A win back under the belt and Penn State is home for an afternoon meeting with Iowa. The Nittany Lions are looking to become bowl eligible on Saturday and more importantly, pick up a second straight win after losing two close games to Michigan State and Ohio State.
The formula to winning is a simple as it has always been. Penn State has the talent and the ability, but it must avoid mistakes, miscues and errors to beat a physical No.18 ranked Iowa team coming off its third-straight win after a close loss to Wisconsin early in the year.
Penn State will need some help to get back to Indianapolis and has been too inconsistent to really think about such things right now, but a win on Saturday would put a little belief back in the tank before a trip to Ann Arbor that could define a season.
What I’m watching.
Can only get better, right?:
While it’s probably possible, it’s hard to imagine a world where Penn State’s special teams unit is as hectic and occasional dysfunctional as it was last week against Indiana. So in theory it can only get better, right? That means longer more consistent punting from Blake Gillikin, more consistent punt returns and handling by that unit. Even another solid week from Jake Pinegar would be helpful. And don’t forget trick plays, onside kicks and generally cohesion.
So yea, pick your area and keep an eye on it. It might not happen all in a week, but Penn State’s special teams had been an asset in the past, and now it’s a weakness. Sooner or later that’ll decide a game.
After picking up four sacks against Indiana, Shaka Toney apparently has turned into a defensive wizard. While replicating that seems unlikely, keep an eye on Toney as he looks to continue his outstanding play. Penn State will need it too as the Nittany Lions will be without playmaking safety Garrett Taylor for the first half of Saturday’s game as he plays out the remainder of his targeting suspension. With Taylor out of the mix Penn State will lean on its defensive front to make plays in the game and a guy like Toney is ripe for that.
If this season is ultimately about building towards the future, even if the Nittany Lions seem bound for a middle of the pack bowl, these kinds of games are huge for the growth and development of so many players.
Juwan Johnson certainly looked healthy in practice earlier this week but James Franklin seems as open as ever to playing a few new faces at the receiver position. Who that is, be it Cam Sullivan-Brown, Jahan Dotson or Justin Shorter remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if a few new guys get some meaningful snaps.
So how do they look? For a group that has been plagued with drops and mistakes all season, it might not take much for someone to jump up the pecking order and Saturday might be the first time fans start to see that happen.
Win them over again:
Penn State has lost two straight at home, which seems almost impossible given how well the Nittany Lions have done at Beaver Stadium over the past several seasons. And losing at home it hard because it happens right in front of your fans. It’s one thing to watch a loss on TV, and it’s another to pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time simply to watch two straight games ends almost at the buzzer, going against your favorite team.
So in turn James Franklin’s stock has dropped slightly in some corners and that too of everyone else affiliated with the program. That’s not to say people won’t show up or won’t continue to cheer, but winning the crowd back is always a good thing, and Saturday is a big chance to do just that.
Survive and advance:
If Penn State loses the state of the program when it comes to health is almost certainly going to come up within the first half of postgame interviews. And that wouldn’t be wrong. So getting out of this weekend as healthy as Penn State entered it, and moving on to Michigan with a win would be enormous. The three game stretch of Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin is going to be as physical as they come, and the ability to enter each game as healthy as possible will be crucial to coming away with more wins than losses.
You can’t avoid injuries, but if Penn State can somehow win by a comfortable margin and get off the field healthy, that’ll go a long way towards next weekend in Ann Arbor.