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: What has been the most disappointing side of the ball for PSU this season?
Giger: PSU’s defense has lost two of the three games
Penn State’s defense played great for the first 58 minutes this season. It’s been flat out awful ever since.
There’s no question the Nittany Lions’ offense has had major problems, and Neil points them out.
But the offense did enough to beat Indiana.
The defense collapsed at the end with that game on the line, setting a bad tone for what has turned out to be a very bad start for Penn State.
We all can gripe about James Franklin not making sure that Devyn Ford or anyone else went into the end zone with a one-point lead inside of two minutes at Indiana. The game would have been over had PSU not scored, but instead, the Lions were up by eight points and just needed to stop the Hoosiers from driving down the field to tie.
The defense failed.
Indiana’s offense hadn’t done much of anything up to that point in the game. But with everything on the line, the Hoosiers drove 75 yards in the final 1:42 to scored a touchdown, then burned PSU’s defense with a 2-point conversion to force overtime.
Penn State’s offense did what it had to do in OT to win the game, getting a TD pass from Sean Clifford to Parker Washington.
But again, PSU’s defense wilted under pressure and allowed Indiana to score a touchdown.
Now, as I’ve stated repeatedly, I believe Penn State stopped Michael Penix Jr. from scoring the 2-point conversion, since it looked like the ball was out of bounds. However, history will show that Penix did indeed get 2 points on “the reach,” and Indiana walked away with a historic victory.
No matter how you slice it, Penn State didn’t have a great chance against Ohio State. But when the defense gave up a 62-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage before allowing a touchdown, well, what does that tell you about how unprepared the unit was to play?
After the offense failed on fourth down in its own territory, the defense gave up another touchdown, and the Buckeyes were up 14-0. It was game over, and the offense had had the ball just one time.
Against Maryland, Penn State’s defense was atrocious, giving up two long TD passes on the same crossing pattern to fall behind 14-0. Then the Terps got a 38-yard TD run — on second-and-20! — to make it 21-0. Game over.
Penn State has allowed 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time EVER, going back to last year’s Cotton Bowl. Clearly, a program that has been superb on defense forever is having all sorts of problems.
Losing Micah Parsons was enormous. Because that guy is awesome. But this defense still was supposed to be very good.
It’s not even close.
Cory Giger is editor of NittanySportsNow.com and host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 3-4 on WRTA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Rudel: Offense most responsible for Nittany Lions’ 0-3 start
This is truly a coin flip, which is almost what we did.
Cory had first pick this week and picked the defense.
I’m sure we both can take either side of the ball since each has been mightily disappointing.
But as unprepared as the pass defense has been, I’m comfortable saying the offense is the bigger disappointment in part because the defense lost its best player and top-five draft pick, Micah Parsons, on short notice.
Without a leader to call the defensive signals — not to mention inject a fire clearly lacking — the unit figured to endure some bumps.
And though it has, it generally played well enough at Indiana to win, did not allow a point in the second half against Maryland — I know, that’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the rest of the show — and the Nittany Lions weren’t going to beat Ohio State no matter what.
While the pass defense leaks date back to the Minnesota game year, this year’s offense has been horrendous.
With anchor Michal Menet at center, fellow three-year starter Will Fries and experienced returnees Mike Miranda, Rashard Walker and C.J. Thorpe, this was supposed to be the best offensive line in James Franklin’s seven-year tenure.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth has been compared to Rob Gronkowski, Jahan Dotson and the young wideouts have emerged, and while the loss of Journey Brown was a blow, a better line would have eased the transition of the inexperienced backs.
That includes Devyn Ford, who scored the most regrettable touchdown in Penn State history.
It really comes down to the play of the quarterback, Sean Clifford.
The junior stepped in after Tommy Stevens’ abrupt transfer in the summer of 2019 and completed 66 percent of his passes (90-of-135) through the first five games, all wins.
But as the competition has gone up, Clifford’s performance has gone down.
He has completed better than 60 percent just once in the last 10 games, and that was at Indiana in the season opener when he played well in the second half but put the Lions in a deep hole with two first-half interceptions.
Clifford has been erratic, under fire, pressing and suddenly facing the very real possibility of being replaced by Will Levis if he doesn’t get the offense moving early at Nebraska on Saturday.
To this point, that hasn’t happened.
The offense has scored 20 points in the first half this year, including a mere two touchdowns — one on the first drive at Indiana and just one in 17 possessions since.
Add in how hopes were buoyed by the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, and it’s obvious the offense — its personnel, its execution and its organization — has contributed the most to the Nittany Lions’ 0-3 start.
Neil Rudel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.