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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Thursday, Dec. 29. Let’s get started.
The travails of ‘team rules’
Wednesday was another day for Penn State to call roll, as the run-up to the Rose Bowl continued.
Jason Cabinda? Here. The junior middle linebacker told reporters he intends to forgo the NFL draft and return in 2017. Given his abilities as a player and leader, this is big news for 2017.
Brent Pry? Also here. The first-year defensive coordinator said right now he is not interested in head-coaching opportunities elsewhere and that he too intends to return next season. Also big news, after the first-rate patch-and-fill job he and the other defensive coaches have done with an injury-plagued unit this year.
Manny Bowen and Saeed Blacknall? Absent. Or, to be clear, they will be, when the Nittany Lions line up against USC on Monday. Penn State announced in a statement that Bowen, the team’s starting strong-side linebacker, and Blacknall, one of its three starting wide receivers, had been suspended for the game, after coach James Franklin said Tuesday that “some guys” would not be available.
The statement echoed Franklin in saying that the reason was “a violation of team rules.”
Of the two, Bowen is the greater loss. He has started every game but the opener, and his 68 tackles are fourth-best on the team. Koa Farmer, a converted safety, and freshman Cam Brown figure to get most of the snaps at that spot Monday.
Farmer made his positional switch after the opener and has appeared in every game, with a start against Maryland on Oct. 8. He has 27 tackles and three sacks. Brown has seen action in the last 12 games and made two starts, against Minnesota and Maryland. He has 29 stops, 10 of those coming in the Sept. 24 loss at Michigan.
He also blocked a punt in the fourth quarter of the Oct. 22 upset of Ohio State, though the Lions were not trying for a block in that situation; he was just in the right place at the right time.
As for Blacknall, he has 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those TDs came in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, covering 40 and 70 yards, respectively.
He will likely be replaced by DeAndre Thompkins, who made six starts after Blacknall was injured in the opener and has appeared in 12 games in all. His 25 receptions are fourth-most on the team, and they have accounted for 431 yards and one score.
Thompkins has also done things like this:
Nominee No. 5
DeAndre Thompkins – @PennStateFball
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 12, 2016
DeAndre Thompkins is so valuable to this Penn State offense because he can separate: pic.twitter.com/9iaDlPtNja
— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) October 2, 2016
— Thomas Twardowski (@TommyTwardowski) October 8, 2016
So yeah, the Lions should be fine at wideout. Linebacker is a bit of a sticky wicket, given the fact that Farmer has been more a situational player and Brown is still somewhat green.
USC offers its own Slingin’ Sammy
USC, which lost three of its first four games this season, went on an eight-game winning streak the week after freshman Sam Darnold replaced Max Browne at quarterback. Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who quarterbacked Tennessee to the 1998 national championship, told David Jones of Pennlive.com that one of the things that sets Darnold apart is a confidence that belies his age.
The example offered by Martin came in a game early this season, when wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster tried to spell out his responsibilities on a certain play to the young QB:
“I remember before he was even a starter, I think JuJu ran a route some way, and JuJu was trying to explain to him what he wanted, and Sam goes, ‘No, here’s what I want.’”
Overall the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Darnold has clicked on 68.1 percent of his passes, for 2,633 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just eight times.
As he told Jones:
“I’ve done what I can with the opportunity that was given to me. Max was a great player. He really helped me in the film room when it came to preparing. He really did his part. But when my opportunity was given, I ran with it, and I didn’t look back.”
Neither have the Trojans.