Following the cardiac exam against Iowa, Penn State was given some much needed medicine in the form of a home game against Indiana. Our preseason prediction called for Penn State to win 45-20, and we ended up giving the Hoosiers just a little too much credit. The game didn’t feel like to blowout, but the 45-14 result will stand up as the dominant performance it should at season’s end. The most important outcome, though, may have [finally] been the emergence of the top receiver of this year’s group.
First, the bad: another lapse led to consecutive scores, briefly giving Indiana hope in the second quarter. Now, the good: The Nittany Lion defense tormented then chased Richard Lagow from the game, and absorbed the charge provided to Indiana’s offense by Peyton Ramsey. Penn State registered four total turnovers, Brent Pry has his unit playing well, and they appear to be more than ready for consecutive games against Michigan and Ohio State, not to mention Northwestern. Chaos and turnovers go together for a defense like peanut butter and jelly.
Defensive Game Ball: LB Jason Cabinda
Cabinda again led Nittany Lions in tackles, recorded a sack and recovered a fumble. Cabinda has become the tackle-machine linebacker that has anchored the great defenses of the modern era of Penn State football. He is continuing the legacy of Posluszny, Connor and Lee with smart positioning and the skill to finish the play.
OK, here it is. Blake Gillikin is the best punter in the country, and provides a consistent field position advantage every time he gets an opportunity. His performance, coupled with the coverage, made the Indiana punt return a mere formality. Barkley ran the only kickoff he saw back for a touchdown, and the kickoff coverage units performed very well, not allowing any return beyond 20 yards. The lone red mark is again Tyler Davis and the FG unit, turning in a 1-for-3 performance (while perfect on extra points). At some point the coaching staff will have to plan on inconsistency on field goal tries, complicating the decision-making on 4th downs. The kickoff return-TD makes up for the two missed kicks.
Special Teams Game Ball: KR Saquon Barkley
Barkley continues to dominate every position he plays. I’ve come 180° on the decision for him to return kickoffs; the coaching staff wants to get the ball in the hands of its best player as many times as feasibly possible during course of a game. Having Barkley return kicks simply gives him the ball in open space…we shouldn’t be surprised when he provides a splash play.
Indiana smartly watched the Iowa game and decided Saquon Barkley would not beat them. They devised a plan to stop him and force Trace McSorley and the passing game to beat them. To their credit, the Hoosiers held Barkley to 56 yards on 20 carries, netting a paltry 2.8 yards per carry. By all accounts, those numbers should infer that Barkley was not a factor in the game. The problem was that Barkley showed his skill in nearly every other facet of the game. He had an electric one-handed catch (just fodder for the Heisman hype videos), part of 51 receiving yards. And of course, he threw a touchdown pass late in the game. Whether he gets the Heisman or not, he is the most talented and valuable player in the country. Everyone in the stadium knows he will get the ball, yet he continues to excel in Joe Moorhead’s offense each week. McSorley had another tough game, though he threw for 315 yards, with a QBR of 41. He made the throws that he needed to, and maintained composure despite struggling with accuracy most of the day. The offensive line has to bear the brunt of both the low rushing yardage total and the duress McSorley was under most of the game. They have regressed, and it is the upperclassmen providing the biggest headaches to the coaches. To me, though, the story of the day was DaeSean Hamilton. He led all receivers with 122 yards and 3 touchdowns. But his emergence as a go-to target for McSorley, a receiver who can inspire confidence during tense moments, provided another level of optimism for the ceiling this group can achieve.
Offensive Game Ball: WR DaeSean Hamilton
Hamilton followed up his great receiving performance with confident words about the stated goals for Penn State: they want a national championship. It must be inspiring for the younger players to be in a locker room with a senior leader who exudes that kind of confidence.
Franklin and his staff again had the team prepared for an opponent looking to shock the nation with a huge road upset. They have adopted the one-game-at-a-time approach and permeated it through the entire team. While the halftime adjustments continue to be a strength, a 28-point first quarter underscores the improvement in the team starting the game focused and prepared. A year ago, this would have been a much closer game had the Lions not started out so quickly.
It is still hard to determine how good this team is, after playing another unranked opponent. Good teams beat lesser teams at home, and Penn State has shown no penchant for lower-tier letdowns. While expectations to begin the year were unreasonably high, the team has shown steely resolve in the face of adversity and passed every test thus far. It is important to keep perspective regarding QB Trace McSorley. His offensive line has struggled, and he has lost an NFL-caliber receiver in Chris Godwin. McSorley gives the Nittany Lions the best chance to win and is a proven entity. He also offers an effective alternative to Saquon Barkley as a runner. Looking at the struggles by USC QB Sam Darnold this year, it is easy to see the danger in allowing expectations to get too high. The Nittany Lions will need McSorley’s calm nerves in the library-like atmosphere of the early game in Evanston.
About the Author:
Adam Kimmel is the founder and Principal at ASK Consulting Solutions, a technical writing firm specializing in professional content writing and consultation. A 2003 graduate and avid fan of Penn State, Adam has followed Penn State football for over 25 years, attending many games and researching historical players and teams. He is also a Principal R&D Engineer, and can also be found on LinkedIn.