, does present quite a flight risk. The offensive mind was only in Austin for a single season as the offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Before that, a brief one year stint at Ohio State as the pass game coordinator and QBs coach, and before that a longer tenure at Oklahoma State as the offensive coordinator.
During his last season at Texas, the Longhorns ranked 8th in scoring offense, 37th in rushing offense, and 27th in passing offense. More importantly, Texas was 43rd in converting red zone visits into touchdowns–Penn State was 110th. Additionally, Texas gave the ball away only 9 times compared to Penn State’s 17 times. It appears to be an obvious improvement in the places Penn State struggled in most.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this replacement is the mindset. Kirk Ciarrocca is a great offensive coach, but it seemed at times that his philosophy clashed with James Franklin’s. For example, KC didn’t seem to emphasize big play production as much as Franklin would have liked. That is why the hire of Mike Yurcich is more of a opportunity to improve than a detriment on Kirk Ciarrocca’s ability. When you have a chance to go get your guy you do it. James Franklin deserves a lot of credit for not sitting back and hoping things would just get better on their own.
With a host of weapons back for new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, the offense could be looking at a bounce back year in 2021. However, it will be starting quarterback, Sean Clifford’s 3rd offensive playbook in three years.
Penn State WR Jahan Dotson announced Thursday night via Twitter that he will return to Penn State for 2021. After a phenomenal 2020 season, questions lingered if Dotson would declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, following the likes of former Penn State receivers Chris Godwin (2016) and KJ Hamler (2019). But, Penn State fans can breathe a sigh of relief and raise their excitement levels for the 2021 season.
Dotson was a quality receiver for the Nittany Lions his first two seasons. He reeled in 40 catches across those two seasons, with 5 TD coming in his sophomore season of 2019. But, with KJ Hamler declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft and Justin Shorter transferring to Florida, major questions arose about the wide receivers group for 2020.
Jahan Dotson turned what was the biggest question mark on the team entering 2020 into the biggest strength on the team, rather quickly. Let’s dive into the numbers:
884 receiving yards (1st in Big Ten)
8 TD (T-1st)
52 catches (3rd)
98.2 yards/game (3rd)
17 yards/catch (4th)
5.8 catches/game (6th)
24.6 yards per punt return & 1 TD
As the numbers and his numerous highlights show from this season, Dotson was easily one of the best WR in the Big Ten this year. However, he only made the All-Big Ten Third Team at WR by both the Media and Coaches. But, entering 2021, Dotson will be established as possibly the best player on the Penn State roster, one of the best WR in the conference, and a serious Biletnikoff Award candidate.
The For The Glory team got some pretty cool news this week. Our podcast on both Spotify and Apple made the top 5 on the “Top 10 Penn State Nittany Lions Podcasts You Must Follow in 2021” list by Feedspot.com!
Despite the struggles of 2020, the uncertainty of a 2020 Penn State Football season, and the struggles of this team getting off to an 0-5 start, we at For The Glory see this as a huge accomplishment for our podcast. Speaking for myself here, after I post each podcast, I have low expectations in terms of drawing in listeners and reaching a wide audience. I know that there are A LOT of podcasts out there and in 2020, Penn State Football was at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of importance in every day life. But, regardless, Brandon and I enjoyed plugging in the microphones and talking about one of the common interests that brought us together as friends since we were four years old.
So, again to our fans, THANK YOU AGAIN FOR ALL OF YOUR SUPPORT!
We have some big plans for the podcast in early 2021 including our 2020 Season Awards and our review of the state of the program. We also hope to add some guests to our show, just as we did in 2020, to improve the quality and draw in more interest from our fans. And, as always, we welcome all feedback from our fans on how to improve the show for our listeners.
Our podcast is on both Spotify and Apple and we plan on having our next podcast out early next week! Please share, rate, and review the show!
Penn State already boasts the #2 recruiting class in the nation for the Class of 2022. And on the first day of 2021, James Franklin added another commit in 4-star prospect Mehki Flowers. Now, the current commits are indicating there is some big news coming to make an already strong class, even stronger. Personally, I am not sure what that news may be with this cycle just starting to come into the forefront with the Class of 2021 Early Signing Day Period wrapping up last month. But, regardless, here are what some of the Penn State Class of 2022 commits are saying:
The first commit of the ’22 Class, Kaden Saunders, kicked things off on Twitter by tweeting at the second commit of the class, Jerry Cross.
Ken Talley, a 4-star DE prospect from Philadelphia, seems pretty optimistic about the good things to come in Happy Valley.
Now, with current commits tweeting, it drew the attention of two other uncommitted players who hold offers from Penn State. First, Jaeden Gould, a 4-star DB from NJ, joined in on the fun.
