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Smeltzer: It’s Okay to be Over the Moon

Photo by Penn State Athletics: James Franklin

I understand that the Auburn team Penn State pounded Saturday might not be good. 

I wasn’t high on Bryan Harsin’s squad coming into the game, probably wouldn’t have been if Auburn played Penn State tough, and even an Auburn win might not have changed my mind.

Auburn has a better chance of finishing with a losing record than winning the SEC West. 

With that said, any Penn State fan who isn’t over the moon about their football team right now might have something wrong with them.

It might look different weeks from now when Penn State has its next big test at Michigan. 

After all, last season looked pretty darn good through three weeks, when Penn State beat, coincidently, Auburn to improve to 3-0. We all remember how last season ended up.

But right this second, this Penn State football team is better than cynics and optimists alike thought it’d be.

It’s not better from a record standpoint. Vegas had Penn State as the favorites in its first three games, and many expected it to start 3-0. 

And sure, Penn State could have looked better at Purdue and didn’t prove a lot by pounding little Ohio. 

But winning by four touchdowns at Jordan-Hare Stadium isn’t supposed to happen, and that’s what Penn State did Saturday. 

The score tells much of the story, but it was a better day for Penn State beneath the surface. 

The day belonged to Nick Singleton.

The five-star freshman running back made quite an impression in his Beaver Stadium debut against Ohio, going for 179 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns.

He blew that performance out of the water against Auburn, again scoring two touchdowns on 10 carries and gaining 124 yards against stiffer competition. 

Singleton has exceeded expectations, and for a guy who was the No. 1 running back in the country coming out of high school, that’s an impressive feat. 

Penn State fans and alums already love Singleton.

Not every fan, however, loves Sean Clifford.

The sixth-year quarterback’s struggles and successes at Penn State are well-documented, and Clifford has become a polarizing figure for multiple reasons. 

Nothing was polarizing about his performance today. 

He wasn’t amazing; in fact, he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. But Clifford was efficient (14-for-19 for 178 yards), didn’t throw any interceptions, ran for Penn State’s first touchdown and did most of this after taking one of the biggest hits of the college football season thus far on the game’s first possession.

 

Oh, Clifford is also Penn State’s second all-time leading passer, moving ahead of Christian Hackenberg late in the third quarter.

And how about coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense? 

It wasn’t always pretty. Penn State missed a lot of tackles in the first half. The defense also gave up first downs on a third-and-20 and third-and-16, the former coming through the air, the latter on a quarterback run.

But in the second half, whew, baby. Penn State dominated and looked like the type of defense many fans grew up watching. The kind of defense fans want Penn State to be. 

It looked like Linebacker U. 

Penn State’s current crop of linebackers showed up. Curtis Jacobs is a stud. True freshman Abdul Carter will only get better as time passes and Kobe King looks like he’s beginning to find his rhythm at MIKE linebacker.

Where Penn State dominated most of all, however, was upfront. 

The Nittany Lions had six sacks, and the pass-rushing tandem of Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson looks like it could be fantastic. 

In the secondary, two players known for creating takeaways stepped up. 

Zakee Wheatley, who became Penn State’s “takeaway king” at the end of spring practice, got a big interception on the last play of the first quarter— helped immensely by pressure from fellow DB Jaylen Ree— when Penn State led 7-3, and the outcome was still in question. 

The outcome was no longer in question when Ji’Ayir Brown picked off Auburn QB Robby Ashford with 4:14 left in the third quarter. 

Even after Penn State virtually sealed the deal, some moments still made fans smile. 

Not only did freshman sensation Drew Allar get into the game in relief of Clifford, but the score also got lopsided enough that Penn State’s QB3, Christian Veilleux, got some action. 

Dani Dennis-Sutton, another five-star who doesn’t have quite the hype that Allar or Singleton do, got his first college sack. 

Perhaps the most telling thing about how good Penn State was Saturday was that true freshman Kaytron Allen rushed for two touchdowns in Jordan-Hare Stadium and is more of a footnote than a feature story. 

That’s nothing against Allen, who finished the day with 52 yards on nine carries, good for 5.8 yards per carry. 

He’s already a good running back and, like Carter, will only improve as he gets older. 

Singleton and Penn State were just that good. 

I don’t know how many games this team will win.

But I know that Penn State fans should start getting excited because this season might end up being better than anticipated. 

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