Franklin, Nittany Lions Utilize Redshirt Freshman to Help Win Whiteout 2021
Penn State secured a 28-20 victory over Auburn Saturday night at Beaver Stadium using a lot of familiar faces - senior quarterback Sean Clifford with his 280 yards of passing, senior wideout Jahan Dotson with his ten receptions and a touchdown and over 109,000 strong in the stands with their 120 decibels of noise.
But one player who isn’t nearly as recognized emerged in two pivotal moments in the game. Third-string tight end and number 44 Tyler Warren was the beneficiary of a 22-yard throw from Dotson after a successful trick play to advance the ball to the Tigers’ 30 yard line.
It was the redshirt freshman’s first catch of his career, and it eventually set up a touchdown to fellow tight end Brenton Strange in the waning moments of the first half to get the Nittany Lions the lead back at 14-10.
That wouldn’t be all from Warren. On the first drive of the third quarter, he took a direct snap two yards behind the goal line and leapt into the endzone over defenders for a 21-10 Penn State lead and his first collegiate touchdown.
His trust in head coach James Franklin and his staff showed Saturday night. Warren said both of his remarkable plays were because of his experience as a quarterback in high school and his connection with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and his teammates.
“That helped me in my head to [give me the confidence] to be the guy to do something like that for us,” Warren said regarding his rushing touchdown. “[The play is] something we’ve been working on throughout the season, and then this was the opportunity. We thought it would be a good game to fit it in.”
The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Warren from Mechanicsville, Virginia was under center under head coach Matt Gray at Atlee High School and was named Team MVP as a sophomore and senior.
His 1,149 passing yards with 14 passing touchdowns, along with 677 yards on the ground and 10 rushing touchdowns in his fourth and final year, was enough to award him the No. 19 prospect in Virginia by 247Sports and No. 7 in the state by ESPN. He received offers from seven colleges, including Big Ten rival Michigan, but he visited only Happy Valley and committed in July of 2019.
The high school quarterback was praised after Whiteout 2021 by his teammates, particularly Clifford, who was impressed with his ability to convert to a tight end by putting on muscle and utilizing his agility.
“You can’t not use the guy,” Clifford said. “He’s so athletic, he’s fast, he’s strong. … We’re so excited to see how we can use him [more in the future].”
The Nittany Lions already have two young tight ends ahead of Warren on the depth chart in the redshirt sophomore Strange and true sophomore Theo Johnson. But the third-stringer made his presence known in one of the blue and white’s most highly anticipated games in years, which could help propel his playtime.
Jack McCune is a fourth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.