Five Things We Learned: San Diego State vs. Penn State
The Nittany Lions extended their winning streak to three games in a 37-21 victory over San Diego State on Saturday. While the football team walked away with their fifth win against the Mountain West conference, we can all walk away knowing these five things:
1. Overcoming injuries will be team’s biggest task
Penn State’s lengthy injury report grew Saturday as several big names went down, casting a shadow over the win.
Safety Marcus Allen, defensive end Evan Schwan, linebacker Brandon Bell and running backs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley all suffered injuries in the game against the Aztecs.
To add on, safety Jordan Lucas, who suffered a shoulder injury against Rutgers but returned later that game, did not find himself on the field this weekend.
Some injuries were more serious than others, but all have the implications of affecting the short term, in the least.
Lynch’s knee injury appeared comparable to the likes of an ACL injury and Allen wore an arm-sling on the sideline most of the game. Meanwhile, Bell only missed a few snaps after being looked at and Barkley was able to run and exercise on the sideline during his time out.
The team felt the impact of the players’ combined absence, where Penn State trailed the Aztecs early on and the team earned their shortest yardage all season on the ground.
While still able to bounce back, it will be difficult to constantly replace players as the injuries keep piling up, and will hinder the team in the next few weeks if the players have extensive recoveries.
2. Hack is back?
After an underwhelming start to the season with career lows in yardage, touchdowns and attempts per game, Christian Hackenberg rebounded in a big way, throwing for just under 300 yards and three scores.
Granted, the QB faced a shaky secondary that has allowed big yardage in the air each game, but it showed Hackenberg does indeed have it in him to take over games with his arm. His talents were a premium since the team’s top two rushers exited the game early and their replacements gave little contribution
If this team looks to continue their offensive success, it is crucial that Hackenberg gets on a hot streak, keeps taking shots downfield and spreads the ball.
3. Everyone loves “fat guy” TDs
323-pound Austin Johnson has been literally, and figuratively, the big man on defense this year. He has continued to make plays and has been one of the main reasons for the team’s success.
This game was no different, where Johnson earned his first ever touchdown on a 71-yard scoop-and-score after a Carl Nassib forced fumble.
Johnson is just one member of the nation’s No. 1 defense when it comes to sacks. Thanks to that front four, when they are not making big plays themselves (like Johnson’s TD), they allow the guys around them to make things happen, helping create a defense that can hang with the best.
4. Penn State ends first half with a bang
For the second straight week, Penn State has separated themselves in close games right before halftime.
Against SDSU, the Nittany Lions got in the end zone twice in the final two minutes, flipping a one-point deficit into a 13-point lead at the half.
During the Rutgers game, they pulled off the same two-touchdown feat in the first half’s final two minutes and six seconds.
The team’s proficiency while ending halves has showcased their explosiveness, and if harnessed at the right moments in games, they can seemingly put themselves in a perfect position to close out any close game with an effective two-minute drill.
5. Big plays must be controlled
Penn State’s offense erupted for several big plays, but the team also allowed San Diego State to earn some themselves.
In just the first half, Aztec running back Rashaad Penny returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score and had one carry for 55 yards, while WR Mikah Holder snagged a 19-yard touchdown over two defenders.
If you take away those three plays, the Aztecs would have entered halftime down four scores after having earned only seven total yards of offense.
Limiting opponent’s big plays will be a must moving forward, and if they are unable to, B1G teams with established offenses will have a field day and unload huge plays.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Centre Daily Times