By: Thomas Frank Carr
Second ranked Penn State Football heads into their first ranked match up of the year t when they host Michigan, Saturday at 7:30. As we head into the first of several showdowns that will determine the season for the Nittany Lions, let’s take a look back at where the Penn State team is and where they have or have not met expectations this year.
Shockingly Good: Defensive Output
Penn State defense has forced 80 points off turnovers, which is three points less than they forced all of last year. They’re also allowing only 9 points per game and 3.1 yards per rush. Those are all off-the-charts numbers for a college defense and are tops in the country in many aspects. Consider that Indiana put up 20 points on Michigan last week and the Nittany Lions shut out the Hoosiers on all but two drives in their September meeting.
It’s not only surprising that Penn State’s identity has been built on defense this year, but also on turnovers. Nittany Lion defenders struggled to get their hands on the ball at all last year, with only two fumble recoveries in 14 games. They’ve gotten eight of 10 this year through six games.
About What We Expected: O-Line Struggles
Despite the fact that Nittany Lions offensive line is better, that doesn’t mean they are exceptional. They’ve struggled to open holes on a regular basis for Saquon Barkley this season. Part of that has to do with injuries, with both right guard Brendan Mahon and Chasz Wright missing time this year. That doesn’t explain away all of the struggles though. Outside of a 53 yard run vs Northwestern, Barkley is averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
You didn’t read that wrong, Barkley is averaging less than three yards a rush in the past two games, sans a play where a Northwestern defender was tripped by a ref. Whatever the technical footbal reason may be, the Nittany Lions will have to do much better in order to close out the 2nd half of their season undefeated.
What the…?: Tyler Davis Struggles
Tyler Davis was nearly perfect last year as Penn State’s kicker. This year he’s 6-13, albeit with two blocks. The misses have not been pretty either. Davis was automatic within roughly 45 yards in the past, but is 0-4 between 30 and 39.
James Franklin feels confident that his kicker will get back on track in the 2nd half of the season and that the kicking unit will sharpen up. Don’t forget it was a blocked kick in their favor that catapulted the Nittany Lions back into the national spotlight.
As expected, as soon as punting wasn’t a problem, fans started to ignore the punter. The reality of punting is that no fan is happy to give the ball up.
That doesn’t mean that everyone has ignored the punter at Penn State. Blake Gillikin has been next level good for the Nittany Lions this year. He is tied for 2nd in the big 10 in punting average, and has 16 punts inside the 20. On top of that, only two of his efforts have gone for touch-backs. Two of those punts were downed at the goal line and turned into safeties by the defense. So next time the Penn State offense has to punt, take time to appreciate how good the secret weapon for Penn State has been this year.