Going into this season, one of the primary themes that was discussed when it came to Penn State was the advantageous schedule over the first month or so of the season. Not only did the first five opponents present a seemingly lower level of competition than the Nittany Lions would see in the second half of the season, there was a breather heading into the Big Ten schedule that falls this weekend.
We've spent a lot of time this week talking about rotations, youth, and offensive identities. The Nittany Lions are of course off to a 3-0 start in the 2019 campaign. But for a team with high expectations, there have been more than a few warning signs through the season's first three games, especially last weekend's 17-10 victory over Pitt.
For me, a lot of those warning signs boil down to a pretty simple theme: consistency. There have been players running the wrong routes, running backs not picking up free rushers, offensive linemen missing blocks, and first-time starting quarterback Sean Clifford still finding his way as the guy in charge.
Craig really hit what I think is the primary cause of all of this on Thursday when he wrote about the profound amount of youth on the Penn State offense. Every college football team deals with the same issue, but among the Lions' peers in the Big Ten, no one deals with as much. Every skill position on the offense is manned by a sophomore eligible player or younger. And in just about every case, the guys behind the starter is in the same boat. That's a lot of on the job learning for a lot of players.
It's why that bye week that jumped out when we previewed the season is so vital. From a player's perspective, it's a chance to catch your breath and hit a bit of a reset button. Just as critical, from a coaching perspective, it's a chance to do a little more evaluation than game planning with your young squad. Rather than implementing the scheme and systems you want to focus on for Saturday's opponent, the Nittany Lions can take a step back to basics, albeit just for a few days.
For a team that is so reliant, especially on offense, with so many players thrust into starring roles for the first time, that chance to step back and evaluate could prove to be a pivotal moment of 2019.
There have been enough flashes of the talent that runs deep into the depth chart to see the significant potential of this team. Those flashes have just been too few and too far between. With 13 days between the Panthers of Pitt and Terrapins of Maryland, the time is here to find ways to flash those moments for often.