Then, Tyler Booker, another 4-star prospect, added to the excitement with his tweet. He is an OT from IMG Academy in FL, but is from New Haven, CT. Drew Shelton, also a 4-star offensive line prospect from Downingtown, PA, is hoping to have Booker in the offensive line room with him when he arrives on campus.
So, of course, this happens all the time with commits. They like to generate excitement within the fan base and have them looking forward to the day they step foot on campus. But, with all of this chatter on social media from both committed and uncommitted players, set up your tweet notifications, Penn State fans, and be on the look out for a “We Are… BETTER!” tweet from James Franklin.
On Saturday night, Penn State DB Tariq Castro-Fields announced he will return to Penn State in 2021. Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the NCAA created a rule that meant the 2020 football season would not count against a player’s eligibility. So, most of the Penn State seniors, have moved on to the NFL or other ventures. But, fortunately for Penn State, Castro-Fields is opting to return to Penn State for a fifth season in 2021.
Castro-Fields came to Penn State as a highly regarded 4-star recruit in the top 300 nationally out of Maryland. He committed on National Signing Day in 2017 and signed his letter of intent that very day.
The 6’0″ 190 lb corner made an impact right away on the Penn State defense. He played in 12 games as a true freshman and was named an honorable mention to the 2017 BTN.com All-Freshman Team.
TCF saw his role grow in 2018 as a sophomore. He appeared in all 13 games and made 3 starts. He proved to be a prescence in the backfield, making 5 tackles for loss and recorded a sack in the 2019 VRBO Citrus Bowl.
In 2019, Castro-Fields emerged as a starting cornerback and was named to the All-Big Ten Third Team. He started the 2019 season with a TFL in each of the first three games. He also had two interceptions, one against his home state team in Maryland and one against Michigan in the Whiteout game.
As for 2020, the senior DB did not play after week 3 against Maryland. However, he did start in all three games he appeared.
He accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl after the season, which is a great place for NFL Draft prospects to boost their draft stock through weeks of practice in front of professional scouts and coaches. So, opting to return to Penn State as opposed to going to the Senior Bowl is a surprise to me. But, Penn State will certainly love to have back an experienced starter who seems motivated to prove himself in 2021.
I know what the answers will be from anyone who clicked on this article.
“Of course it was weird you were pulling for Ohio State last night. You should have been pulling for Clemson not only to win, but also win by 70! You are a Penn State fan, aren’t you?”
Or, “you must have put some money on the Buckeyes.” Hindsight being 20/20, I wish I did.
Or, possibly the reasoning I might have had in past seasons, you root for your conference during bowl season. Sure, I used to side with that, especially after the 2017 season when Penn State won the Fiesta Bowl and all the other Big Ten teams won their bowl game, besides Michigan. But, Twitter debate has swayed me into thinking that if Ohio State wins their bowl game, it helps them. It does not help Penn State at all if Ohio State, or any Big Ten team wins their bowl game.
So, I wasn’t rooting for the Tigers despite all of the factors being added up against the Buckeyes. That list of factors to root against the Buckeyes is a longggg list. I will address the two easy ones:
Ohio State is Penn State’s biggest rival! If they win, they move to the National Championship, which helps them with recruiting, which helps them sustain their success, you know, the never ending cycle we want to avoid.
Justin Fields was once a Penn State commit and now he is a Buckeye, you shouldn’t root for him!
Yes, I know an Ohio State victory is a huge boost for a program that doesn’t need much of a boost at the moment. Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus in 2012 and they immediately went undefeated. They won the first ever College Football Playoff following the 2014 season. They went to the Playoff in 2016, when Penn State beat them and won the Big Ten Title, while Penn State had to “settle” for the Rose Bowl.
I am going to stop there on the list of their accomplishments in the last decade because that last one hurt a lot, ok? But, you get it, they have been great since 2012 and have no signs of stopping under second year Head Coach Ryan Day. Ohio State has the second rated class in the country incoming for 2021. Then, Penn State has the second rated class for 2022, so far, but guess who is first? You know who…
So, yes, while I almost talked myself out of why it was NOT idiotic to root for Ohio State last night with all of those reasons, I still feel ok with my decision.
On to Justin Fields.
Of course it hurt seeing him thrive these last two seasons in Columbus, especially this year when he torched Penn State on the Beaver Stadium turf he was supposed to be accustomed to, not a foreigner to. But, despite being a Buckeye, I… I like Justin Fields! Obviously I liked him when he committed to Penn State. I liked him while watching the QB1 Show on Netflix.
