Five Things We Learned: Temple

Story posted September 19, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Grant Thomas

Penn State’s 34-27 win over the Temple Owls Saturday afternoon was a microcosm of this roller coaster of a season thus far. Cloudy skies threatened a downpour as the Nittany Lions’ 24-10 lead turned into a slim 27-24 advantage in the fourth quarter. It took a crazy punt play and a 55-yard run by the workhorse, Saquon Barkley, to seal the win, and Happy Valley collectively exhaled.

Here’s five things we learned from the eventful win:

1. Tight End Mike Gesicki has potential to be one of Big Ten’s best

The receiving core is particularly well-rounded this season and Gesicki is a big part of that. The six-foot-six, 252-pound junior is exceptionally athletic and skillful for his size. He looks more like a large wide receiver than a tight end, and his catching ability follows suit. A 52-yard pass down the sideline in the third quarter found Gesicki and his one-handed grab that followed was the play of the game.

Tight ends with the ability to go and get passes like that are rare, and the new spread offense is set up to take advantage of that. Trace McSorley has a big arm and likes throwing to his big targets; Gesicki has nine catches (17.6 yards per) thus far, and figures to play a big role in the offense going forward.

2. Third down is still a problem

Third-down conversion percentage is not one of the most telling team statistics available to us, but on days when the offense slows down, it can make or break a game. Penn State’s performance thus far is concerning; nine for 33 or 27 percent. This is a result of a few too many miscommunications on curl-and-out routes, and breakdowns on outside blocking of stretch runs and screen passes.

All three games show these negative trends, and something needs to change in the play calling.

3. Godwin is McSorley’s top target

Chris Godwin struggled to emerge in the new offense against both Kent State and Pittsburg (70 total receiving yards). The Nittany Lions were forced to pass more often Saturday in reaction to the first-quarter injury to Saquon Barkley, and Godwin stepped up, racking up 117 yards and one touchdown on seven catches.

He’s got speed, catching ability, and he’s an efficient route runner. All the building blocks of a number-one receiver. His gives the offense a target that can escape coverage quickly high or low, and that is especially important considering McSorley’s tendency to turn over the ball. Watch for Godwin to emerge as a big cog in the machine that is Penn State’s offense (33, 34, and 39 points through three games).

4. Defense is weak up the middle

The linebacker core was already inexperienced coming into the year, but at least it was healthy. That is not the case anymore. Nyeem Wartman-White, starting middle linebacker and the quarterback of the defense, went down with a knee injury early against Temple and later returned to the sideline in a leg brace. Corner Grant Haley and linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell are all out indefinitely. Defensive backs Marcus Allen and Malik Golden were playing through injuries as well.

While the Temple run game was shut down (38 total yards on 28 carries), its passing game got a few big plays that set up field goals. The Lions’ opponents are exploiting weak man coverage over the middle with their receivers, and chip away through constant short gains when the big plays aren’t working. It’s something Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry need to work on. Granted, injuries are hurting this unit, but it is in for a long day next week against Michigan if they cannot prevent the big play.

5. Kick and punt return roster is elite

Few teams can boast the stats Penn State put up in the category yesterday. The Lions began drives with advantages in field position multiple times Saturday thanks to an average of 20.8 yards on kick returns.

John Reid doubles as the defense’s best cover corner and punt returner; while he only had an average of 6.4 yards on his returns, it’s clear that his shifty style and speed are just waiting to break out for some big returns down the line. Brandon Polk and Miles Sanders both had kick returns over thirty yards.

Whether this success is due to a fragmented Temple special teams unit or Penn State’s own talent is yet to be seen. We know this offense has some great potential. Consistent starting field position above the 20 is a big boost to production ability.

 

Grant Thomas is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email gzt5106@psu.edu