Written by Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Week Twelve Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions
The Hoosiers open the final quarter of the season with a road trip to Happy Valley to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State will be very young in 2019, but by November they should be all grown up. Indiana has never beaten Penn State in Beaver Stadium and for the Nittany Lions this becomes a game they must win if they want to compete for the division crown. Prior to playing Indiana, Penn State will be coming off of road trips to Michigan State and Minnesota. After the Hoosiers’ visit, Penn State will travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. For the Hoosiers this is the second game of a tough November that includes home dates with Northwestern and Michigan and the regular season finale at Purdue.
Week Twelve: Penn State Nittany Lions
Date & Time: Saturday, November 10, Time: TBA
Venue: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
Nittany Lions at a Glance
Head Coach: James Franklin
Entering his 9th season as a head coach, 6th season at Penn State
Overall Record: 69:36
At Penn State: 45-21 (28-16)
Last Season: 9-4 (6-3 in B1G) Lost to. Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl
Nittany Lions Returning Leaders
Passing: Sean Clifford (5-7, 71.4 Comp% , 195 yards, 2 TDs)
Rushing: Ricky Slade (45 att. 262 yards, 5.7 ypc, 6 TDs)
Receiving: KJ Hamler (42 rec, 754 yards, 18 ypc, 5 TDs)
Tackles: Micah Parsons (83 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 Sacks)
Nittany Lions Preseason Predictions
Athlon’s: 3rd in the Big Ten East
Lindy’s: 4th in the Big Ten East
Phil Steele: T-3rd in the Big Ten East
Street & Smith’s: 4th in the Big Ten East
S&P+ Projections: 8.8 wins (14th nationally)
Impact Newcomers for the Nittany Lions
1. Lance Dixon, LB- Dixon was a standout defender for West Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, Michigan. He is listed at 6’2” and 213 pounds. While the Nittany Lions likely have their starters set, Dixon can have an impact in a reserve role and on special teams. He was the lone five-star prospect in Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class.
2. Anthony Whigan, OL- Whigan is a junior college transfer that should provide veteran depth to the offensive line. He was ranked the number one JUCO offensive tackle out of Lackawanna Community College. Whigan is listed at 6’4” 301 lbs.
3. Jaquan Brisker, DB- Another Lackawanna Community College product, Brisker gives the Nittany Lions another playmaker at safety. Brisker should be able to find his way into the rotation fairly early.
There will be plenty of new faces on offense for the Nittany Lions, as Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders, Tommy Stevens, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins all have moved on.
Sophomore Sean Clifford will run the offense. He’s more of a pocket passer, with a huge arm. He threw for two touchdowns and 195 yards on seven pass attempts last year. Clifford holds the school record for the longest passing touchdown when he hit Daniel George for a 95-yard touchdown against Kent State. Backing up Clifford will be redshirt freshman Will Levis. Penn State will have a lot of talent at quarterback, however they are very green.
Penn State will have to find someone to replace the 1,413 yards from scrimmage Miles Sanders accounted for at the running back position. Sophomore Ricky Slade has shown promise. He had 257 yards and six touchdowns rushing last season and he should be even more productive with more touches. Slade cannot be the only back for Penn State as he is a bit undersized. Behind him is true freshman Noah Cain who was in for spring practice and Journey Brown who had 44 yards in limited time last season.
The theme for the Penn State offense is youth, that stays true with the wideouts. Outside of KJ Hamler, Penn State will have to replace their starting wide receivers from a year ago. Hamler was Penn State’s leading receiver last season making 42 catches for 754 yards with five touchdowns. He is as explosive as they come and with a quarterback who is more of a pocket passer, those numbers should go up. Alongside Hamler will be sophomore Jahan Doton, who made 13 catches for 203 yards in 2018, and redshirt freshman Justin Shorter who was slowed by an injury and limited to just four games. In those four games he made three catches for 20 yards. In reserve the Nittany Lions have redshirt freshman Daniel George (2 rec. 112 yards), sophomore Cam Sullivan-Brown (4 rec. 49 yards) and Mac Hippenhammer (6 rec. 103 yards).
Tight End Pat Freiermuth will take some pressure off the young wide receiving corps. He led all Big Ten tight ends with eight touchdown catches. In total he made 26 catches for 368 yards during a stellar freshman season. 6’4”, 265-pound senior, Nick Bowers will back him up and give Penn State a little more beef up front.
Speaking of beef, the Penn State offensive line will have a balance of veteran leaders and young talent. Upperclassmen return at center (Michal Menet), left guard (Steven Gonzalez) and right tackle (Will Fries), while sophomore C.J. Thrope looks to take over the right guard position and freshman Rasheed Walker will try and win the left tackle position. The depth here is young as well with two sophomores and a freshman. Junior Hunter Kelly will back up Menet at center and JUCO transfer Anthony Whigan will be the backup at right tackle.
Penn State is ‘Linebaker U’ and the Nittany Lions have another star in the making at the position in sophomore Micah Parsons. Parsons lead the team in tackles with 83, five of those came for a loss, notching 1.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles. Along side Parsons will be seniors Jan Johnson (72 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, INT) and Cam Brown (63 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, two sacks, three forced fumbles). As with the offense, there is plenty of youth in the two-deep on defense. Behind the starters at linebacker are two freshman and a sophomore. The group is headlined by Lance Dixon, a five-star freshman who was in for spring practice.
Penn State has some big-time playmakers up front as well. None better than defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos who had a monster sophomore season in 2018 making 54 tackles including 20, yes 20, tackles for loss and eight sacks. Replicating those number may be very difficult, but if Gross-Matos can come anywhere close, this line could be a difference maker. Shaka Toney (23 tackles, 7.5 TFLs) will be at the end opposite Gross-Matos and Antonio Shelton (14 tackles, 1.5 TFLs) and Robert Windsor (22 tackles, 11 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) will plug up the middle of the line.
Cornerback John Reid returns after picking off two passes and breaking up eight more. He also added 24 tackles. Free safety Garrett Taylor led the team with three interceptions and has a nose for the ball. Taylor broke up seven passes and forced a fumble to go along with 71 tackles. At the other corner position Tariq Castro-Fields will get the nod after making 32 tackles, five TFLs and breaking up seven passes. Lamont Wade, a former five-star recruit, will man the strong safety position. Wade made 18 tackles and two tackles for a loss. Behind the starters are four underclassmen. Sophomores Jaquan Brisker and Jonathan Sutherland will back up the safeties and freshmen Trent Gordon and Keaton Ellis will be on the corner.
Special Teams Preview
Punter Blake Gillikin is back for what seems like his 10th season at Penn State. Gillikin is Penn State’s all-time leader in average yards per punt. He averaged 43.9 yards per punt last year. Sophomore kicker Jake Pinegar had a streaky freshman season and ended up hitting 16-of-24 field goals along with 53-of-55 extra points.
Penn State has enough athletes to fill the hole left by the departure of DeAndre Thompkins at punt returner. KJ Hamler is too good on kick returns to not be used there this season.
Past 2019 First Glance Previews
Week One: Ball State
Week Two: Eastern Illinois
Week Three: Ohio State
Week Four: Connecticut
Week Five: Michigan State
Week Six: Open
Week Seven: Rutgers
Week Eight: Maryland
Week Nine: Nebraska
Week Ten: Northwestern
Week Eleven: Open