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Staring Down the Musket at Penn State

A wild football game appears! Brian Bennett from Black Shoe Diaries helps answer some questions about the Nittany Lions.

NCAA Football: Big 12-Media Day Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Through the wilderness.

Simple Gifts stuck in your head.

Q&A column

1) Penn State is breaking in a highly touted new quarterback in Drew Allar. What has been the early response through his first camp in terms of strengths and weaknesses early on?

In terms of strengths, the (I hate sounding like a fake NFL draft expert) “arm talent” is undeniable. Allar has shown the ability, on air, to make all the throws. Last year, in backup duty, he was smart with the ball and his highlight might actually have been a perfect ball that he threw to tight end Tyler Warren that wound up dropped.

Having said that, the word out of camp has been that Penn State’s defense has been far ahead of the offense. That’s not surprising, considering Penn State’s defense figures to be among the nation’s best. But some of the weaknesses seem to point to the things we always heard about recently departed quarterback Sean Clifford, i.e. not being consistent with footwork.

Penn State does have an experienced offensive line and two standout sophomore running backs to lean upon early in the season. But, seeing Allar play up to his 5-star ranking will be necessary if the team is to achieve the lofty goals that they’ve been openly talking about since winning the Rose Bowl last January.

2) If West Virginia’s going to have a chance in this game, it’s going to need to get stellar performances out of its talented RB stable and its dual threat QB Garrett Greene. How well equipped is PSU to defend a team that wants to run the ball a ton and make you chase around a QB outside of structure.

Penn State’s worst loss last season came at Ann Arbor when Michigan imposed its will on the Nittany Lions and it led to a lot of soul searching with the program. That was a different type of running game. But, I do think teams can have success with using misdirection against Penn State. The defense is talented and fast. But, I recently rewatched portions of the Rose Bowl and there’s no doubt that Utah had success and was in the game until their quarterback got hurt thanks to his scrambling ability and occasional one-on-one win against man coverage against blitz situations.

I’ll be extremely interested to see how much of a kitchen sink game this becomes for Neil Brown and crew. I think WVU can slow the Penn State defense that will be feeding on the home crowd with some trick plays and misdirection.

3) West Virginia is a prohibitive underdog here and even the sect of fans who are optimistic for this season don’t have a ton of hope of an upset on Saturday. If there’s a fatal flaw of this really good Penn State team that West Virginia can exploit to have a shot, what is it?

I think the big key is to put pressure on Allar. Despite the 5-star hype, this is still a sophomore starting his first ever game. He literally did not turn the ball over last year in any of the 11 games that he played. So, how will he respond to being hit or throwing his first interception? Turn one or two of those into scores or short fields leading to scores and I absolutely think WVU can make this one interesting.

4) This is a throwback to the old eastern independents days, and while the game doesn’t have the same luster for the millennial and younger crowd, it’s a big deal for a lot of West Virginia fans who remember the 80s and earlier. Is this just another non-conference game for most Penn State fans or is there still some value in rekindling these old regional games?

I was a 9-year-old boy watching the last time these two teams played. I’ve actually written about that 1992 matchup in Morgantown for our site. So, check it out.

Since joining the Big Ten, Penn State has played a lot of its old Eastern rivals in small doses (Pitt, Boston College, Syracuse). I think the old guard likes it. I don’t know if the younger fans care all that much about it. But, I’ll say that I really like these games even though they’re about to go away forever. Last year, Penn State played against Auburn and James Franklin more or less said that Power 5 non-conference games will eventually go the way of the Pac-12. I’ll personally miss the regional aspect of college football as 2024 ushers in a whole different sport.

5) Piggyback off of that, what’s the general Penn State consensus on the state of college sports, be it realignment, the portal, or anything else?

I think fans are on board with what’s best for Penn State in realignment and there’s no doubt they’re safe in one of the big money leagues. At the same time, ever since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has always felt a little out on an island. They definitely have some bad blood with teams in the league, but there’s no true yearly rival. So, maybe the Big Ten becoming a national conference helps alleviate that feeling of not having a true blood rival.

In terms of NIL, Penn State is finally getting there. There were dueling collectives, a lot of infighting, and just a slow adjustment to getting fans to realize this is how the game is played now. There’s been a lot of “Penn State won national titles in the 1980s doing it this way” from the older, richer boosters. Just in the last few months, Penn State has seemed to supercharge its efforts behind a lot of former players who are barely in their 30s.

While James Franklin has plenty of critics, there’s no doubt that he has helped push Penn State into the upper stratosphere of recruiting, player development, etc. He’s brought in talented classes, identified talent early, and has helped Penn State get out of the awful national light that it was in a decade ago. Now, he’s also one of the highest paid coaches in the country. There are a lot of fans who believe that contract won’t be worth it until he can beat Ohio State, more consistently beat Michigan, and get Penn State into the playoffs.

Thanks again to Brian Bennett of Black Shoe Diaries for joining for Staring Down The Musket