The Penn State Nittany Lions have struggled so much with discipline, execution and surviving fourth quarters that you forget how talented they are.
Has Penn State ever traded so much dramatic good and bad on special teams in a single season?
They still haven’t put together a complete game. So is there any hope of that as October turns to November and the toughest road trip awaits for this 14th-ranked team?
Expect this, at least, on Saturday at rested and revved No. 5 Michigan: The Lions will fire loose and free on both sides of the ball and fight hard enough to win.
Their defense is finally forming a take-charge identity, despite laboring on the field for an inordinate amount of plays. They aren’t nearly as well-known as the Wolverines’ stat leaders but are growing into the same kind of force.
The key will be finally morphing into the opportunists at hand. There will be game-changing plays for the taking on both sides of the ball, and even for their combustible special teams.
They must take advantage early and often enough. They must turn pressure on Michigan QB Shea Patterson into sacks and mistakes. They must locate the ball better, simply enough. They’ve recovered only four of the past 18 fumbles forced.
They must embrace what is still their best skill set moving forward: big-play firepower. Because they cannot beat the Wolverines by pounding at scrimmage, living for five yards at a time behind the running of Miles Sanders and Trace McSorley.
Rather, they must hit their big chances in the pass game, hoping their mix of recovery acts (DeAndre Thompkins, Juwan Johnson, Brandon Polk) support their confident rookies (Jahan Dotson, KJ Hamler).
They own the talent to push Michigan more than anyone since the opening loss to Notre Dame.
And they will.
The problem is that on these kind of days, precision is paramount, too. Especially in the critical junctures of the second half.
That is the part that seems just out of reach.
The demon still holding them back when it absolutely matters the most.
Bodani’s Pick: Michigan 28, Penn State 23
Can one of the biggest defensive tackles on the team hit the high notes? He can try.
Ty Lohr, firstname.lastname@example.org