Most importantly, in 2020, Fields emerged as a leader for the Big Ten Conference. With leadership failing and mismanagement of the league schedule, he stepped up and became a vocal leader for not only Ohio State, but also the other 13 teams in the conference. He wanted to play, and I think his voice had to factor in to the conference’s decision to eventually allow teams to play this shortened season.
So, with those two obvious points of why I should have rooted against Ohio State justified, here is why I was cheering for the Buckeyes:
I CANNOT STAND WHAT DABO SWINNEY HAS BECOME.
There, that felt GREAT to get off my chest! He has become insufferable and arrogant at Clemson after all of their success in recent years. Prior to this year, I really had no issues with the Tigers’ Head Coach. Despite telling the media his team were underdogs among other idiotic comments, I was ok with Dabo from afar, never having to worry about the Nittany Lions facing his group. But, this year, Dabo brought it on himself and he bothered me.
He criticized Florida State for canceling their scheduled match-up in November, citing Covid-19 as “an excuse to cancel the game“. His thought process was Florida State did not want to get blown out by a much better Clemson team. He did not give any consideration that this country is in a pandemic.
To me, that speaks to a poor lack of judgement of Dabo Swinney. But, then to get to the competitive side of things, that is what swayed me right before kickoff when I wasn’t sure who I would pull for.
Dabo Swinney publicly bashed the Buckeyes for the lack of games they played and then did it either with purpose behind it or not when he submitted his final Coaches’ Poll Ballot of the season and had the Buckeyes at 11. Not because of their record, the Buckeyes went undefeated. But, because the Buckeyes only played six games, backtracking on a statement he made in September when he declared he would not care how many games a team played because of the pandemic.
You figured after the heartbreaking 29-23 loss Ohio State had last year in the CFP to Clemson, they would be motivated. After Dabo’s statements about this team in recent weeks, that motivation had to go through the roof, and the storyline pulled me on board, as well.
My feelings only solidified as the game went on and the Buckeyes and Tigers had an epic first quarter duel with the quarter ending in a 14-14 deadlock. I was excited watching Fields tear up the Clemson secondary through the air and RB Trey Sermon taking his epic performance in Indianapolis and bringing right into New Orleans.
Then, came perhaps the most important play of the game, in terms of changes to personnel. On 3rd & 13 with Ohio State driving down the field, up 7 points, Fields scrambled and was met with an impactful hit by the heart and soul of Clemson’s defense, James Skalski. Fields came up short of the sticks and immediately was rolling around in pain after a hit to the ribs. With Fields down, the replay booth reviewed the hit and declared that Skalski led with his head and drove into the ribs of Fields. The Ohio State QB would have to miss a play before he could even think of a triumphant return to the field. But, the communicator and leader of the Tiger defense, Skalski, would have to miss the rest of the game because of the targeting ejection.
This was the biggest play of the game, in my opinion. And seeing Justin Fields come back to play one play later and throwing a touchdown on that very play. Man, that just tugs on the emotions as a competitor and I was nearly as in on the Bucks as I would be for the Blue and White.
Ohio State dominated Clemson, 49-28, outscoring the Tigers 35-14 after the first quarter, and Fields was the reason why. He threw for 385 yards and completed 22 of 28 passes for 6 touchdowns and just one pick, a pass that was deflected at the line. It was pure domination and in an uncompetitive final quarter, all I could wait for was the Dabo Swinney press conference where he would have to eat his words. And, maybe Ryan Day would step out of his typical realm and throw a shot at the Clemson Head Coach, who he far and away outcoached all night long. Credit to Day, he didn’t, he kept it classy, as did the rest of his players.
Victory was sweet for Ohio State and sure, it may hurt Penn State that the Buckeyes are advancing to another National Title game. But, it was a whole lot sweeter to see Dabo Swinney knocked down a few pegs. And to that, here is what I have to say to Dabo:
An already stacked 2022 recruiting class just got stronger on the first day of 2021. 4-star prospect Mehki Flowers announced his commitment to Penn State on New Years Day via Twitter. Flowers becomes the eighth commitment of the 2022 class, all 4-stars, that ranks second in the country behind only Ohio State at this point in the cycle.
Flowers is a local product from Harrisburg, PA (Steelton-Highspire HS) and was recruited by Penn State coaches Tim Banks and Brent Pry. Although listed as an ATH by 247Sports and recruited by the two co-defensive coordinators at Penn State, Flowers projects as a WR more than a safety, which has Penn State WR Coach Taylor Stubblefield very excited. He is listed at 6′ 1″ 190 lbs and, according to 247Sports analyst Brian Dohn, can carry 210 lbs with his frame. You can read more on the type of player Flowers projects to be in his 247Sports profile here.
With the addition of Mekhi Flowers, here are the numbers behind the current, highly anticipated class of 2022.
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.
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:
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.