Smith’s Slant: You’ll Be Alright in Time
It was a disaster. There is no other way to put it. Penn State's 17-16 loss to Virginia was an unmitigated disaster. After dropping a winnable game in the home opener against Ohio, Penn State went out of its to drop its second game and fall to 0-2.
But fans should not fret.
It seems odd to be saying this at this time, and even more odd to hear someone as pessimistic as me saying so. It seems odd to watch a team with so many obvious flaws play two terrible games and to still ask for people to think positively.
But I see a foundation of this time that will get them wins and keep them in games. After a shaky performance against Ohio, Penn State's front seven created havoc for Virginia on Saturday. Despite continued ineptitude from defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the team caused turnover after turnover and ground the running game of the Cavaliers to a pulp.
I also see a new attitude on offense that opens up opportunities. The playbook has been opened up and the receivers are getting open in ways they never did before. Allen Robinson, despite dropping numerous passes in the first two games, has caught 19 passes. Tight end Kyle Carter has also been heavily involved in the offense.
And maybe the most surprising performance of the season has been the solid play of quarterback Matt McGloin. Head coach Bill O'Brien's talk of McGloin "staying within himself" sounded like a way to politely criticize the redshirt senior, but his play on the field has been just that. He has limited his mistakes better than at any point in his career and has found plenty of open receivers while looking significantly more comfortable in the pocket.
The team is going to need McGloin to be consistent, because the team's running game is awful. The loss of Silas Redd has been even harder on the team than the fanbase imagined. Starter Bill Belton was inconsistent in the first game and injured himself, missing the Virginia game and possibly in line to miss more. Backup Derek Day did not play well against Virginia and also may miss time with an injury. The combination of Zach Zwinak and Curtis Dukes cannot be reassuring to O'Brien.
The running game may not even be the biggest concern. The Penn State secondary again struggled against Virginia, and has given up too many big pass plays in the second halves of the team's first two games. Safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis need to show better instincts and field awareness. Cornerbacks Stephon Morris and DaQuan Davis need to play closer coverage when in man-to-man defense.
But despite all these problems, I see promise.
I see a team that should have no discernable pass game to speak of without a top quarterback, any of its top wide receivers and a new scheme. And yet McGloin has gotten the job done.
I see a front seven that is, at times, as dominating as any in college football. The ability to continually force turnovers is what kept the Nittany Lions in the game against Virginia. The ability to stop the ground game in its tracks is what kept the score low on the Cavaliers' end.
I see a coach who is making some rash decisions early in the season because he has never been a head coach. He's learning, and he's already taught his team quite a bit. It's a trial by fire, but he has shown a capacity that should give Penn State fans hope.
We're going to have to wait a long time for our program to be competitive again. We can at least give them a few weeks to get back in the swing of things this season.
Dan Smith is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is the Executive Editor of ComRadio. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.