Penn State manic Monday: The madness of crowds and other highs and lows post-Minnesota, pre-Ohio State
Just under 110,000 people packed Beaver Stadium on Saturday night. All dressed in white and screaming their lungs out, they demanded attention.
James Franklin noticed. Penn State’s 9th-year head coach delivered a game ball — figuratively, at least — to the Nittany masses for contributing to 5 first-half false starts by Minnesota’s offense.
“I’m going to give credit to our fans for that,” Franklin said in his postgame comments. “We’re going to need that again next Saturday.”
Ah, next Saturday. No. 2 Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 B1G) comes to town. Any giddiness the No. 13 Nittany Lions enjoyed in the wake of their bounce-back 45-17 victory against the unranked and overmatched Golden Gophers has dissipated by now.
The highs can be fleeting and the lows agonizing in Big Ten football, and Penn State puts its fans on that rollercoaster as much as any program in the league. So let’s break down a few of each:
High: Making some noise
Saturday’s crowd, no doubt, made life difficult on Minnesota’s offense as it tried to adjust to freshman Athan Kaliakmanus at quarterback in place of injured veteran Tanner Morgan.
Penn State had the shoe on the other foot just a year ago, when Iowa’s crowd unnerved backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson to turn the game in the Hawkeyes’ favor in a top 5 showdown.
So the White Out throng — officially listed at 109,813 — knew what to do. And they delivered. Their wall of noise helped cause the penalties that got the Gophers off schedule. Plodding power back Mohamed Ibrahim was negated, held to season lows of 102 rushing yards on 3.4 per carry. Minnesota, which entered the game leading the nation in 3rd down conversion rate (66.2%), succeeded on only 2 of 13. Kaliakmanus started 1-of-7 passing for 12 yards.
Beyond the game, the White Out reverberates through social media, the television screen and the recruiting scene. The positive vibe can pay future dividends.
Low: Not the ideal tune-up for OSU
Nothing from Saturday night, aside from the crowd, translates to Penn State’s matchup with the Buckeyes.
Heisman favorite CJ Stroud tore up Iowa in a 54-10 victory Saturday afternoon in what was considered a subpar outing for him. He’ll have a bunch of receivers way better than Minnesota had on the field at Beaver Stadium. Averaging 4 TD passes per game this season, he’ll present challenges light years apart from what Kaliakmanus posed.
It’s debatable if the Stripe Out crowd for the noon kickoff can match the effect of the juiced up nighttime crowd for the White Out. They will surely try, and Stroud will be experiencing the phenomenon for the first time as a starter. Maybe crazy things can happen.
High: Going big at LB
True freshman Abdul Carter made his first start, joining Curtis Jacobs and Tyler Elsdon at linebacker as Penn State added size to match up against Ibrahim.
“We wanted to have three true linebackers and really three box linebackers on the field. … That was kind of the game plan,” Franklin said. “There are not too many teams in the country that are playing with three true linebackers on the field. But [against Minnesota] it made a ton of sense.”
Jacobs made a career-high 14 tackles and Carter a career-high 8. They combined for 2.5 TFL.
Low: Another slow start
By the time he exited in the 4th quarter Saturday, Sean Clifford had set a school record with his 5th 4-TD passing game and secured his 27th victory as Penn State’s starting quarterback.
But, as has been his pattern this season, it took some time for the 4th-year starter to get going. A pair of 3-and-outs and an interception allowed the Gophers to take a 3-0 lead after 1 quarter. The same bumbling beginning this coming weekend would likely gift Ohio State a 21-0 lead.
“He’s a battler, he’s resilient, and he’s tough,” Franklin said of his 24-year-old team captain. “He played well. If you look around the country, there are a lot of programs that would be super excited and happy about Sean Clifford being the quarterback.”
It wasn’t just Clifford on Saturday. Freshman backs Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton had a combined 4 yards on 5 carries in the opening quarter.
In 4 B1G games this season, Penn State has produced 7 first-quarter points — a touchdown against Northwestern, the league’s worst team.
High/low: The thin blue offensive line
Left guard Landon Tengwall, who suffered a mysterious pregame injury at Michigan, remained out of the lineup against Minnesota. Penn State went with a 6-man rotation, with Hunter Nourzad taking over Tengwall’s spot. Bryce Effner rotated in on the right side to spell both guard Sal Wormley and tackle Caedan Wallace.
It was a solid bounce-back game for the line, as Clifford was not sacked and the Lions racked up 479 total yards. But the lack of depth remains a concern.
Manic-depressive speed round …
Special teams ace Dominic DeLuca partially blocked a punt and made 2 tackles, continuing to maximize his opportunities. … Veteran defensive tackle PJ Mustipher didn’t post a tackle or any other defensive stat. … TE Theo John had season highs with 5 catches for 75 yards to go along with his 2nd career TD. … TE Brenton Strange was held to 1 reception for the 3rd straight game. … Penn State got a bump from 16th to 13th in the AP poll.