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Why is 2023 so important for Penn State football?

Penn State football had a great year in 2022; it’s now time to capitalize on that momentum and make 2023 an even bigger success.

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Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (1) runs for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Utah Utes in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The contrast between the 2021-22 offseason and the 2022-23 offseason for Penn State football is astounding. The last time the earth was this far around the sun, Penn State fans were demoralized after their Nittany Lions’ 5-0 start quickly turned into a 7-6 finish.

If that was not enough, Penn State then put more players in the NFL than any other program — which is by no means a bad thing; however, it showed how much talent was wasted in the previous two seasons.

The offseason that followed 2021

It was not a good time to be a Penn State fan if we’re being honest. All the media talked about was how awful Penn State would be in 2022; frankly, most Penn State fans felt the same. The Nittany Lions still had 6th-year QB Sean Clifford under center; there were too many questions at critical spots, such as offensive line, linebackers, running backs, and more.

Worst of all, Penn State’s offense — on paper at least — had worsened from the previous year. The Washington Commanders drafted Jahan Dotson — the Nittany Lions’ star wideout and focal point of the 2020 and 2021 offenses. Somehow, Penn State’s 90th overall offense from 2021 was looking even worse, and much of its elite defense had also left.

I don’t mean to pile on, but I am going to anyways. Penn State football was also bringing in a new defensive coordinator — Manny Diaz from Miami (FL) — to replace long-time DC Brent Pry. Most thought 8-9 wins was generous; many picked Penn State to finish 7-5 again and no higher than 4th in the Big Ten East division.

After Penn State’s spring game, not many were convinced that Penn State football was going to be much better — there were a lot of mistakes, bad throws, etc., and it gave little hope that Penn State would be ready come September 1st when the Nittany Lions were set to face off against Purdue.

The worst part about the schedule heading into the year was that Penn State needed more time to prepare its young team; Penn State football was slated to face off against Purdue (Big Ten West Champions) and Auburn within the first three weeks of the season. Additionally, the Nittany Lions had to face Michigan (Big Ten Champions) for their 6th game of the year and Ohio State for their 8th.

It felt doable to some; however, the 2020 and 2021 seasons gave Penn State football fans little hope for the season. Another 8-win season (at best) and a bowl game loss felt expected in year nine of James Franklin.

These feelings were all flooding in less than a year ago; the contrast between then and now is astounding.

Penn State football changes its fortunes

Week 1 of the 2022 season came and went, and while Penn State did not play its best game, the Nittany Lions managed to start on the right foot. Penn State football went into Ross-Ade Stadium and beat Purdue with a last-minute game-winning drive assembled by none other than Sean Clifford.

While the Nittany Lions’ 35-31 win at Purdue was not enough to get Penn State ranked by any means, it still established that the 2022 Penn State football team was not of the same breed as the last two teams.

In Week 2, Penn State again flexed its muscle with a 46-10 win over the Ohio Bobcats — a win that seems a far bigger deal in hindsight. Ohio went on to win the MAC East division with a 9-3 record; it was not a ranked-caliber win, but it was a solid win to add.

Week 3 was the real turning point for the Nittany Lions as they faced their biggest test to that point: on the road at Auburn. The year before, Penn State football defeated Auburn by eight points in the infamous White Out game; however, in 2022, Penn State needed to make the trip to Alabama.

No Big Ten team had ever played in Jordan-Hare Stadium — a graveyard for SEC programs like Alabama, Georgia, and more — however, Penn State had little trouble. At halftime, the score read 14-6, yet Penn State returned to State College with an astounding 41-12 victory all said and done.

It was a turning point for how people viewed Penn State football; gone were the days of the “same old Nittany Lions,” and in was a revamped Penn State team.

While PSU saw its ups and downs in 2022, one thing was for sure: Penn State got back on track. Sure, the 44-31 home loss to Ohio State was no fun, nor was Penn State’s 41-17 loss at Michigan. That being said, those were the Nittany Lions’ only two losses, and both came against College Football Playoff teams.

Fans also witnessed some massive Penn State wins; a 35-16 win over Michigan State, a 45-17 win in the White Out, a 45-14 win at Indiana, a 30-0 shutout of Maryland, and more. Penn State’s 10-2 record was good enough to earn a bid to the 2023 Rose Bowl game — Penn State’s second Rose Bowl berth and fifth New Year’s Six game since 2016.

Unlike the 2016 team, Penn State dominated this year’s Rose Bowl and ran No. 8 Utah (PAC-12 Champions) out of the stadium. All said and done, Penn State football walked off with a 35-21 victory and its second-ever Rose Bowl win (first since 1995).

