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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Wednesday, Sept. 21. Let’s get started.
Cruel blow for Wartman-White
The Beaver Stadium crowd was buzzing as the Nittany Lions’ John Reid returned a punt 29 yards to the Temple 48-yard line in the final minute of the first quarter last Saturday, but then everyone fell silent.
Nyeem Wartman-White was down again.
Trainers hovered over PSU’s senior middle linebacker, looking at his right knee. He had injured his left knee in last year’s opener, also against Temple, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
He rose and jogged a few steps from the spot where he fell, near the Penn State sideline, and everyone was heartened for a moment, including Lions coach James Franklin. Maybe it wasn’t so bad this time, he had to be thinking.
But a little while later Wartman-White disappeared into the locker room, and when he returned he was on crutches. Then, on Tuesday, it was announced he would disappear for the rest of the season again. ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy, quoting an unnamed source, first reported that it was an ACL tear.
It is possible Wartman-White could petition the NCAA for a sixth season, because he has played in not quite three games the last two years because of his injuries. Franklin was asked about that possibility during his regular weekly news conference Tuesday, but couldn’t say for sure what Wartman-White might do.
“We’ll see how everything plays out. We’ll get him healthy. He already graduated, which is awesome. We’ll see what the future holds.”
Over the summer, Wartman-White told Derek Levarse of the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader that “six years is a long time.” No telling how this latest twist of fate might affect his thinking, though.
His is an interesting tale. He grew up in Philadelphia, and at one point lived within sight of Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles’ home stadium. He said before last season he dreamed as a kid of playing there, which at the time was far-fetched, since he didn’t take part in any organized sports at the time, much less football.
Not until his family moved to Archbald, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, did he begin playing. He quickly became a prodigy, then a much-sought-after recruit at Valley View High School, committing to Penn State when Joe Paterno was still the coach.
Wartman-White remained in the fold even after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and all the attendant fallout, but suffered his first knee injury, a sprain, while covering a kickoff in the 2012 opener at Virginia. While he could have returned later that season, then-coach Bill O’Brien elected to hold Wartman-White out to preserve his redshirt.
He started the next two seasons, and was looking forward to moving from the weak side to the middle last year. He was also looking forward to the season opener against the Owls – in, of all places, Lincoln Financial Field.
“For the rest of my life, I’ll see myself as a Philly guy.”
But he was injured while covering a second-quarter punt. He fought his way back, starting the first three games this season — the opener on the weak side, the next two in the middle, after Jason Cabinda was injured. And then he found himself on the ground again.
When his diagnosis was confirmed, it knocked everyone else flat, too. That includes guard Derek Dowrey, another fifth-year senior:
“I love Nyeem. I have ever since I met him in recruiting when I was still in high school. I personally can’t imagine what he’s going through. But I know if there is somebody who can get through this, get past it, it will be him. I mean, he’s an amazing athlete, an amazing competitor, a great person, a great teammate.
“I just wish him the best. But I know he doesn’t need that. He’s gonna go get it done.”
Lions have been fumble-prone
Ball security was a big topic of conversation when quarterback Trace McSorley spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning, and not without reason. The Nittany Lions have fumbled an FBS-worst 12 times in their first three games, and their six lost fumbles are the nation’s fourth-highest total. They are minus-2 in turnover ratio, tying them for dead last in the Big Ten.
McSorley has eight of those fumbles, losing three, and is rightfully concerned:
“We’ve had multiple turnovers in each game. That’s something that we need to cut out.”
He believes the fumble problems are “correctible,” andFranklin said his team will continue to drill on the fundamentals of ball security, which has not been a big issue his first two years in Happy Valley.
The Lions fumbled 15 times and lost 11 in 2014, his first year, and fumbled 18 times last season, losing 12. Franklin’s take?
“We’ve got to hold onto the ball and be more ball secure. That’s something that’s going to be very important to us, something we’ve done a fairly good job of in the past. And we need to make sure that we get back to doing that.”
Wolverines have bigger fish to fry
David Jones of Pennlive.com argues that Penn State will be little more than a speed bump for Michigan, that Jim Harbaugh and Co. are gearing up more for the real challenges – i.e., Ohio State and Michigan State – that lie ahead. And, Jones writes, they will be hard-pressed to meet them.
The Wolverines will not win the Big Ten title while Harbaugh is coaching at Michigan. I don’t even think they’ll win the division.
His reasoning is that Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio have grown weary of Harbaugh’s non-stop showmanship, and would love nothing more than to stick it to him.
You can bet your life, Jim Harbaugh is building up some real bile in two men I don’t think you wanna mess with. While he plays America’s stage and builds his national Q-rating, two men are focusing all of their energies on one objective and one objective only. Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio just want to kick his ass.
We shall see. Michigan is at Michigan State on Oct. 29, and at Ohio State on Nov. 26.
Franklin was asked more than once about the ability of the PSU defense to close down gaps on Tuesday, which led to a long-winded answer, as well as some tongue-in-check analytics on the part of the Scranton Times’ Donnie Collins.
Word "gap" was used 37 times during James Franklin's press conference, for what it's worth. About 0.5 percent of all words said. #analysis
— Donnie Collins (@psubst) September 20, 2016
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