Five Things We Learned: Purdue
Twelth-ranked Penn State came out firing against the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday. The early surge was more than enough for the Nittany Lions to secure a 35-7 victory. Here are five things we learned from the homecoming game:
The front seven should be considered one of the best in the country
Earlier this week on ESPN’s College Football Live, David Pollack claimed that Yetur Gross-Matos and company are the main reason why Penn State should be considered No. 4 Ohio State’s biggest Big Ten threat. The front seven lived up to the hype this week against Purdue, holding the Boilermakers to a total of minus-19 yards on the ground.
The Nittany Lions also recorded 13 tackles for loss, along with a whopping 10 sacks—one sack shy of the program record set in 1999. The defensive front had shown flashes of dominance in previous weeks, but they came to full form for 60 minutes on Saturday.
Sean Clifford hasn’t come close to mastering the deep ball yet
The transition into the starting quarterback role was not the smoothest for Sean Clifford. Things certainly came together for him in week five, though, when he threw for 398 yards against Maryland. However, one problem that’s remained is Clifford’s inability to hit receivers downfield.
Since the Buffalo game, he’s only connected on one pass that went farther than 25 yards in the air. He’s also thrown two bad interceptions on those passes, one of which came on Saturday. Whether it’s poor timing or a lack of chemistry with his wideouts, Clifford needs to be more consistent throwing the ball deep if Penn State wants to retain the same explosiveness that defined the offense with McSorley as quarterback.
Noah Cain deserves to be featured more in the run game
Coming into the matchup against Purdue, Noah Cain had been receiving reps as the third running back on the depth chart. He made the most of his limited time against Pitt, in particular, when he was the key player in Penn State’s best and most balanced drive all game. The true freshman ultimately punched in the game-winning score, leading many to believe his opportunities in the backfield would increase.
Given a season-high 12 carries on Saturday, Cain rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he solidified himself as the best North-South runner on the roster, as he continuously burst through holes and gained substantial yardage on early downs. He should absolutely be considered to take over the starting role heading into next week.
The idea of the “second half team” seems to be fading out for good
The 2016 Big Ten Championship team was known for their elevated performance in the second halves of games. That’s not the case with this year’s team, though. In four of Penn State’s first five contests, the Nittany Lions have scored more points in the first half than the second. The offense against Purdue was far superior in the first half, even in a lazy noon kickoff. After putting up 21 points in the first quarter, Penn State now leads their 2019 opponents 69-0 in the initial frame.
To make it even more impressive, they’re the only team in the country that has yet to allow a first quarter point. The Nittany Lions are finding a way to get ahead early in games, so it might finally be time for Penn State fans to retire the “second half team” narrative, no matter how hard it may be.
Noon games are still, in fact, the worst
In his weekly press conference, Coach Franklin mentioned how Penn State fans seem to be getting more excited about noon kickoffs because of the tailgating potential once the games are over. He went on to add that he expects Beaver Stadium to be “sold out and rocking” for the early games after everyone finishes off their “breakfast burritos.”
If the stadium was sold out against Purdue, it didn’t look like it for the first quarter of play. Students and regular fans, for that matter, were still filing in from their tailgates well into the game. In regards to the “rocking” part, the stadium was nowhere near as deafening as a 3:30 kick, let alone a 7:30 one. There’s an energy that simply can’t be captured for early start times, and if the Whiteout is revealed to be a noon game as it’s been rumored, there may be a riot amongst the Penn State faithful.
Penn State goes on the road next week for a primetime matchup with Iowa at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Connor Griffin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.