Many Penn State fans and media expected Saturday’s game against UMass at Beaver Stadium to be the most boring one of the season.
For the most part, that ended up being accurate.
PSU beat UMass 63-0, covering an insanely high spread by three touchdowns.
But I’m a big believer in this: Even if a game goes the way the world expects it to, there are always surprises. This Penn State season has already shown that. In Week 1, Penn State beat West Virginia, 38-15, in a scoreline that matched up with the three-touchdown spread. But nobody would have expected Penn State to score a touchdown after the game that led to WVU coach Neal Brown giving sportswriters a Christmas present.
The man who scored that last-second touchdown was backup QB Beau Pribula.
Unfortunately for “The Pride of York,” his first college touchdown became a debate topic (“Did James Franklin run up the score?”)
Fortunately for Daequan Hardy, there was no controversy surrounding his big day.
Hardy, a Pittsburgh-area guy, has been at Penn State for almost five seasons.
In that time, he’d played corner, safety and returned kicks, but had never returned a punt. Yesterday, Franklin decided to put Hardy back there in an effort to create more explosiveness in the punt return game. To say that it worked would be a gross understatement. Hardy’s first punt return went for a 56-yard touchdown.
In the second half, he returned one 69 yards. It’s probably a good bet that Hardy will be back returning punts next week at Ohio State.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 14, 2023
Hardy’s performance made him the center of attention.
For what was probably the first time in his Penn State career, Hardy was the first player a reporter asked Franklin about in his postgame press conference.
When Franklin finished talking and Penn State’s players started taking questions in breakout sessions, Hardy drew a big crowd, which is not a common occurrence.
To be clear, Hardy’s a valuable player for Penn State. Although he’s been used primarily as a nickel corner throughout his college career, Hardy is also capable of playing on the outside, which he showed against UMass, as well. His abilities on offense and— as the world now knows— special teams make him a solid bet to be playing on the NFL someday.
But as valuable as Hardy is to Penn State, he’s been overshadowed by more celebrated corners.
Joey Porter Jr. was almost a first-round pick in this past April’s draft.
But nobody was talking about King or Dixon after Saturday’s game. This was Daequan Hardy’s day.
It could have been Hardy’s day almost two years ago at Michigan State. Playing in the snow, Hardy intercepted a pass in the third quarter and ran it in for a touchdown to give Penn State the lead. Had Penn State held on and won, Hardy’s play would have been a big talking point after the game.
But Penn State lost, and now, the things people most remember about that game are the weather and Franklin being heckled during his postgame presser.
Penn State was never in danger of losing Saturday.
As a result, there was nothing getting in the way of Hardy’s heroics being remembered, and to me, what he did was proof that every game is worth watching.
I’m not suggesting that Penn State fans need to treat every game week like it’s Ohio State. Hell, I’m not suggesting that Penn State fans should watch every game. The UMass game, for the most part, was terrible, and any fan who was in their seat through the icy rain after halftime deserves a lifetime pass to Beaver Stadium, maybe even the chance to call a play at a future game.
But the next time Penn State has a game coming up against a terrible football team— Indiana the week of Oct. 28– I would recommend that fans who are having a hard time getting excited think about the potential cool moments that could happen, even in a blowout.
Along with Hardy, Dom DeLuca is an example. The in-state former walk-on from West Pittson scored a touchdown in Beaver Stadium playing linebacker.
And who was Penn State playing when he did it?
There are 85 scholarship players on Penn State and 105 total. Most of them never play a game where they are the No. 1 story afterward. So when somebody gets to be the No. 1 story, it’s a neat thing regardless of who the opponent is.
So here’s to you, Daequan Hardy.