2023 is a crucial turning point for Penn State football

As the page turns from Penn State’s incredible 11-2 Rose Bowl-winning season, the Nittany Lions are facing their biggest test of the James Franklin era: get to the next level.

Many times since 2016 has, Penn State been in this situation. In 2016, coming off the heels of a Big Ten Championship, Penn State was in this spot; the same can be said for Penn State’s 2018 and 2020 offseasons.

Yet so far, Penn State football has yet to capture this momentum and take that next step. Its only win over Ohio State and conference title came in 2016; the same can be said for the closest it has come to making the College Football Playoff. I hate to be a broken record — I genuinely do — but Penn State needs to take advantage of this momentum.

After 2016’s 11-3 finish, Penn State had one of the best rosters in program history yet again fell short of its preseason goals. I am not saying an 11-2, top-10 finish with a Fiesta Bowl win is anything to complain about; however, more was expected of that team.

The same can be said for Penn State’s 9-4 season in 2018, its 11-2 season in 2019, and both the 2020 and 2021 teams.

The Nittany Lions have had their ups and downs, but Penn State needs to take the leap at some point. In 2021, Michigan went from being a 10-win team to a 12-win squad — the Wolverines have now made back-to-back trips to the College Football Playoff, won two-straight Big Ten Championships, and continue to dominate Ohio State on the field.

It’s Penn State’s turn to take that leap — the talent is there, now it’s time to deliver.

The Nittany Lions have the tools in 2023

No more excuses in 2023 for Penn State not to be in contention for the Big Ten Championship. The defense should be elite-caliber, just as in 2021 and 2022; the offense is loaded with talent out wide, in the trenches, and in the backfield, not to mention Penn State retains its same coaching staff.

Under center, a former No. 1 overall prospect — Drew Allar — will be throwing to a revamped receiving corps. Behind Allar is an elite duo of rising sophomore running backs: Kaytron Allen, Nick Singleton, and more.

It’s time to put up or shut up; can Penn State hold onto this momentum and take the same leap that Michigan did in 2021? If Penn State expects to become an elite program like Michigan and Ohio State, it must capitalize on this offseason momentum and change its fortunes even further in 2023. If not, we could be in a similar cycle as we faced in 2016-2021.

FOOTBALL

James Franklin describes how player competition drives success

Two of Penn State’s biggest stars have used competition to drive their success on the field.

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James Franklin, Penn State football, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Kalen King
Sep 23, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Iron sharpens iron is a common phrase used in football. Top players compete against each other to make each other better. The Penn State football team has had several battles that have led to individual growth. But one has stood out more than any other battle. That was between wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Kalen King. Two of Penn State’s biggest stars who used practice reps to get ready for this season. Now, early in 2023, they’re enjoying each other’s success according to James Franklin.

James Franklin describes how player competition drives success

Wide receiver No. 1 and cornerback No. 1 had some heated exchanges this summer in practice. But at the end of the day, both players have become stronger because of that. James Franklin spoke about the relationship between Kalen King and KeAndre Lambert-Smith and how on Saturday night they shared their success.

Franklin said during his media availability on Tuesday, “One of the cool things that I thought happened on Saturday is after KeAndre [Lambert-Smith] scored his touchdown, on the fade ball, which I thought was a really big-time play. The first guy to meet him coming off the sideline was Kalen King. Kalen and KeAndre’s battles at practice are legendary. And I think that was a really good example, tip of the hat of Kalen seeing KeAndre being successful and KeAndre saying you’re a big part of that success because of how we go against each other every single day at practice. So, I thought that was a really cool moment for all of the players on the sideline to see.”

KeAndre Lambert-Smith has had a great 2023 season thus far

One of the biggest question marks heading into this season was who would be wide receiver No. 1 for the Penn State football team. KeAndre Lambert-Smith has answered that question with confidence. So far this season he has racked up 21 catches for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is someone that Drew Allar can certainly rely on.



Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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Big Ten power rankings update: Penn State can’t jump Ohio State after wild weekend

Penn State football looked dominant on Saturday, but still can’t jump Ohio State in the latest Big Ten power rankings after a wild week in the conference.

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Penn State Football, Big Ten Power Rankings, Ohio State
Sep 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day celebrates Chip Trayanum (19) game winning rushing touchdown against Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the fourth quarter of their game at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was a wild weekend of college football in the Big Ten. We saw walkoff winners from Ohio State and Northwestern, while teams like Penn State football and Maryland cruised to dominant victories. Now that we’re fully into conference play, the pecking order becomes more delineated. How did Week 4 impact our newest Big Ten power rankings?

