Welcome everyone, to Penn State week!
As the offseason rolls on and we move closer to the fall, we start getting into the bulk of the teams that had actual aspirations, but came short for one reason or another. If you’re a Nittany Lions fan, that feeling is probably getting more and more intense as the days go by.
Is Penn State really destined for a 2023 run, with 2022 being merely a transition year? Do they have the talent to arrive early? Well none of us knows for sure, but we’re going to try and speculate anyway!
The Nittany Lions started 2021 red hot! Sean Clifford was on his way to one of the most efficient seasons as a quarterback since Kerry Collins through five games. Clifford completed 71 percent of his passes in the month of September, and 66 percent through the Iowa game. Inefficiencies in the running game were masked by Clifford’s play to that point.
While Clifford was having himself a career season to that point, no running back in a Nittany Lion uniform came remotely close to 100 yards rushing, with Keyvone Lee and his 74 yards against Indiana being the closest any of them would get.
Then, of course, the fateful moment happened. Clifford got injured during the Iowa game, Penn State could no longer run or throw the ball, backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson looked like he’d never seen a football field in his life in relief, and, slowly but surely, the once promising season came crashing down.
Penn State had so little confidence in its backups after that game that they strutted out a still-not-100-percent Clifford onto the field against Illinois two weeks later, and, after nine overtimes, any hopes of salvaging the season went down the drain.
Three valiant efforts against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, respectively, with two victories against Maryland and Rutgers in between (the latter of which served as proof that Penn State did in fact have a backup quarterback all along, just the wrong one), finally put an end to the disappointment that was the 2021 season.
...well, not just yet. The top notch defense that kept Penn State in most of its games all declared for the draft and opted to skip the Outback Bowl, and the Nittany Lions found themselves against a very much “happy to be here” Arkansas team down half its starters on defense (like, literally, six starters opted out). No bueno!
There’s a lot of old-new and new-new to go around for 2022. First, Penn State gets a boost on the defensive line with the returns of both Adisa Isaac and P.J. Mustipher, the latter of which did such a tremendous job faking his injury at Iowa that he was out for the rest of the season! Isaac got injured before the season began, so he was unable to fake his injury in time.
On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest loss was in the departure of Jahan Dotson, whose selection in the first round of the NFL Draft more than justified his departure. Penn State will look to replace some of his production with incoming transfer Mitchell Tinsley (who will also wear No. 5 for the 2022 season), as well as standouts Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The departure of Noah Cain to LSU after the season was somewhat expected, as Keyvone Lee managed to take hold of the running back spot by season’s end. He will look to provide stability in the coming season, with the expectation that the job is his to lose.
Lastly, Penn State still managed to sign the No. 6 class in the country for 2022, which included both the No. 1 running back and No. 1 quarterback in the class, in Nick Singleton and Drew Allar, respectively. They also signed a top defensive lineman in Dani Dennis-Sutton, who should contribute right away. With the return of Clifford and emergence of Christian Veilleux, it’s unlikely Allar sees much playing time this season. The other two, on the other hand, should push for ample playing time. Another name to note is Zane Durant, who, like Singleton, enrolled early and has been impressing the staff so far.
As we’re all aware by now, the Big Ten is looking to revamp their scheduling philosophy for 2023 and beyond. They’re currently considering both reworking divisions and getting rid of them altogether moving forward. They also updated the 2022 schedule, which, for Penn State, is likely a blessing!
Penn State Schedule Comparison (2022)
|September 3||at Purdue||at Purdue|
|September 17||at Auburn||at Auburn|
|September 24||Central Michigan||Central Michigan|
|October 1||Ohio State||Northwestern|
|October 8||at Michigan||BYE|
|October 15||Illinois||at Michigan|
|October 29||Michigan State||Ohio State|
|November 5||at Indiana||at Indiana|
|November 19||Minnesota||at Rutgers|
|November 26||at Rutgers||Michigan State|
Penn State went from playing Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State in the span of a month (the latter two back to back), and trade their bye week to be before Michigan on the road, as opposed to Michigan State at home. Lastly, they traded a third consecutive home game against Illinois for a make-up home game with Northwestern, which was not played due to the 2020 schedule shift.
All in all, the Lions went from a top heavy schedule to one with a bit more balance. They avoid playing Ohio State early in the season, avoid playing the Big 3 in the East in nearly consecutive weeks, and get a more conveniently placed bye week than before. It’s still a tough schedule, of course, but certainly more manageable than the original iteration of 2022.