Where Does Penn State Go From Here?

Where does Penn State go from here? This is what every Nittany Lion fan is asking themself this week after a bad loss to Michigan.

Game six has not been kind to the Nittany Lions the last several seasons. It all started in 2019, with a scare at Iowa. Penn State clawed out of that one with a walk-off touchdown to escape Kinnick Stadium with a 17-12 win. This kept the undefeated season alive for another few weeks. Last season, Penn State suffered its first loss of the year at Iowa 20-23. Starting a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season. The only season in the last few that was a good game six? The shortened 2020 season that didn’t see a Penn State win until week six against Michigan. Now, two years later Michigan handed the Nittany Lions their first loss during, you guessed it, game six. So, where does Penn State go from here?

Where Does Penn State Go From the Loss at Michigan?

Last week’s game against Michigan was not what the team or the fans would have hoped entering a Top 10 matchup. However, the result is the result and now Penn State needs to figure out how not to repeat the fate of last season. The first half was hopeful and then the second half plummeted all of that built-up hope very quickly. Last week we explained that the Nittany Lions needed to rely on their newfound depth against a tough Wolverine squad. Unfortunately, Penn State starting quarterback Sean Clifford was the leading rusher for the Nittany Lions. He finished the day with 74 rushing yards and a big chunk of that came off of one breakaway run. We have outlined the young backs for Penn State multiple times this season and this is the first week that both were ineffective.

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Going into the game head coach James Franklin told the media that the offense would need to stay balanced. Keeping an emphasis on what they have done all season. However, that was completely derailed by a very assertive and physical Michigan defensive line. Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton combined for 35 rush yards in the game. The improved Penn State offensive line struggled mightily on Saturday.

So, where does Penn State go from here?

Will History Repeat Itself?

We already pointed out that the sixth game of the year isn’t always kind to Penn State. However, this cannot be something that continuously happens every year. We often talk about Franklin’s inability to close out games. We thought he did better against Purdue to start the season. Then against Northwestern, but this notion reared its ugly head against Michigan a week ago. So, what needs to happen for history not to repeat itself over the next three games? Well, a lot.

This week Penn State comes home to Beaver Stadium to play Minnesota in the White Out. The week after that is a Big Noon Kickoff matchup at home against Ohio State. Finally, to finish the three-game slate is a road game against a struggling Indiana squad.

How Can Repeating History Be Avoided?

The first thing that needs to happen differently from last season is not to play an injured Clifford if he isn’t ready to return. Clifford was cleared to play game seven against Illinois a season ago and by all accounts was ready, but he didn’t look himself and wasn’t overly effective. Franklin already told the media that if Clifford is healthy he will play on Saturday. Good, even great, but if he isn’t ready then use the depth that has been built up all season.

True freshman Drew Allar played in his fifth game when he entered last week for an injured Clifford. This isn’t like 2021 when there was no experienced quarterback behind Clifford. Allar has seen action all season and it might be time to see what he can do in a larger capacity. So far in limited use this season Allar has thrown for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

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Second Item

Keep the offense balanced. Franklin said it himself last week. They need to keep the offense balanced in the pass and the run to have a favorable outcome. Entering the Michigan game, when Clifford threw 29 times or more in a game, Penn State is 11-9. But when Clifford throws for less than 29 times, the Nittany Lions are 15-2. In the first five games, Penn State had a balanced attack. The offense will need to get back to that over this next three-game stretch or else the Nittany Lions could see history repeat itself, winning only two out of the final seven regular season matchups a year ago.

Final Item

Finally, the defense needs to figure out a way to stop the run and make their opponent one-dimensional. We talked about stopping Blake Corum a week ago, not only didn’t the Nittany Lions do that, but they also couldn’t stop Donovan Edwards. Corum rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Edwards accounted for an additional two touchdowns and 173 rushing yards. Penn State needs to figure out a way to keep Mohamed Ibrahim in check this week. Through five games Ibrahim hasĀ  694 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Whereas, through six games the Minnesota quarterbacks have tallied seven interceptions to match seven touchdowns. Forcing Minnesota to throw the ball could help keep history from repeating itself for the Nittany Lions.

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