Updated Big Ten power rankings

After another exciting week of college football, some clear separation is happening in the Big Ten. The top tier of three teams is a clear upper echelon of the conference, with a bright red line separating them and the next level.

A second tier is forming and, for now, has two teams. But this could expand as we get deeper into the season. These two teams are not at the big boy level yet and have a few flaws, but have played fairly well to this point.

And below them is a lower third tier with everyone else. These teams could be ranked in any order, and it would be justified. All the teams in this third tier have major flaws. Unless they have a drastic turnaround, they certainly will not be reaching the elite part of the conference this year.

With all of that said, let’s get to this week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings.

No. 14 Indiana 2-2 (Last week 13)

The good news is the Hoosiers beat Akron. The bad news is they needed four overtimes to do it despite being 16-point favorites. The Zips had a chance to end it in regulation but missed a 32-yard field goal. The Hoosiers are still dropping to the bottom of the Big Ten power rankings this week.

It’s hard to see too many more victories on the schedule. The Terps are up next.

No. 13 Northwestern 2-2 (Last week 14)

The Wildcats pulled off a surprising victory over Minnesota Saturday night. They were down 31-10 at the start of the 4th quarter but scored three unanswered touchdowns to force overtime, where they won it in the extra frame.

Quarterback Ben Bryant had a career night with 396 yards and four touchdowns. It will be tougher to put up that kind of performance against Penn State football next week.

No. 12 Purdue 1-3 (Last week 11)

The Boilers could not stop Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen or the Badgers fast start on their way to a 38-17 home loss. Hudson Card rushed for a touchdown but threw two interceptions on a three-turnover night for Purdue.

This looks like it could be a rough first year for head coach Ryan Walters. He will face off against his old team, Illinois, next Saturday.

No. 11 Nebraska 2-2 (Last week 12)

Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg got the start again for the Huskers and was the team’s leading rusher with 157 yards. He had a touchdown on the ground and through the air as Nebraska defeated Louisiana Tech 28-14.

After an 0-2 start, the Huskers have recorded back-to-back victories. It may be short-lived as the Wolverines come to Lincoln this Saturday.

No. 10 Michigan State 2-2 (Last week 9)

The Spartans are in complete disarray on and off the field. Against Maryland, they turned over the ball five times on their way to a 31-9 defeat. They outgained the Terps in total yards, but the turnovers were absolute killers.

If Michigan State keeps it up, it may find itself even lower in the power rankings next week. But the Spartans travel to offensively challenged Iowa next Saturday night, so perhaps their fortunes will turn.

No. 9 Illinois 2-2 (Last week 10)

Illinois was down 10-0 to FAU after the first quarter and needed a comeback to defeat the Owls 23-17. After a rough outing against Penn State football the previous week, Luke Altmyer had a better day with over 300 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.

Squeaking by FAU does not breed much confidence, though. But with what is below the Illini in the power rankings, they actually get to move up a spot. The Illini are at Purdue next week.

No. 8 Rutgers 3-1 (Last week 8)

The Scarlet Knights scored on their opening drive against Michigan on a 69-yard pass from Gavin Wimsatt. That would be all their scoring as Michigan scored the final 31 points. There were plenty of missed opportunities for Rutgers, none more costly than a pick-six, with the Scarlet Knights driving in the third quarter only down 10 points. That pretty much sealed Rutgers’s fate.

This still may be a decent Rutgers team, but against its best competition so far, it failed. However, there is no shame in losing to the No. 2 team in the country, so they stay put in the rankings for the week. Up next is a sure-to-be win against FCS Wagner.

No. 7 Minnesota 2-2 (Last week 7)

Minnesota blew a three-score lead in the fourth quarter and then lost to Northwestern in overtime. Darius Taylor was a workhorse with nearly 200 yards on the ground and a touchdown. But the Gophers do not have a very good quarterback in Athan Kaliakmanis, and the defense gave up nearly 500 yards to a bad Wildcat offense.

This was a bad loss for Minnesota, but it is difficult to drop them even a spot because of what is behind them in the rankings. The Gophers will look to bounce back next week against Louisiana.

No. 6 Iowa 3-1 (Last week 5)

Brutal. Ugly. Pathetic. Those are just a few adjectives used to describe the Hawkeyes’ performance in a 31-0 shutout loss to Penn State football. They had 76 total yards and had an equal amount of first downs as they did turnovers with four each. 

