STATE COLLEGE, PA – For the first time in over 70 years, Penn State and Villanova returned to the football field for this in-state clash. Penn State, coming off their big white-out win over Auburn was able to get the job done against the Wildcats, 38-17, but the victory was not without their struggles.
The Nittany Lions’ offense put up only 17 points in the first half, relying on a 52-yard touchdown from wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington. Dotson’s touchdown came on the first offensive play of the game for PSU.
While the passing game had some success, the Nittany Lions’ run game struggled throughout the first half of play. Penn State mustered up total of 18 rushing yards in the half. The Wildcats’ defense held their own against the run, they had seven tackles for loss in the first half.
The Villanova’s offense struggled throughout the first half. Quarterback Daniel Smith completed eight passes, but those completions amounted to a mere 43 yards through the air.
The Wildcats’ running attack was dismal as well. Running back Justin Covington finished the first half averaging only 2.4 yards per carry and had blue jerseys draped over him all game long.
The big plays continued for the Lions throughout the second half. After buying time with his legs, Clifford found a wide-open Keandre Lambert-Smith just past the first down marker. Lambert-Smith turned on the jets and took the ball 83 yards to the end zone.
PSU defense was in attack mode all game long. After having an interception called back in the first half, Penn State safety ji’Ayir Brown was able to get a second-half interception from a tipped ball.
After scoring a touchdown last weekend, tight end Tyler Warren found the end zone again from three yards out on 4th-and-1. Warren has become a true threat from the wildcat formation over these past few weeks.
Villanova finally found success through the air with just under 10 minutes left on the clock. Wide Receiver Rayjoun Pringle found himself wide open down the right side line for a 57-yard touchdown. PSU had not allowed a passing touchdown all year up to this point.
Running Back John Lovett was able to get the ground game going in the second half and finished the day with 45 rushing yards on 11 carries. While Lovett averaged 4.1 yards per carry, the Penn State run game as a group only averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
“I still think we’ve got to make some strides in the running game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said last week. “I think we can be better in the running game and have the ability to be better in the running game.”
For Villanova, running back Jalen Jackson had the most success on the ground. Jackson finished the game with 58 rushing yards on 7 carries.
Smith finished the day with a respectable 222 yards through the air, two touchdowns, and one interception for the Wildcats.
Clifford finished the day with 401 passing yards, four touchdowns, and one pick. The 401 passing yards was a career-high for Clifford and the 2nd most in a game for the Nittany Lions, only behind Christian Hackenburg’s 454 passing yards against UCF in 2014.
“We did not practice the way I think we should practice on Wednesday,” Franklin said after the win. “We’ve had very little of that since I’ve been here. The other thing I would say is we haven’t really had a lot of that during camp, but I thought Wednesday we did not have a good practice, so I think they’re getting patted on the back. I think they are reading articles, and we’ll make sure that there’s no leftovers of that come Sunday. I’ll make sure that we clear all those things out of the fridge.”
The Oct. 9 Penn State-Iowa game will kick off at 4 p.m. on Fox. Before that, Penn State hosts Indiana at 7:30 p.m. next week.