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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Monday, Nov. 14. Let’s get started.
Lions win, but offensive line is a mess
Suddenly and improbably, Penn State is in position to win the Big Ten East and play for the conference championship. Suddenly and improbably, a team that was 2-2 in September and dead in the water at halftime of its fifth game is ninth in the AP Top 25 and 10th in the Coaches Poll.
And a rise in the rankings that matter most — those related to the College Football Playoff — can be expected on Tuesday.
The Nittany Lions’ 45-31 victory Saturday at Indiana was their sixth straight, leaving them 8-2 and 6-1 in the Big Ten with two regular-season games remaining — at Rutgers this Saturday and home against Michigan State a week later. If they win both and either Indiana or Ohio State beat Michigan, the Lions win the East Division and play the West winner for the conference title Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
There are, however, ominous signs in State College. Already threadbare on its offensive line, Penn State lost LT Paris Palmer to a leg injury on its first drive against the Hoosiers and RG Connor McGovern later in the game to an undisclosed injury.
That left the Lions with Ryan Bates at left tackle, Derek Dowrey at left guard, Brian Gaia at center, Steven Gonzalez at right guard and Chasz Wright at right tackle. Only one of them — Gaia— is playing the same position at which he began the season.
Bates was forced to move from left guard to Palmer’s spot, with Dowrey replacing Bates. Gonzalez spelled McGovern, and Wright, a junior, was making his first career start in place of Brendan Mahon. Mahon injured a foot against Iowa the previous week and was hospitalized last week for an undisclosed reason.
Because of the turmoil along the offensive front, RB Saquon Barkley managed just 58 yards on a career-high 33 attempts against IU. He did, however, score twice — the second a 2-yard run with 3:58 left to give the Lions the lead for good.
From there, LB Brandon Bell iced the game by sacking Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow and forcing a fumble, which DE Torrence Brown returned 9 yards for a touchdown with 29 seconds remaining. It was the Hoosiers’ fifth and final lost fumble, an enormous factor in a game that saw Indiana outgain Penn State 454-409. Lagow and backup Zander Diamont threw for a combined 344 yards while RB Devine Redding ran for 108.
But back to the Penn State O-line for a moment: Coach James Franklin told reporters after the game that the Lions would likely start the Rutgers game this coming Saturday the same way they ended the one against Indiana. But as Donnie Collins writes in the Scranton Times-Tribune, Franklin and his staff are facing a real dilemma about freshman tackle Will Fries.
The plan all along has been to redshirt Fries, who didn’t even travel to Indiana. But with such a manpower shortage, the Lions might be compelled to activate him, even this late in the season.
A berth in the Big Ten Championship Game might, in fact, be riding on it.
Columnist marvels at PSU’s resilience
Frank Bodani of ydr.com writes that while the Lions are surely not among the nation’s best teams in terms of talent, they have put themselves in that company because of their resilience.
As he put it:
All of their continuing adversity and malfunctions — and overcoming it any way possible — actually makes them stronger than anyone else. Penn State would not be 8-2 and still in Big Ten and national title talk without a new struggle to deal with every week.
And it does almost seem that way. For before the injuries hit the offensive line, they deprived Penn State of seven linebackers at one time or another. Nyeem Wartman-White, an opening-week starter, was lost for the season in Week 3 with his second knee injury in as many years. The other two starters out of the gate, Bell and Jason Cabinda, each missed at least a month.
The secondary was also hit hard. Cornerbacks Grant Haley, Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwariye missed time. So, too, did safety Malik Golden. (And on Saturday backup corner Jordan Smith was placed in the concussion protocol.)
Yet all kinds of good things are within reach, Bodani writes:
Are they truly good enough to warrant such a reward? They have no All-American on defense. No star quarterback. They don’t even know who will block for them this coming week. You could go on and on.
That’s not really the point anymore.
Good is only what you make of it in the end.
Rather, there isn’t another team in the nation more deserving of whatever good fortunate comes their way.
McSorley looks long, finds success
David Jones of Pennlive.com invokes the name of former Oakland Raider quarterback Daryle Lamonica (a.k.a. “The Mad Bomber”), a noted long-ball thrower from the 1960s, in describing the proficiency of Penn State QB Trace McSorley. McSorley has repeatedly taken shots down the field as opposing safeties have crept up to the line of scrimmage in an attempt to take away the considerable threat Barkley poses on the ground.
As Jones notes:
After Saturday’s cluster-bombing of Indiana including six completions of (more than) 25 yards, McSorley now has lifted his yards-per-completion figure to 15.93 — tops among the 128-team Football Bowl Subdivision, ahead of even Louisville’s prohibitive Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson (15.73), the runner-up in the category.
One of Saturday’s bigger plays was a fourth-quarter flea flicker in which Barkley started off tackle before turning and pitching to McSorley, who found DaeSean Hamilton for a gain of 54. That set up Barkley’s 4-yard TD run.
And while McSorley was intercepted twice Saturday — his first two turnovers in the last six games — his ability to hit the deep ball was once again a big factor for the Lions.
Ground-level view of PSU-IU ending
Mark Brennan of Fight On State gives his video review — he is fond of calling it BrennanCam — of the late stages of the Indiana game, notably the TDs scored in the closing minutes by Barkley and Brown:
— Mark Brennan (@MarkXBrennan) November 13, 2016