Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch As The Nittany Lions Take On Idaho
It's finally time for some football. Penn State will open its 2019 season, the 133rd in program history, on Saturday at 3:30 as the Nittany Lions take on Idaho on the Big Ten Network.
While anything is possible, it stands to reason that this year's opener will not be nearly as dramatic as 2018's overtime victory against Appalachian State. In turn, as is the case with most lopsided openers, the question is always what to look for and what to keep an eye on.
In truth you can only take so much from a game that could be one sided. If Penn State's offense looks great that's not a shock but it doesn't mean the Nittany Lions are beating Clemson just yet. And if it doesn't look so hot, well it has a new quarterback, a newer offensive line and a new running back group. It wouldn't be the end of the world or all that surprising if there were some bumps in the road early on.
So as they say, don't get too high and don't get too low.
Nevertheless, here are five general things to keep an eye on as you're watching Penn State kick off a chapter in the James Franklin era.
If we're working under the general assumption that nothing good should be taken too seriously and nothing bad should be overly concerning, this week is really about introductions. Does Sean Clifford look comfortable? Do the running backs look as deep as they are on paper? How about the defense, special teams and new kickoff unit? There are a lot of new faces to remember, new numbers to put to memory, so Saturday, short of an unmitigated disaster on the part of Penn State, is simply about introductions. Welcome to a new era. The biggest thing to watch is everything, because so many things are new.
While you don't want to take too much stock in things Week 1, if Penn State's receiving corps can manage to make a good first impression, that'll go a long way towards their own confidence and Sean Clifford's confidence in them. It's hard to imagine that this group will struggle as much as it did in 2018, but you still have to go out and catch the passes. Seems unlikely Penn State will break the playbook wide open against Idaho, but a good dosage of KJ Hamler, Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson could help confirm to the crowd what they're all hoping to see: a much more consistent season from the Nittany Lion receivers.
No News Is Good News:
Penn State's special teams struggle everywhere last season. Blake Gillikin wasn't as consistent, Jake Pinegar was all over the place and there were mistakes in places you didn't even realize there could be mistakes. There is a decent history of Penn State's special teams unit making a big play in season openers, but really all fans want to see is a group that looks like it knows what it's doing, and can do it consistently. That's really the theme for Penn State this season, consistency and that applies to this group as well. Also look for the debut of Virginia Tech kicker Jordan Stout, who will be taking care of kickoff duties.
Simply put, this group doesn't need to wow you in Week 1, but if there is nothing to talk about come Sunday, that's not a bad thing for this bunch. Especially after all the head-smacking things that happened in 2018.
Four Horse Race:
On paper the Nittany Lion running back room is as deep as it has been maybe in the last decade if we're talking about the number of players who could make a legitimate case for a starting spot. In reality it's Ricky Slade's job until further notice, but Noah Cain and Journey Brown, not to mention Devyn Ford all ought to see the ball early in the season.
Slade is the most experienced, but Cain had an impressive Blue White game (whatever stock you put in that.) Penn State's offense isn't really a multi-back offense, and James Franklin doesn't seem interested in changing that. So how does this group shake out? All four of them won't be playing in every game, but there is too much talent to sit everyone.
Don't Mess With The Best:
Preseason hype has a tendency to talk up a group before it actually does anything (someone asked James Franklin if this was the best defense he has had, to which he replied that the defense hadn't played a snap yet) but this defensive unit certainly seems capable of matching that hype. Rolling through Idaho isn't exactly the best way to prove your worth, but this is the debut of a potentially Top 10, Top 5 defense on the national stage.
Again, you try not to put too much stock in the play of anything Penn State related in Week 1, but if this group can just show flashes of what it can become, that'll help wet the appetite for fans already expecting big things from this bunch. Especially with Pitt, the first "big" game of the year just two weeks away.