Welcome to one of the most unique things you’ll find on the Penn State football beat — our point-counterpoint columns. This weekly component, which is not done by any other outlet, started a few years ago at the Altoona Mirror with Cory Giger and Neil Rudel, who has covered the Nittany Lions for more than 40 years. We’re happy to say that the point-counterpoint will continue, thanks to an agreement between Nittany Sports Now and the Altoona Mirror to share the content.
This week’s question: How much did last week’s loss to Indiana adjust your expectations for PSU this season?
Giger: Lions have some glaring holes that are cause for concern
I am concerned about this Penn State football team.
I went back and forth with my preseason record prediction, trying to decide between 8-1 and 7-2.
Now I’m thinking 5-4 is much more likely.
The Nittany Lions were overrated, which is our fault. Yours as fans and ours as the media.
After all-world linebacker Micah Parsons opted out, we didn’t change our expectations.
After standout running back Journey Brown was ruled out, we didn’t change our expectations.
We continued to believe this was a top 10 team that would be capable of battling for the College Football Playoff.
Now, with second-string running back Noah Cain lost for the season, you’re talking about three of the four best players on the entire team not being available — the lone exception is All-American tight end Pat Freiermuth.
Teams can’t lose three of their four best players and still be considered in the same scope as they were beforehand.
The Lions have the Ohio State juggernaut coming up Saturday at Beaver Stadium. But it won’t matter that the game is at Beaver Stadium, because there won’t be any kind of atmosphere there at all, so for all intents and purposes, it will be a neutral field.
Maybe a healthy Penn State team with Micah Parsons could beat Ohio State in front of a whiteout crowd at Beaver Stadium.
But with none of those elements in place, I expect the Buckeyes to roll by two touchdowns or more.
Penn State’s young running backs aren’t ready for this kind of challenge.
The one thing that worked last week for PSU’s offense was quarterback Sean Clifford taking off and running. He was outstanding with 119 yards on 17 carries.
But does anyone really want Clifford taking off and running a ton against Ohio State.
Clifford was knocked out of last year’s game in Columbus with a leg injury on a hit while trying to pass. He missed the following week at Rutgers and wasn’t overly sharp when he returned in the Cotton Bowl.
Clifford threw two awful interceptions in the Indiana loss, leading to 10 points, and if he does that against the Buckeyes, the Lions are going to get blown out.
On defense, PSU did great for most of the day against Indiana, then wilted with the game on the line late in regulation and in overtime.
Penn State’s defense did well against Ohio State last year, allowing only 28 points, and it will need a tremendous effort Saturday.
I still have major questions about the wide receivers, and now that’s been coupled with big questions in the running game.
Let’s count this week as a loss, with the big question being if Ohio State can cover the 11 1/2-point spread.
I already had picked Penn State to lose at Michigan later on, and I have no reason to doubt that after the Wolverines went to Minnesota and demolished the Gophers by 25.
At this stage, I can see PSU losing another game — either Iowa at home or in the Big Ten’s week nine — and that would leave the Lions at 5-4.
Which would be a major disappointment given the expectations everyone had less than a week ago.
Cory Giger is editor of NittanySportsNow.com and host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 3-4 on WRTA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Modest predictions still in the ballpark
Nobody should be overly surprised that Penn State lost at Indiana.
It’s not like the Nittany Lions were two-touchdown favorites and had never struggled in Bloomington.
More than the loss itself, most of us are more caught up in the way it happened — the penalties, the turnovers, the special teams mistakes, the asleep-at-the-wheel coaching and the bad call on the 2-point conversion.
If you said 8-1 before the season, well then, yes, your prediction needs updated.
But if you said 7-2, you’re still in the ballpark, if not 7-2 then 6-3 remains very possible if not likely.
Much depends on what was learned and improved upon from week one. We can all hear Joe Paterno now: “A football team makes its biggest improvement from week one to week two.”
The upside there is last week provided more than enough opportunity to fulfill that prophecy.
The special teams, kicking game and defensive secondary — where too many Hoosiers roamed free — should get better.
With Noah Cain confirmed out, the trio of Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes have more notice on carrying the load.
The offensive line — a supposed team strength — and receiving corps, excluding Pat Freiermuth (10 targets, seven catches), was just fair.
Kirk Ciarrocca’s first game as a PSU playcaller is now his belt, along with three other assistant coaches making their Nittany Lion debut.
All should be more comfortable, albeit against a great opponent in Ohio State.
The defense, save allowing the game-tying drive, played pretty well, pressuring and stuffing the Hoosiers on what should have been their last possession.
It will be without Jesse Luketa for the first half against the Buckeyes, but maybe that will force Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith to rise, which they’ve shown the ability to do.
I am missing anything? Oh, the quarterback.
Had Sean Clifford played the second half like he did the first, he’d be in danger of being replaced by Will Levis this week.
But Clifford settled down and finished the game strong, taking the runs when they were available, finding the open receiver and protecting the football.
Ohio State may not be a good barometer. The gap between the Buckeyes and the rest of the conference is well established, just as the country’s upper-tier — Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State — has distanced itself from the field.
Further, Penn State’s losses that have quickly piled up — Micah Parsons and Journey Brown, Cain and at least temporarily Luketa — are significant and happened after most people penciled in their 7-2.
The recruiting experts have credited James Franklin for stockpiling the Lions’ roster over the past few years, and these next two months will prove or dispel that.
How well the Lions improve on their in-game deficiencies of a week ago — including on the sideline — will go a long way toward determining whether they can get to six or seven wins.
No reason to hit the panic button just yet.
Neil Ruled can be reached at email@example.com.
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