There is a ton of finger-pointing from fans after a game like this, and they are primarily pointing at Kirk and Brian Ferentz. The good news for Iowa is that it likely will not face as good of a defense as it did with Penn State again. Iowa certainly can right the ship this week with a home game against Michigan State.

No. 5 Wisconsin 3-1 (Last week 6)

Wisconsin finally got off to a fast start, scoring touchdowns on its first three offensive possessions. The Badgers held off Purdue for the victory, but it came at a cost, as running back Chez Mellusi was lost for the season with a broken leg.

The Badgers get a bye week at a good time, as they will adjust without Mellusi. After the off week, they will host Rutgers.

No. 4 Maryland 4-0 (Last week 4)

The Terps cruised to another comfortable victory, defeating Michigan State 31-9. It was Maryland’s first victory in East Lansing since 1950.

Maryland’s offense, led by Taulia Tagovailoa, gets much attention, but the Terp defense has been pulling its weight. The Terps have only allowed four touchdowns in their first four games and have come up with 11 turnovers. Up next is a home date with Indiana.

No. 3 Penn State 4-0 (Last week 3)

The Nittany Lions took it to Iowa in front of a White Out crowd, shutting out the Hawkeyes. This was a redemption win for the 2021 loss at Kinnick. Most impressively, Penn State controlled the ball for over 45 minutes and ran 97 plays to Iowa’s 33 snaps.

The margin between Penn State and Ohio State looks awfully thin. Still, for now, the Buckeyes remain ahead in the Big Ten power rankings. Luckily, there is a game between the two in about a month that will settle it. For now, Penn State football travels to Northwestern next.

No. 2 Ohio State 4-0 (Last week 2)

On Saturday night, Ohio State pulled off a thrilling 17-14 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend. They had a 3-0 lead at halftime, then a 10-0 lead early in the third quarter. The Irish scored the next two touchdowns, and it was not until nearly the very end the Buckeyes scored the game-winner with a Chip Trayanum 1-yard rush at the goal line. The Irish also had only 10 guys on the field for the Buckeyes’ last two snaps.

For Penn State, it was better for Ohio State to remain undefeated. The two teams appear to be on a collision course for a top-10 matchup in a few weeks in Columbus. For now, Ohio State gets a bye week.

No. 1 Michigan 4-0 (Last week 1)

The Wolverines started slow against Rutgers, but finished strong in Jim Harbaugh’s first game on the sidelines this season. JJ McCarthy was efficient, going 15 of 21 for 214 and a score. Blake Corum also had two scores along with 97 yards. After giving up an explosive play for a touchdown on Rutgers’s third play of the game, the Wolverine defense settled in giving up less than 190 yards the rest of the way and returning an interception for a touchdown.

The Wolverines will finally leave the comforts of home as they hit the road to Lincoln next Saturday.



Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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Drew Allar has helped build a championship culture at Penn State

The Penn State football team has an outstanding culture and Drew Allar has been a key contributor to that this season.

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Drew Allar, Penn State, KJ Winston Jr.
Sep 23, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) looks to throw a pass during the second quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Drew Allar has been phenomenal early in his Penn State football career. The physical attributes are one thing but his decision-making is on another level. Through the games he appeared in during his freshman season and the first four games this season he has played mistake-free. He has yet to throw an interception in college and because of that, the ball security for Penn State has been phenomenal. KJ Winston Jr. referred to the battles the defense had with Drew Allar and prepared them for this season.

Drew Allar has helped build a championship culture at Penn State

James Franklin spoke earlier this summer about how many practices it took during fall camp before Allar threw an interception. Now, we have seen that translate to the field as well. Drew Allar has gone through the first four games of the season throwing 8 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions. He has protected the ball very well. Penn State football safety KJ Winston Jr. met with the media yesterday and described what it’s like practicing against Allar.

Winston Jr. said, “I really think it’s because of all fall camp and practice going against Drew [Allar] and kind of giving our best shot at him and him giving his best shot at us. I think just you know, in practice going back and forth it allowed him to come into the game feeling comfortable. We were playing against Drew like it was a championship game every day…”

Penn State is leading the country in these areas

The Nittany Lions posted on social media all of the categories they lead the nation in through four weeks. They’re 1st in pass defense, total defense, first downs allowed, turnover margin. Then offensively they lead in fewest turnovers, and time of possession. Because of what Drew Allar and the Penn State defense did during fall camp, it has translated to the field this fall very well.



Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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