Mental Mistakes Aren't Hurting Penn State...Yet

By Nick Polak on September 17, 2018 at 9:45 am
Sep 1, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Appalachian State Mountaineers defensive back Clifton Duck (4) breaks up a pass intended for Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Juwan Johnson (84) during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Appalachian State 45-38 in overtime.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Through three games, Penn State is sitting pretty at 3-0, scoring an average of 53 points, and winning by an average of 35 points per game. On the surface, things are going very well for this young Nittany Lion squad. But if you look closely, you can see some pretty significant cracks in the ice that need correcting sooner rather than later, with the meat of the Big Ten schedule arriving in a hurry.

I haven't gone back to calculate the drops from the Kent State game yet, so forgive me for making an estimate, but Penn State has dropped somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 passes already this season (9 through the first two games). By looking at the box scores, you can see that those drops haven't really come back to bite the Lions yet (though one could argue the App State game may have gone differently), but they will become much more of an issue if those same passes aren't being hauled in against Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan.

McSorley's numbers would look much better with fewer dropped passes this year. (Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Juwan Johnson has had an especially rough go of it this season. Johnson is a supremely talented receiver, and one who could very well be under consideration as an early-round selection in the NFL Draft if he turns things around. He's capable of being a force for Trace McSorley. But for whatever reason, he's had some issues holding onto the ball to start the year. We fully expect him to rebound and become one of the Big Ten's best targets, but he's someone to watch. DeAndre Thompkins also had a rough first two games but rebounded in a big way against Kent State, so we'll leave him off here for now.

The other half of the mental mistake equation for Penn State are the penalties. After winning the penalty yardage battle by significant margins against both App State and Pitt, the Lions were flagged nine times for 85 yards against Kent State, including three that negated touchdowns. Against better teams with better defenses, Penn State cannot hope to win if they are having points wiped off the board.

Along those lines, Kent State caused the Penn State defensive line to jump offsides multiple times on Saturday. Sean Spencer needs to correct that issues quickly because giving a team like Ohio State a free first down on an offsides call on third-and-short would be a dagger in the heart for this young Nittany Lion defense.

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