Ole Miss 38, Penn State 25
The vaunted Penn State defense broke down big time against the Ole Miss Rebels in the Peach Bowl on Saturday. Although missing some key components due to the pecuniary vagaries of college moneyball in the Twenty-First Century, the vaunted D proved it wasn’t all that. Defending against a bunch of stiffs all year long is an effortless way to look good, ain’t it?
Moving right along, I’ll give K. John full credit for hitting the nail on the head in his comments to my pre-game post. If you haven’t read it, read it. It was prescient.
Ole Miss Offense Got the Job Done
I also will hand out kudos to Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin for knowing how to adjust to the flow of a game and exploit opportunities as they present themselves. Ace quarterback Jaxson Dart combined with tight end Caden Prieskorn, wide receiver Tre Harris, and running back Quinshon Judkins, to run roughshod over the vaunted D, a 540-yard performance that more than doubled the unit’s yards-against average for the season. Dart was 25-40 for 379 yards and 3 TDs. Judkins ran for 106 yards. Prieskorn had 10 receptions for 136 yards and two TDs and Harris had 7 catches for 134.
Prieskorn did not stand out in the season stats, but he sure looked like an NFL tight end in the Peach Bowl. Penn State could not defend against him. You would think that once it was clear he was the go-to guy, some adjustments would be forthcoming, but none were apparent. Dart to Prieskorn looked like Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski all day. And the good news for Ole Miss fans is that Prieskorn will be returning next year. Hotty toddy.
Penn State Had a Bad Day
Drew Allar had a dreadful day. The running game was going well at the outset, but the Penn State coaching geniuses decided to mix it up. The passing game suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked. Allar was either off target or, on a couple of occasions, throwing up wounded ducks (and throwing up was what the Penn State loyals were doing while watching this ineptitude). However, his stats wound up “not too bad.” He was 19-39 for 295 yards with two TDs and one INT (on one of those wounded ducks). Scramblingwise, he ran five times for 40 yards.
The wide receiver corps didn’t make the trip, or so it appeared. They have not been able to get open all year, so Allar has been relying primarily on tight ends Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson, along with Nick Singleton out of the backfield. In this game, we had to wait until the second half to see a wide receiver targeted. Of the wide receivers, Harrison Wallace led with 4 for 67 and a TD, while Sean Clifford’s little bro Liam was next with three catches, all in the second half. Warren had five for 127, and Singleton had four for 86 and a TD.
At the outset, it looked like Penn State would exploit Ole Miss’ season-long weakness stopping the run. Early success in the running game was not good enough for our offensive brain trust. They wanted to mix it up. Nothing succeeds like success, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You get my drift. Kaytron Allen wound up with ten carries for 51 yards and Nate Singleton had eight for 50.
So, Ole Miss outplayed and outcoached Dear Old State. No surprise to K. John, and should not have been a surprise to the rest of us.
Outlook for 2024
Next year will be interesting, with the new, coast-to-coast Big Ten. Penn State will be losing some significant pieces in both the offense and the defense. With USC, UCLA, Washington, and tOSU on the schedule, the defense will have at least two fewer stiffs on the schedule to pad their stats.
And the offense? Drew Allar did not improve between the West Virginia game and the Peach Bowl — the entire season. Blame it on having crappy receivers who cannot get open, blame it on Yurcich, or just blame it on Penn State’s penchant for taking five-star high school quarterbacks under its wing and ruining them (c.f., Morelli, Hackenberg, et. al.) — whatever. Looking at his body of work over the year, Allar is still exhibiting the same deficiencies as at season’s outset. The spring competition should be revealing. Will Franklin leave the position open or stubbornly leave Allar in the starter slot?
We’ll have new offensive and defensive coordinators. What changes will they bring? Will one of them be fired before the end of the year? (For their sake, I hope their agents are competent).
The offensive line will lose Olu Fashanu, who was the Big Ten’s best offensive lineman. Who will fill that gap? The rest of the Penn State O-line was up to their usual low standard of non-excellence.
See You in 2024
Well, then. We’re done with the 2023 Penn State football season. I’ve enjoyed writing these examples of shoddy journalism all year, the twentieth year of The Nittany Turkey. It’s been a fun ride. I hope I can return next year with more of my drivel. In the meantime, I wish all six of my die-hard readers a very healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!
See you next year!