Fast off the Gates
Today’s victory over Purdue takes on a historic meaning as it was the 100th Homecoming game in the program’s history. The players were donning white cleats this one-game (along with the Generations of Greatness unis) which to paraphrase KJ Hamler, it makes them ‘run faster’. Judging by the way in which the game started, one acquiesces with him. He and Sean Clifford took over the game early on.
On Penn State’s first offensive possession, Clifford connects with Hamler for a twenty-three-yard TD pass and early 7-0 lead, one of which they would not relinquish. On Penn State’s second possession, they inherit good field position thanks to a short punt (38) and a swift return by Hamler of 26 yards. After a strong run by Journey on first down, Sean Clifford runs for a short gain and takes a lick from Cam Allen, late. The hit was cause for review. It was a clear case where the QB was giving himself up and sliding, the defender comes in with the late hit and clobbers Clifford. The brash Sophomore absorbs the hit and gets right back on his feet. To no one’s surprise, it was called targeting. Allen was disqualified, a fifteen-yard penalty is assessed, and the Nittany Lions have the ball at the Boilermakers’ 11. Subsequently, Clifford gets his revenge, hits pay-dirt a few plays later with the QB rushing TD. Beaver Stadium was erupting from the 106,536 Penn State faithful in attendance.
Defense At today’s press conference following a 35-7 homecoming victory over Purdue, James Franklin said the following about his defense: ‘We’re playing championship-level defense now.’ His endorsement is warranted given a performance in which he saw his defense sack Jack Plummer ten times, a feat not seen in almost two decades. It was Penn State’s defense who came out with barbarous aggression. Purdue won the toss and elected to receive. And receive they did; a whole lot of Shaka Toney. The Boilermakers’ first two drives ended on back-to-back third-down sacks by #18, who finished the game with three sacks. Yetur Gross-Matos added two TKLs and two sacks. The future first-round pick played bully-ball getting to the backfield with ease, disrupting Plummer’s timing on passing plays. Parsons, Wade, Oweh and Hansard, each got in the mix and recorded a sack on Plummer. In addition, half sacks by tackles Windsor and Shelton make it ten for the game. This pass rush comes in waves. It’s easy to see why coach Franklin exalts his defense with such high praise. Indeed, they are playing a championship-level, to date. Now that the schedules begin to get contentious, moreover, with Iowa losing (and in the fashion they lost, only scoring 3 points) this weekend, Pen State’s defense will have to keep this same intensity on the road and take it to an already grumpy Iowa team. Win and Michigan @ Penn State will be a must-watch. The team handing the Hawkeyes their first loss was Michigan. They travel Illinois with a matchup versus a struggling Fighting Illini team under former NFL coach Lovie Smith. Penn State meets the Hawkeyes, then host Michigan (4-1), at Michigan St. (4-2) and at Minnesota (5-0). This will certainly put Penn State’s defense to the test.
The Nittany Lions’ pass-rush was most noticeable but not the only bright spot worth mentioning on that side of the ball. The Boilermakers were held to a pedestrian 28 total team yards, combined. Their passing game was a non-factor and although Purdue was without their starting quarterback and wideout, the Lions handled their business. Noah Cain again showed why he “should” have the bulk of the workload with 106 rushing yards on 12 carries. Sean Clifford mirrored his TD/INT ratio from last week (3-1) and ran it 11 times for 33 yards. With a ‘championship-level defense’ and an offense whose QB has a 3-1 TD to INT ratio and a plethora of running backs to choose from, a result of a playoff-bound team is what fans must look forward to.