Following a 20-14 victory over Army at rain-soaked Beaver Stadium Saturday, everyone in the Penn State camp was talking about “being 1-0 this week.” Offensive line coach Herb Hand even tweeted it.
And while it is true that any win is a good win, it sure sounded like the Nittany Lions (4-1) were trying to convince THEMSELVES that a six-point victory over a 24-point underdog was good enough.
In reality, the game left serious questions about Penn State — particularly the offense — as it braces to dive into the meat of the Big Ten schedule at home against Indiana next week.
Army entered Saturday’s action at 1-3. The Black Knights gave up 37 points and 445 yards in a home loss to … uh … Fordham earlier this year. Yet PSU only managed 264 yards and a dozen first downs against the extremely undersized Army defense.
With top backs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley out with injuries, the Lion offensive line really needed to step up. It did the opposite, taking a huge step backward by allowing three sacks and opening enough space for the ground game to average just 3.2 yards per carry.
Think about this for a second: The Black Knights’ starting defensive line averaged 6-foot-2, 250 pounds.
Of course, the lousy ground game may have had something to do with the PSU offense not even bothering to throw the ball down the field to keep the Army defense honest, save for two plays in the third quarter (and you’ll never guess what happened then).
So sure, we’ll play along and say Penn State is indeed 1-0 this week.
But judging by Saturday’s showing, one can only wonder how many more times they’ll be able to say that this season.
MAN OF THE HOUR: LB Jason Cabinda played his best game as a Nittany Lion, with a game-high 14 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. His sack of Army QB A.J. Schurr with a minute and a half left sealed the game.
CLOSE SECOND: Where would the PSU passing game be without sophomore WR Chris Godwin? He had four more catches for 66 yards, including a 49-yarder that led to PSU’s final TD late in the third quarter.
CLOSE THIRD: K Joey Julius did not do anything spectacular. But he was perfect on a pair of field goals and a pair of extra points. Important stuff given the bad weather and how close the score was throughout.
TURNING POINT: Penn State FINALLY took a deep shot as time was winding down in the third quarter, and QB Christian Hackenberg hit Godwin on the 49-yarder. On the next play, Hackenberg hit TE Mike Gesicki on a 33-yard catch and run for a score and 20-7 lead. More on this later.
SOLID STRATEGY: PSU rotated early and often on defense. Even though that allowed the Black Knights to march 76 yards for a score in the third quarter (against six second-teamers in the front seven for the Lions). When it mattered most late in the game, the Penn State defense was fresh.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State scored 10 points off three Army turnovers. The Lions had no turnovers. The Black Knights have to be kicking themselves over that.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: PSU had six more tackles for loss and three sacks. Army had given up two sacks on the season coming in.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: DeAndre Thompkins had a 25-yard punt return early in the third quarter.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• Penn State again allowing rainy conditions to dictate what it does in the passing game. Guys, you’re not at Vanderbilt anymore — the elements are often a huge factor in the Big Ten. Dumbing down the passing game (again) due to rain clearly makes PSU much easier to defend. The Lions had six first-down chances in the first quarter, and passed on ONE of them. Which brings us to…
• Penn State waiting so long to take deep shots. The Nittany Lions’ longest completion in the first half was 12 yards. Prior to the bomb to Godwin late in the third quarter, PSU had attempted ONE pass in the second half. Then two long passes resulted in a score.
• The PSU offense wasting more great field position. The Lions started five drives in Army territory and got a total of 10 points off of them.
• State getting only three points after having a first-and-5 at the Black Knight 12-yard line. The play calling went like this: Mark Allen rush for one yard. Mark Allen rush for two yards. Johnathan Thomas rush for minus-1 yard. This against the smallest defensive front PSU will see all season.
• The Lions’ awful tackling at times. Give Army credit for running hard. But when Schurr rushed 56 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter, the attempted tackling was atrocious, even by a veteran like S Jordan Lucas.
• PSU’s punting. After looking All-World vs. Rutgers two weeks ago, Chris Gulla has struggled since. Saturday’s performance included an 11-yarder. Gulla was eventually pulled in favor of former starter Danny Pasquariello, who responded with a pretty bad 35-yarder on his only attempt.
HIT SQUAD: You don’t often see cornerbacks flatten ball-carriers. But PSU’s Grant Haley saw Schurr keep the ball on an option play and jack-hammered him into the turf in the second quarter.
HIDDEN HEROES: Penn State’s grounds crew did a great job of making the field playable given the nasty weather all week.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: TE Brent Wilkerson had two catches for 14 yards. He did not have a catch in PSU’s first four games and entered the season with two career grabs for 18 yards.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• Lucas was back in the starting lineup after missing the SDSU game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. He had eight tackles.
• Players held out of the game included: S Marcus Allen, RB Saquon Barkley, LB Brandon Bell, RB Akeel Lynch, OL Andrew Nelson, DE Evan Schwan.
• C Angelo Mangiro appeared to sustain a leg injury in the third quarter and was replaced by Wendy Laurent.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Will this coaching staff — as comprised — ever figure things out from an offensive perspective?