Penn State football heads into it’s week six bye with a perfect 5-0 record. The team has a clear identity on defense, and for all the ups-and-downs, the offense is averaging 34.4 points-per-game. But of course with the good, comes the bad and the ugly.
The Good: Penn State has an identity running the ball. Statistically, Penn State ran about 47-percent of the time in 2021, and if we factor in the number of times Sean Clifford’s runs were called passes, the Nittany Lions were probably closer to 40-percent. This season, Penn State has run the ball on 54-percent of plays. Leading rusher Nick Singleton is one long run from having more yards this year, than leading rusher Keyvone Lee had a year ago. Singleton and fellow freshman Kaytron Allen have taken better than 60-percent of the rushes, and account for about 80-percent of the yards and 8 of the team’s 12 rushing touchdowns. It’s an exciting duo that is one of the most dynamic pairings in the Big Ten.
Also Good: This is a bit of a cop out, sorry, but Penn State fans need to be elated about how the defense has played. Manny Diaz’s credentials as a defensive mind were never in question, but given how many players Penn State lost and the differences between Diaz’s and Brent Pry’s schemes, there was reason to believe this unit would regress. It didn’t. In fact, it might be better. Penn State leads the all power five schools in quarterback pressures, it leads all FBS schools in pass breakups and passes defended. In passes defended, Penn State leads second place Illinois by 19. Manny Diaz’s focus on creating turnovers has produced 11 in the team’s last three games.
The Bad: It’s hard to look at Penn State’s first five games and not be concerned with the passing game. Recency bias is heavily in play here after Sean Clifford struggled in the rain Saturday against Northwestern. Some analytics actually favor Clifford’s season over 2021’s. Still, the eye test hasn’t been kind, and inconsistencies have been as glaring as ever. Since Purdue, Clifford hasn’t thrown for more than 217 yards and Penn State’s wide receivers haven’t made the impact anyone expected. Mitchell Tinsley, Parker Washington and Keandre Lamber-Smith were supposed to be big play factories, but that hasn’t played out. While Clifford has some of the best mid-range numbers in the Big Ten, he has the same amount of 30+ and 40+ yard passes as Iowa’s Spencer Petras.
The Ugly: Penn State’s October schedule will dictate how the season is remembered. Penn State faces Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State in consecutive weeks. The Wolverines and Buckeyes are top-5 teams in college football, meanwhile Minnesota is a top-25 team (ignore the rankings) and likely the the best team in the West division. While the Gophers may be outside the top-25 this week, Minnesota was greatly affected by not having running back Mohamed Ibrahim in itsa loss at Iowa last week. Ibrahim is second in the Big Ten in rushing and his absence was magnified in that brutal Iowa road environment. Penn State’s next three games will be their toughest on the schedule, and as we saw in 2021 things can tail-spin quickly.