Previewing the Penn State Season Opener
Comcast and Fox networks reached a deal in the late hours last weekend to continue broadcasting the Big Ten Network. This news came just a week before the Penn State season opener against Appalachian State. With the majority of Penn State students and fans in Central Pennsylvania being Comcast subscribers, it was a TV deal that could not get done soon enough.
Penn State is ranked No. 10 in the Top 25 going into the 2018 season. That is without the second overall draft pick Saquon Barkley and without former Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead. Moorhead left Penn State for the head coaching job at Mississippi State back in November.
The first test of the season will be against Appalachian State, a team that went into the Big House and upset Michigan back in 2007. Since that game, Power Five schools have been wary about putting Appalachian State on the schedule. The Penn State season opener is as good a time as any for the Nittany Lions to see what the team from the Sun Belt Conference is all about.
4 Things to Look for: Penn State vs. Appalachian State
1. A Penn State offense without Saquon Barkley
As previewed in this week’s earlier article, the Penn State offense will be without the overall Number two draft pick Saquon Barkley for the first time in three seasons. While Head Coach James Franklin acknowledges that no one back will be able to replace Barkley, he has named Miles Sanders as the starting running back for the 2018 season. We know that Sanders will be the starter, the opener on Saturday will help decide who will take the immediate backup role. The depth chart shows true freshman Ricky Slade as third at the running back position behind senior Mark Allen. Look for Sanders to put up good yardage Saturday and both Allen and Slade to get reps against an undersized Mountaineers defense.
Even without Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley should have no problem in the Penn State season opener. While Barkley may have received all of the attention, McSorley has been a constant for the Nittany Lions since he became the starter. Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield understands the challenge he faces against McSorley. Satterfield stated, “He’s very tough to defend, and what he does is take care of the football and he puts their offense in the position to make plays.” McSorley’s mantra on Saturday will be to get on the board early, utilize the veteran wide receivers, take care of the football and do not allow needless turnovers.
If McSorley and company can take care of the football and get on the board early, there should be no stopping the Penn State offense.
2. The Penn State linebackers against Jalin Moore
There have been a lot of questions surrounding the Penn State defense in the last month. With the recent departure of senior linebacker Manny Bowen, to focus more on his academics, and injuries permanently sidelining two defensive linemen, the Nittany Lions will look to some young players to step up early in the season.
According to the Penn State depth chart, redshirt junior Jan Johnson will get the start at middle linebacker. Behind him will be redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks and true freshman Jesse Luketa. Franklin has stated both freshmen will get time this season. On the outside is true freshman phenom Micah Parsons backing up veteran Koa Farmer.
It will be the linebackers’ main job on Saturday to contain the Mountaineer’s senior running back Jalin Moore. Moore comes into his final season at 205 pounds with 3,170 career rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns. He is one of the most productive runners in college football and is very elusive in space. Look for the Nittany Lion’s to key in on him early and try to force a young quarterback to make plays.
3. A young Appalachian State quarterback
With the loss of last season’s starting quarterback Taylor Lamb to graduation, the Mountaineers will look to sophomore Zac Thomas to lead them into Beaver Stadium. Thomas did not get many looks behind Lamb last season, but he will likely utilize both his arm and his legs. He finished his high school career with over 6,000 yards of total offense in 31 games. Based on his high school career, he knows how to produce, but look for the Penn State defense to force him to do too much in his first start.
Thomas will also try to limit turnovers. With the linebackers keying in on Moore early, much will be asked of the young quarterback. Look for the talented Nittany Lions secondary, highlighted by the return of John Reid, to force several turnovers.
4. James Franklin challenge to the fans
Last week the loudest college football stadiums in the nation measured by decibels were announced. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium fell to number six on the list according to ESPN’s CFB Kings. Clemson’s Death Valley came in at Number two at 132.8 decibels, while Beaver Stadium is reported at 122 decibels. For reference, a thunderclap registers at 120 decibels, and is categorized as painful to the naked ear. James Franklin was not pleased with this ranking and tweeted, “I hope we take this as a personal challenge Nittany Nation, let’s not complain about this, let’s prove them wrong!”
Now, Beaver Stadium is 3.8 miles from the State College YMCA. That is between trees and many high apartment buildings. During the four-overtime win against Michigan in 2013 the man that owns shoe store Rapid Transit, where I have been getting my sneakers and cleats since I was eight, claims that his house shook and he could hear the screams from Beaver Stadium before the TV showed Allen Robinson coming down with the catch that sent the game into the first overtime.
Therefore, I understand that the rules have changed with how many times Zombie Nation is allowed to play due to structural concerns, but look for Nittany Nation and the Student Section to rise to Franklin’s challenge at the Penn State season opener.
Heading into the Penn State season opener, the Nittany Lions are a 24-point favorite. Nobody should take the Mountaineers lightly though. Appalachian State starting running back Jalin Moore is quick and elusive. The Nittany Lions cannot allow him to break free and have open space. Trace McSorley will undoubtedly have to use his legs and utilize the experience at wide receiver to score fast and early. Finally, look for running by committee highlighted by Miles Sanders. Sanders who will hopefully show Nittany Nation that there is nothing to worry about in the backfield.
Penn State vs. Appalachian State will air on Big Ten Network at 3:30 PM (ET).