Rapid Reaction: Penn State turns its 5-star freshmen loose in home-opening rout of Ohio
The long, regional nightmare is over. Champagne corks should be popping across Happy Valley and throughout Nittany Nation.
After a 17-game drought, Penn State found a ball-carrier capable of producing a 100-yard individual rushing effort. Freshman 5-star recruit Nicholas Singleton broke free for a 70-yard first-quarter touchdown jaunt in the Nittany Lions’ home-opening 46-10 victory over Ohio on Saturday afternoon. He added a couple more long jaunts and finished with 179 yards on 10 carries.
The home crowd also got an extended look at 5-star quarterback Drew Allar in the second half as Penn State outmanned and outclassed its Mid-American Conference foe. Like he did in a brief stint in Week 1, Allar again looked like the real deal, connecting on his first 3 throws for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Singleton finally topped 100 yards on the first play of the second half, when he turned the corner for 48 yards, again going around the right side. It would have happened sooner had he not been iced by the team’s 4-man running back rotation, which limited him to 4 carries before the break. He didn’t touch the ball again in the first half after his TD run gave Penn State a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. But after 5 carries, he had 129 yards, quite the improvement over the season-opener at Purdue, when he shared the team-high total with 31 rushing yards.
Singleton broke free down the right sideline a third time for a 44-yard touchdown to put Penn State up 40-7 as the third quarter was winding down.
The good stuff for PSU
- QB Sean Clifford remained hot in the wake of Week 1’s late drive to defeat Purdue. He led a third straight half-ending 2-minute drill for a touchdown to put his team up 26-7 at the break. He went 6-for-8 for 78 yards on the drive, and squeezed a nice throw through a tight window to Mitchell Tinsley for the score. At halftime, he was 19-of-25 for 213 yards and a TD. He also ran for a score, as Penn State loaded the backfield and pushed him into the end zone, like it had done a week earlier vs. Purdue.
- Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz again played most of his 2-deep and then some, getting strong play from transfer sophomore Chop Robinson and true freshman Abdul Carter, among others.
- Punter Barney Amor continued to be a revelation. The former walk-on hit a backspin punt that was downed at the 1, setting up PSU’s first safety since 2018.
- Freshman 5-star Allar entered the game early in the second half, seeing action for the second time in as many games. The 18-year-old’s first pass attempt of the day went for a first down, as did his first 2 against Purdue. On his second attempt, he made a hot read to beat a blitz, delivering the ball while being hit with a shot that was ruled a personal foul. The next throw went 32 yards to Omari Evans for the first of what will likely be many, many TD throws for Allar at Penn State. He finished 6-of-8 for 88 yards and 2 TDs, the second one when he stepped forward through multiple rushers and hit Khalil Dinkins for 28 yards. Christian Veilleux finished the game at QB for the Lions.
- Jake Pinegar got to practice kicking field goals for games when it might matter, hitting from 25 and missing just right from 42 on his first 2 attempts of the season.
- Penn State won its 21st straight non-conference home game, the best such streak in the Big Ten.
- Clifford was sacked 3 times in the first half. While he maybe could have made hot reads and/or thrown the ball away, the line had breakdowns while again mostly rotating only 7 guys through the first 30 minutes.
- Diaz’s defense never got to Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke in the first half, despite multiple blitzes. DE Adisa Isaac, who missed all of 2021 with an injury, never came close to getting around the edge and didn’t display enough power to bull-rush anybody. He did show some burst after halftime, so maybe the rust is coming off. Defensive back Johnny Dixon recorded his 2nd sack of the year — and Penn State’s first of the game — late in the third quarter. With 1 quarter to go, the Lions remained without a sack by a defensive lineman this season.
- Ohio took advantage of PSU’s aggressive pursuit with a couple of trick plays to set up its first-half touchdown.
Mashing the MAC
Ohio’s reputation as Lion tamers, which the Bobcats rested on for a decade, has been sullied after the 36-point beatdown put things back into their natural order in this matchup. Penn State now leads the series 6-1 after getting its first victory over the Bobcats since 1974. (That PSU squad was led by the 2-Tom attack of QB Tom Shuman and RB Tom Donchez, as you’ll no doubt recall. But I digress.) The Lions improved to 31-2 vs. the MAC, 25-1 this century. The Bobcats were the “1,” having beaten the sanctions-addled Lions 24-14 in Bill O’Brien’s debut replacing legendary coach Joe Paterno to open the 2012 season.
Penn State enjoyed some MACtion at Beaver Stadium for the 20th time in 21 years, a streak interrupted only by 2020’s conference-only schedule brought on by the coronavirus. But don’t despair, the Lions will make up for that sad occurrence with double MACtion this season. Central Michigan visits Happy Valley in 2 weeks, following Penn State’s trek to Auburn next Saturday.
Other than 2 games hosted by Temple in double-MACtion seasons, all of those matchups occurred in Beaver Stadium. It’s a tradeoff: The MAC gets a payday; Penn State gets to work out early-season kinks while entertaining the fanbase.
That’s how it played out again Saturday. After a tension-filled, 35-31 season-opening victory Sept. 1 at Purdue, the Lions put on an easier-on-the-nerves show for their 100,000+ admirers. Those in attendance got to see the latest upgrades inside and outside the stadium.
Home openers by the numbers
- Penn State improved to 53-10 in home openers at Beaver Stadium, which debuted in 1960 with 22,559 fans in attendance for a 20-0 victory over Boston University.
- The Lions are now 121-13-1 in home openers, with wins in 19 of the past 21.
- The MAC has foiled 2 Penn State home openers — Ohio’s win in 2012 and Toledo’s 24-6 triumph in PSU’s final home opener of the 20th century, Sept. 2, 2000. Those are the only 2 times Penn State has ever lost to a MAC school.
- James Franklin is now 8-1 in home openers at PSU, the only loss coming in 2020.
Up next: Auburn
Auburn, like Penn State, entered Saturday’s play 1-0 and unranked. The Tigers were 8 rungs below the Nittany Lions among others receiving votes in the AP poll. Second-year coach Bryan Harsin and his program experienced some turmoil and turnover over the offseason, including the transfer of 3-year starting QB Bo Nix.
Auburn was scheduled to host San Jose State as a 23.5-point favorite Saturday evening. The Tigers’ quarterback rotation remained unsettled after a season-opening win over Mercer. Regardless of how that shakes out, the Tigers will rely heavily on the run game if they can when the Nittany Lions visit Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time for a 3:30 kickoff.