Penn State football had high expectations entering the season. Saturday was a chance to evaluate just how realistic those expectations were. Here are five takeaways from Penn State’s win over West Virginia.
Allar has arrived for Penn State football
The hype was building all offseason for Penn State football, and a lot of it was the excitement around quarterback Drew Allar. The sophomore quarterback couldn’t have had a better start to the season, hitting KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 72-yard touchdown on the first offensive possession.
Allar finished with a stat line that had Penn State fans ecstatic, going 21-29 for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns. It wasn’t just the final numbers that were impressive, though. It is how they were acquired.
Multiple times throughout the game, Allar kept his eyes downfield after escaping the pocket and throwing on the run with a perfect strike to his wide receiver. The arm talent was on full display all game, which we haven’t seen from a Penn State quarterback in quite some time.
While many people are down on West Virginia this season, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Allar looked as good as he did against a Power 5 opponent rather than the FCS or lower-level group of five schools that are typically on the schedule for week 1. We will get another good look at the young quarterback when Penn State football travels to Illinois in Week 3 in what could be a tricky road environment against a solid defense.
Defensive line concerns
The expectations for the Penn State defense all offseason have been centered around the defensive line. The secondary we knew would be solid again with superstar Kalen King’s return, among other great players. The linebackers returned almost everyone, with Abdul Carter and Curtis Jacobs leading the way.
However, the defensive line had the most question marks. More specifically, the interior part of the defensive line. The hype around guys like Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac on the edge in the offseason has always been there. Still, questions have lingered about the interior. After all, the line play was a primary contributor to the blowout against Michigan last season.
The Mountaineers rushed for 146 yards on 40 attempts, good for 3.7 yards per carry. It wasn’t just the yardage that was concerning, but the timing of the runs and the chunk plays that were allowed. The touchdown drive the Mountaineers had in the 1st half saw many of those yards come from the ground game.
It seemed like much of the game, Penn State wasn’t getting consistent pressure in the backfield. Some credit needs to be given to the West Virginia offensive line and backfield, as it is one of the strengths of their team. However, the level that this defense was expected to play at this season wasn’t what we saw on Saturday and is a concern for when Penn State plays Ohio State and Michigan later this season.
Penn State special teams struggle
Penn State football fans have been spoiled with special teams the last few seasons. Whether it was Tyler Davis, Jordan Stout, or Jake Pinegar kicking field goals, the expectation has become that anything under 40 should be pretty much automatic.
So when Sander Sahaydak missed a 38 and 34-yard field goal late in the 1st half, it shocked the fans in Beaver Stadium. James Franklin made the change at the half, and Alex Felkins, the Columbia transfer, took over the extra point and field goal duties for the rest of the game.
Before the change, though, as Sahaydak was taking practice kicks during the half, he was still missing wide right and continuously had his head in his hands. If nothing else, the change needed to be made from a confidence perspective because the sophomore kicker was clearly rattled.
Franklin mentioned how close the battle was throughout camp. Still, Felkins may have the starting job going forward, not from anything he did well but by not making a mistake. Kicking can make or break a title contender, and being unable to be automatic from under 40 drastically changes the play call ability once the Nittany Lions enter opponents’ territory.
It is only one game, so there isn’t enough data to say whether it will be a long-term issue. Still, it will certainly be something to monitor going forward.
KeAndre Lambert-Smith establishes himself as WR1
All throughout camp, the question was who would step up at wide receiver this season. The top two targets from last season, Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley, are off to the NFL, and someone needed to step up into the leading role.
Based on his Rose Bowl performance last season, everyone expected it to be KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The junior wide receiver made a statement early, catching a 72-yard touchdown on the first drive. He finished the game with 4 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
It was clear that Lambert-Smith was a top target for Drew Allar throughout the night. Penn State fans can breathe a sigh of relief as they have their WR1. With Harrison Wallace and Malik McClain also showing promising flashes, the wide receiver room may not be as big of an issue as originally thought.
Tight end’s room impressive blocking
The tight end room has high expectations despite the departure of Brenton Strange for the NFL draft. Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren are reliable downfield threats that open up the middle of the field.
Against West Virginia, only Warren caught one ball for 9 yards. But what shouldn’t be overlooked is the excellent blocking both provided in the run and pass game. Countless times, Warren and Johnson were in the game, blocking in the T formation for Singleton and Allen or on the perimeter for different types of wide receiver screens. While those types of plays won’t show up on the stat sheets, it is something that the fans need to praise, similar to what we see with the offensive line.
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