What better place to get intel on this week’s upcoming opponent than from the people who cover them? We’ve teamed up with Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation’s Penn State blog, to get the inside scoop on what to expect from the Nittany Lions this weekend and gauge their feelings on the matchup.
We got their overall feelings on the season as a whole earlier this week, but this time around I chatted with BSD’s Dylan Callaghan-Croley to talk about some specifics heading into this week’s B1G showdown and ask a few questions Ohio State fans may be wondering in regards to Saturday’s showdown and the threat Penn State poses to the Buckeyes.
Let’s jump right into it!
LGHL: What are some of the team’s biggest concerns after the loss to Indiana in the season opener? I know that was a game Penn State probably wins nine times out of 10 given the final box score, but were there any specific areas of the game that left you questioning things moving forward?
BSD: Great question to start here, and for me I’d have to say it’s the play of Sean Clifford. A lot of Penn State fans were expecting a step forward from last year, and the early returns from last week has created more doubts and worries about if he’s a guy Penn State can trust. Yes, he can get it done both on the ground and through the air, but some of the throws he made, including his two interceptions last week, were baffling.
I feel good about the rest of the team, really. Obviously some worries about running back now without Journey Brown or Noah Cain, but I always believed the game would be decided by Clifford’s play and I still believe that.
LGHL: Where is this fanbase at with James Franklin? I feel like he has done a lot of great things at Penn State, but he has had some big misses in the recruiting game (especially with some in-state guys) and seems to make some questionable decisions late in games. What’s the vibe like surrounding the head coach?
BSD: I think most Penn State fans think Franklin is the best man for the job, but there’s definitely people on both sides of the aisle.
This year hasn’t exactly been a poster year for Penn State as they’ve struggled uncharacteristically on the trail, and the loss to Indiana certainly didn’t help with those who have doubts. Yes, his late game coaching mistakes have proved to be fatal at times and has cost Penn State a few victories over the years, and yes, they’ve missed on some major recruits the last few cycles.
That being said, Penn State would have a hard time finding someone to replace Franklin considering his track record. That being said, there is a portion of the fan base who thinks that Penn State won’t get over the hump and to the playoffs under Franklin.
LGHL: Sean Clifford passed for just 71 yards against Ohio State last year, and looked a bit off early on against Indiana this past weekend. What is this passing game going to look like this season? What is the depth like at wide receiver, and can Clifford make that next step to become the elite QB that is needed to win big games in college football these days?
BSD: Well that’s the question all Penn State fans are asking themselves. It’s safe to say against better opponents, Clifford struggled last year. No doubt about it. He struggled last week early before getting into a rhythm as well.
The wide receivers coming into the season were the biggest question mark on offense, and I think their performance Saturday actually helps lessen concerns about that group. They don’t have a KJ Hamler right now, but they have a solid group there to say the least. Jahan Dotson is the likely No. 1 wide receiver (not counting TE Pat Freiermuth) but true freshman KeAndre Smith-Lambert and Parker Washington both looked good against the Hoosiers in their collegiate debuts.
Add in players like Daniel George and Cam Sullivan-Brown, and the group has a good deal of potential, but still remains mostly an unknown. In reality, it’s still a question but there is some promise they can get something going there.
LGHL: Speaking of depth, you guys are now without Journey Brown and Noah Cain at running back. How detrimental are those losses to the team’s ability to have success this year, and is there concern about the run game without those guys in action?
BSD: The losses of Brown and Cain are without a doubt big ones for Penn State. Journey Brown, in my belief, would be in the argument for the country’s best running back, and Noah Cain isn’t flashy, but the dude eats tough yardage and can run in between the tackles better than anyone else on the roster.
Losing just one wasn’t a huge deal, but losing both certainly puts Penn State in a precarious position. They still have plenty of talent at the position in sophomore Devyn Ford and then two true freshmen in Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee. Ford is actually probably the most talented of all the backs including Brown and Cain, but has yet to have the chance until now to really show what he can do.
The group entered the season as the strength of the offense, but has quickly become a concern since they’re really one injury away from having to play walk-ons a considerable amount. I think the rushing attack can still get it done but there will be some growing pains.
LGHL: With what little we have seen of these two teams after just one game this year, do you think Penn State has what it takes to pull off the upset against Ohio State? If so, what will they have to do to come away victorious? If not, what would be the thing that holds them back?
BSD: I do think if Penn State plays their A-game, they can beat Ohio State, but that’s a big ‘if’ and a big ask.
Now for the record, I am picking OSU to win and Penn State to cover. The biggest question in the game of course is will Penn State’s offense be able to score at a high enough rate to keep up with OSU. I don’t think Ohio State’s offense is going to completely dominate this Penn State defense by any means, but I think 28-30 maybe 35 points is still probably likely.
The Ohio State defense against the Penn State offense will decide the game. I don’t find the Buckeyes defense overly impressive last week, and I’m sure there will still be some growing pains. Now I’ll probably receive some flack for that from OSU fans, but I mean it’s okay if the defense isn’t an A+ right off the bat. I’m sure it will be there by mid season.
With plenty of players still trying to find themselves on the field, I think there’s definitely places Penn State can exploit. But as I’ve said before, it all comes down to Sean Clifford, and currently I don’t think he has what it takes to engineer an upset.
LGHL: Do you think a full White Out crowd on Halloween night would potentially change the outcome of this game?
BSD: I definitely don’t think it would hurt. It is without a doubt the best atmosphere in college football, but it’s not like Penn State is undefeated or anywhere near so in a White Out.
But crazy things happen during White Outs. Ohio State has been on the good end and bad end of both. It sucks we won’t get to experience that this weekend, because I think Ohio State and Penn State fans can agree that while these teams usually play each other close and keep our hearts racing, the atmospheres of crowds at Beaver Stadium during a whiteout and crowds at The Horseshoe are tremendous and makes these games all that much better.
Thanks again to Dylan and the rest of the good folks over at Black Shoe Diaries. I look forward to rooting against you all on Saturday.