By Greg Pickel
Penn State has turned the page on its September chapter in the hypothetical book on the 2019 season.
The Lions started the writing with a celebratory Sept. 1 after a blowout of Idaho on Aug. 31 to start the year and then finished it with what can only be considered as a page of exclamation points on Sept. 27 following a thoroughly dominating 59-0 triumph over Maryland to start conference play.
Like any book, parts from previous chapters will either rear their ugly head or be looked back on as a major twist in the plot later on as a new installment begins with October and the arrival of the annual Homecoming game on Saturday against Purdue.
The book has been so far, so good for fans of and those inside of head coach James Franklin’s program, with only a few warts here and there, but plenty of work, and reading, still needs to be done.
“We’re 1-0 this week,” Franklin said during his postgame media conference after the win. “And we’re going to have to do everything in our power to find a way to be 1-0 next week. I thought I thought our guys did a really good job of preparation, we need to build on that. Our culture’s really good right now. Our chemistry in our locker room is really good.”
The PennLive Penn State Sunday situation is a weekly feature that looks back at the game that was and ahead to what’s next, and this installment hits on some other topics, as well, with the Lions sitting at 4-0.
Is Penn State that good? It’s the question we’re left to ask following such an impressive blowout in a conference game. In many areas, Penn State had greater success against Maryland than it did against Idaho, and that FBS-FCS matchup mismatch was clear from the start.
Think about the areas that were on the concern checklist heading into kickoff:
- Third down offense and defense.
- Sacks and tackles for loss production.
- The offensive playcalling and an ability to create chunk plays.
- Starting slow on the road.
The Lions were in command of the game really from the jump, as Jan Johnson beautifully dropped in zone coverage and picked off a Josh Jackson pass. The play was there to be made, surely, as a receiver was open down the field, but the Terps QB never saw the veteran PSU defender drop into the middle of the field, which helped set up Sean Clifford’s scoring run one play later.
In full, Penn State rolled up 618 yards and allowed just 128, which is almost unheard of in Big Ten play. Its offensive line won consistently at the line of scrimmage and opened gaping holes for the team’s four backs to plow through. Defensively, the Lions had four sacks and eight tackles for loss while holding Maryland to a 4 of 15 mark on third down and just 2.2 yards per play.
PSU, on the other hand, was 9 of 13 when it came time to move the chains and picked up 7.6 yards per play on a night in which it ran the ball 41 times and passed it 40. Late in the 2018 season, Penn State went to Rutgers and, while it picked up a victory, it was hardly a satisfying one. The Terps and Scarlet Knights might be closer to being on the same page than most realize, but regardless, this was as dominating a win as any in the Franklin era, and now how it translates moving forward will be a key storyline ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Boilermakers.
Finally, we learned that when PSU is firing on all cylinders as it did Friday night, it will certainly play with anyone in the conference.
More Penn State football coverage:
Penn State Six for Saturday: A closer look at the Lions’ lockdown ‘D’, Sean Clifford’s start and suffocating special teams’ play James Franklin explains early timeout, raves about success, and more of what he said after a 59-0 win over Maryland.
Moving forward Penn State is already listed as a whopping 14.5-point favorite over Purdue at FanDuel, which is a fairly sizable line adjustment considering that the Lions were just a 10-point favorite in August.
To move through the key number of 14 signals that oddsmakers respect what the Lions have done over the first four games of the year. Areas for improvement remain, and as Franklin tends to say, losses magnify the weaknesses while wins cover them up, but they’re there either way.
For Penn State moving forward, the key now is consistency, in both the player execution department and the playcalling realm. Big wins are great, but they can quickly be forgotten if a stinker follows it.
The good news for Lions faithful, then, is that the Franklin era has been marked by extraordinary runs, and Friday night’s blowout could certainly be the start of one as the team seeks to win for the fifth time in 2019 this coming weekend.
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