Now that Penn State football is back this week it is time to start the weekly four things to watch for. Head coach James Franklin stated at his weekly press conference that several true freshmen are green-lighted and expected to play on Saturday. He also explained part of how the depth chart comes into fruition. Further, Franklin previewed who the starters will be in the Penn State opener against Idaho.
Four Things to Look for: Idaho Edition
There were many nuggets of information given throughout Franklin’s weekly press conference. Such as, who will start the game, which true freshmen will see playing time, and key matchups. Without further ado, here are four things to look for in the Penn State opener against Idaho.
1. Nittany Lion offense vs. Idaho defense
Franklin stated that the Penn State coaching staff is impressed with three key defensive players from Idaho. First, defensive tackle Rahsaan Crawford. Crawford is listed as a 300 lb. sophomore. He did not get much playing time as a freshman last year, but his size and strength have stood out to the Penn State coaches. The big defensive tackle will be tasked with containing Nittany Lion quarterback Sean Clifford and the entire running back group. Franklin confirmed the offseason talk that all running backs will likely play with Ricky Slade getting the starting job. Even with Slade getting the start don’t be surprised to see a lot of Journey Brown, Noah Cain, and even Devyn Ford.
The improved offensive line is tasked with keeping Crawford and company in check. Franklin stated that the biggest thing for the offensive line to succeed is building confidence. There is no better way of doing that than going against Penn State’s quick and talented defensive line and ends. Look for the offensive line to keep Clifford off of the ground. Giving him time to fire the ball downfield to KJ Hamler, Pat Freiermuth, and company.
Next, Hamler and the other receivers will be going against the other two players that stand out to the coaches. Strong safety Jalen Hoover and cornerback Lloyd Hightower have been the focus of the offense this week. Hoover played in 11 games as a freshman a season ago. He accounted for two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and 51 total tackles. In addition, Hightower played in 12 games as a sophomore in 2018 totaling 23 solo tackles and four passes defended. The Penn State opener against Idaho is going to be a good test to see how the wide receiver group has improved in the offseason.
2. The Freshmen that have Greenlights
There are several true freshmen that will likely see the field on Saturday. Most notably is homegrown kid Keaton Ellis. Ellis is second behind cornerback John Reid and third in line for the Star position on the depth chart. In addition, Adisa Isaac, Lance Dixon, Brandon Smith, Caeden Wallace, Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, Jaquan Brisker, Jordan Stout, and Weston Carr will likely see the field. Consequently, Franklin emphasized that this could change but for now these true freshmen will likely be on the field at some point against Idaho. It is known for sure that Cain and Ford will see the field, but look for the rest of the true freshman on Saturday.
3. The linebackers against the Idaho offense
Jesse Luketa is getting the nod at linebacker for Cam Brown. Brown has to sit out of the first half due to a targeting penalty in the game vs. Kentucky to end the 2018 season. Luketa played in five games as a freshman last season and had seven tackles. Even though Luketa is getting the start, Franklin stated that Brown will play the second half. Luketa, Brown, Micah Parsons, and Jan Johnson will have to contain Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino. Petrino played in eight games last season, throwing for 248 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Look for the Penn State linebackers that like getting to the quarterback put a lot of pressure on Petrino on Saturday.
4. Improved Special Teams
The special teams should be much improved on Saturday. The unit has a new coach in Joe Lorig. Franklin praised Lorig in his press conference this week, stating that he is a special teams coordinator that lives and breathes special teams. Further, there are not a lot of freshmen in big roles. Moreover, the Nittany Lions have an experienced punter in Blake Gillikin. In addition, experienced kickers and return guys. Hamler, Brown, and Slade are the returners. All three are explosive and have an understanding of the job. Even though there is a newfound experience, the main problem a season ago was coverage. With a new coach and new philosophy leading the group look for a much more cohesive outing Saturday.
The Penn State opener against Idaho will be played in Beaver Stadium at 3:30 PM ET. It is strange that the opener is being played at 3:30 PM and not 12:00 PM, but this is the world we live in. Look for the students to be energized, with extra time to get into the game. Further, look for the Nittany Lions to be ready to go against someone other than their own teammates. Idaho may be a tough team, but expect a season-opening win for Penn State football in front of a home crowd.