That might be the best way to describe the 26-13 win over Kent State. It wasn’t perfect, and there are definitely areas to improve, but Penn State comes out of the first weekend of the year with a win. It was an up-and-down day for the Nittany Lions on both sides of the ball.
Offense Can’t close
Three of Penn State’s trips into the red zone resulted in two field goals and turnover on downs. Their second touchdown of the day was set up by a Malik Golden forced fumble inside the 20. The offense struggled early and had trouble closing out drives in their first action under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Despite only completing 51% of his passes (16-31), Trace McSorley was solid in his debut as the starting quarterback of the Nittany Lions. He took shots down the field early and often, trusting his receivers to come down with the ball. The problem was, they didn’t. J’wan Johnson, Godwin, and Saeed Blacknall all had drops or missed passes that were where they needed to be. Credit the Kent State secondary for playing sticky coverage all game.
McSorley put a nail in the coffin on the final drive of the game, hitting a wide open Mike Gesicki for a 30 yard touchdown. Gesicki had the best game of his career with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. The third year tight end looked confident and poised when targeted and didn’t have any groan-inducing drops on the day.
Saquon Barkely may have had the quietest and most underrated 100 yard game of his career. He just broke the century mark with a 14 yard run on the last drive of the game for Penn State. He continues to make a struggling offensive line look good. Several negative plays were erased by a nifty move in the backfield to gain four or five yards on what should have been a two or three yard loss. Imagine if he were making those cuts down the field.
Defense gives up Yards; Takes the Ball
The defense struggled to stop the run in the first half, giving up 112 yards by halftime. They also had several silly personal foul penalties that sustained drives for Kent State early in the game. However, after half time, they tightened things up and only allowed 38 yards rushing.
While the defense gave up yards on the ground, they were busy taking the ball away. Three turnovers led to 14 points for the Nittany Lions on the day. Sophomore corner Armani Oruwariye had a beautiful 30 yard interception return for a touchdown when he stepped in front of a Justin Agner pass to begin the third quarter.
The defensive line woke up in the 2nd half and had seven sacks on the day, creating havoc in the backfield. Redshirt Freshman Shareef Miller had a sack and half in his debut for the Nittany Lions and was matched by tackle Antione White.
Tackling continues to be a bit of an issue for the Nittany Lions on defense. There were big play to be had in the first half but poor tackling and lunging allowed Kent State ball carriers extra yards often in the first half.
Penn State will need to clean things up for next week vs Pitt. Overall, it was good enough for week one.