Penn State 38, Villanova 17
That it would be a win for Penn State was never in doubt, but if you were looking for signs of life for the running game on Saturday, you were barking up the wrong tree. Villanova came to play. To their credit, they never quit, while the Nittany Lions started with a bang and then settled into their lackluster offense, punctuated by a few big plays.
Master Thespian John Lovett produced the Lion’s share of the rushing attack, with eleven carries for 45 yards to lead all rushers in an 80-yard overall effort (or lack of same). The running game sleep-walked through the first half, unable to deal with the FCS powerhouse defense. In seventeen first-half attempts they gained a mere eighteen yards. How come Noah Cain got only one carry, on which he gained a mere two yards? Is he hurt?
As per usual these days, the PSU offense was heavily weighted toward the aerial attack. Sean Clifford went 19-26 for 401 yards, four TDs, and one INT that was no fault of his. Ta’Quan Roberson relieved him in the second half, and while the second-string defense was giving up two late touchdowns to ‘Nova, he quietly went 3-5 for 28 yards.
They spread the ball around to ten receivers. Parker Washington had five receptions for 148 yards and two TDs; Jahan Dotson had seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. KeAndre Lambert-Smith added two receptions for 88 yards and a TD. It sure helps the “explosions” when you have two NFL-caliber receivers.
Defensively, both teams had three sacks and eight TFLs. Villanova came to play, and given the suckage on the PSU offensive line, they took full advantage of the opportunity to shine before a nearly full Beaver Stadium crowd and alumnus Howie Long, whose banter with Penn State homey Matt Millen exacerbated our ennui. The Penn State defense was effective in shutting down any semblance of a running game, clamping down to allow only 58 yards. Overall, they held Villanova to 280 yards. Because the clean jerseys were in the game for much of the second half, though, that number is a bit deceptive, as it were.
Explosive Play Alert
On the first play from scrimmage, Clifford connected with Dotson for a touchdown. At that point, one would have thought Penn State was on the way to a rout like Georgia was simultaneously administering to Vanderbilt. (That game wound up 62-0). Tell me you weren’t thinking it would go that way! You did, didn’t you? But nooooooooooo…
Penn State must stop relying completely on the Big Play. The James Franklin Philosophy — I’m getting tired of hearing about “explosive plays”. That’s a worn-out cliche that’s been annoying me for years. Get a new mantra, James. Yeah, we’re 1-0 this week, but now we face the heart of the Big Ten schedule, and they ain’t Villanova. Where the hell is the running game? Even homeboy Matt Millen admonished the team strongly in this regard during his color commentary.
The offensive line play once again bites the big one. They’re barely adequate for pass protection. Hell, they gave up three sacks to Villanova! At least for pass protection where they get to back up they can do some semblance of blocking, but backing up doesn’t work too well on run blocking. There is no forward push, and hence, running up the middle is a dead end. And what’s with Harvard Man Eric Wilson? He whiffs on more blocks than Chief Traffic Cone Paris Palmer ever did.
If ever there was a game to work on the running game, this was it. Maybe that was the intent, but what they found that it was nonexistent. I’m not buying the notion that Mike Yurcich didn’t want to show the future opponents his novel blocking schemes. Does anyone expect the rush offense to suddenly emerge?
Third-down suckage once again plagued this squad, going 3-12, a crappy 25%. The IITOP was, as usual, shaded toward the other guys. This was Villanova, folks.
Our two signature wins this year, Wisconsin and Auburn were devalued on Saturday, as Wisconsin held it close with Notre Dame in the first half but wound up on the shit end of the stick, 41-13, while Auburn trailed Georgia State through most of the game and had to rely on late fourth quarter fireworks to pull out a 34-24 victory. Between these and the performance against Villanova, the Number Six ranking sure looks like it is at least ten slots too high.
All remaining games count. They’re all Big Ten opponents, none of which will be pushovers, especially if the Nittany Lions remain one-dimensions. I do not believe for one minute the notion I’ve heard from Sanguinarian apologists — Yurcich just didn’t want to give away his blocking schemes, etc. I firmly believe that this team was performing at its usual noon start finest.
Yeah, fans love the big play. Alas, this fan is an old-timer who wants to see some good, fundamental, grind-it-out football. I’m not seeing that part of the game. I will never believe that Time of Possession is “increasingly irrelevant”, no matter how much I poke fun at that utterance by Matt Herb several years ago.
I guess I am never satisfied. Some will say a win is a win, but I am worried.
(Next Week: Indiana. I’ll give you my thoughts on that game as the first week of fall wears on).