Penn State football: Stock report after Week 3
For the first time this season, hotshot young quarterback Drew Allar wasn’t the main story for Penn State as the No. 7 Nittany Lions rode a 5-0 advantage in takeaways to a 30-13 victory over Illinois.
Like many of his sophomore classmates who often help to fuel the Lions, Allar was okay but far from great in his first road start, Big Ten or otherwise. The 6-5, 240-pound former 5-star recruit didn’t throw a TD pass and completed less than 50 percent of his passes (16-of-33 for 208 yards) after hitting at a nearly 80% clip through 2 games.
Allar was upstaged by backup RB Trey Potts, who threw a halfback pass for a touchdown.
Abdul Carter had 1 of Penn State’s 4 interceptions, but only 3 tackles. He was upstaged by undersized fellow linebacker Dominic DeLuca, who forced a fumble and shared the team lead in tackles.
Neither Nick Singleton nor Kaytron Allen reached 60 yards rushing, and the ground attack only finished with respectable numbers thanks to backup quarterback Beau Pribula going for 47 on 9 carries (team-best 5.2-yard average), including a team season-best 21-yard scamper.
If anything, game balls should go to secondary coaches Anthony Poindexter and Terry M. Smith. Daequan Hardy, Johnny Dixon and Cam Miller had picks, and most of Illinois’ 292 passing yards came in garbage time after PSU had gone up 30-7.
Player of the Week: Dominic DeLuca
DeLuca put himself on the radar last season as a walk-on special teams ace, darn near leading the team in tackles some weeks despite playing most of his snaps on kick coverage. Still just 6-1 and 218 pounds, the redshirt sophomore linebacker continues to display a nose for the football now that he’s earned a full ride.
Saturday, he forced the first of 5 Illinois turnovers when he separated Josh McCray from the football in the backfield in the first quarter. By the time the day was done, DeLuca had tied for the team lead with 6 tackles, including 1 for loss. His forced fumble came 1 week after he returned his first career interception for a touchdown.
He’s made himself a key contributor in the LB rotation, and seems to be getting better by the week.
Breakout player of the Week: Coziah Izzard
On a day when fellow defensive tackle Dvon Ellies produced zero tackles and committed an unsportsmanlike penalty, the 6-3, 295-pound Izzard delivered the first 2-sack game of his career. In fact, the 2 sacks match the junior’s season totals for 2021 and ’22.
Though both of his sacks came in the 4th quarter with the game decided, Izzard’s performance counts as a good sign. If healthy and engaged, the veteran of 7 starts and 26 appearances will fortify a position group that can use the help.
Biggest surprise: Mediocre rushing attack
The numbers are not terrible. This is not 2021 all over again, not by a long shot.
But the dynamic RB duo of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen didn’t hit 100 rushing yards COMBINED against the Illini, and they have but 1 100-yard game among them through 3 outings this September. Neither has had a 20-yard rush yet. Singleton’s 16-yard TD jaunt counts as his longest run of the season. Allen had a season-best 18-yarder Saturday. Take those 2 runs away, and they combined for 57 yards on 22 attempts (2.6 per carry) against the Illini.
At this time last season, true freshman Singleton led the nation in yards per carry (11.13) and runs of 40+ yards (5). Now he’s at 4.28 and 0. In season rushing yards (154), he’s 180 yards off his 2022 pace. Allen ranks slightly higher at 208 rushing yards on 4.95 per carry.
The o-line remains a work in progress, with touted LT Olu Fashanu still trying to match his run-blocking to his pass-blocking prowess. He even drew a holding penalty on a running play Saturday.
This may be an early-season statistical anomaly. But it seems like more than that. It seems like an issue.
Biggest concern: First-down defense early in games
Illinois gained 5+ yards on 5 of its first 6 first-down plays, with a missed FG and a turnover keeping the Illini off the board. In Week 1, West Virginia gained 5+ yards on 4 of its first 5 first downs. Of those 9 successful first-down plays, 7 were runs that amassed 52 yards. Illinois’ efficiency waned quickly as Penn State contained QB Luke Altmyer as a runner and forced the Illini to the air. But Manny Diaz’s defense probably will have to toughen up at scrimmage against better teams, perhaps as soon as next Saturday night vs. Iowa.
Developing trend: Kicks going through uprights
Columbia transfer Alex Felkins hit 3 of 4 field goal attempts, with a long of 45. An attempt from 52 yards was blocked, Felkins’ only miss since taking over the job in the second half of Week 1’s victory over West Virginia. The 2022 All-Ivy League kicker is 4-for-5 on FGs and 14-for-14 on PATs.
Key stat: 0 and +7
Penn State has not turned the ball over yet this season, and Allar remains without a turnover through 3 starts and 13 appearances. With 5 takeaways vs. the Illini, the Lions move to a Big Ten-best +7 in turnover margin.
5 final Week 3 notes …
Penn State committed 7 penalties for 70 yards, including 2 foolish unsportsmanlike calls early in the game. Limit the nastiness to before the whistle, Dvon Ellies and KeAndre Lambert-Smith. … The Lions snared 4 interceptions (Daequan Hardy, Johnny Dixon, Cam Miller, Abdul Carter) in a game for the first time since 2014. … The Lions have best-in-FBS streaks of games with 30+ points (10) and games with 6+ TFL (11). … The WR rotation behind Lambert-Smith (3 catches, 23 yards) remains muddled. With Harrison Wallace III out, Malik McClain made his first start as a Lion and caught 1 ball for 6 yards while dropping 2 passes. Fellow first-year transfer Dante Cephas had 1 catch, as did Liam Clifford. Speedy redshirt freshman Kaden Saunders had his first 2 receptions of the season, doubling his career total. Allar hit backs and tight ends for 8 of his 16 completions. … Penn State’s lone passing TD on Saturday came on a trick play, with backup RB Trey Potts hitting TE Tyler Warren for 11 yards.
Quote of the week
“There’s a ton to learn off this film. But it’s a big win on the road in the Big Ten.” — James Franklin
First impression about Week 4
vs. Iowa, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS): The Hawkeyes (3-0) are the only unbeaten team remaining in the B1G West, and they even topped 25 points in a 41-10 victory over Western Michigan. Even so, Michigan transfer QB Cade McNamara again posted pedestrian numbers, going 9-of-19 for 103 yards, with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.
Penn State seems due to bust loose in a number of areas. And after Saturday’s performance, it’s probable that the Lions can beat the Hawkeyes at their own game, too. In front of what surely will be yet another huge White Out crowd, Penn State should take care of business — and might even look good doing it.