Despite facing an incredibly tough week one opponent, the Nittany Lions are 1-0 after taking down Wisconsin on the road in Madison. A fiercely-contested defensive slugfest ended with Penn State doing just enough on offense to steal a top-25 win to start off its season.
We'll have plenty more on this game in the coming days, but for now, here are the three big takeaways from this one.
This Defense is For Real
Most of us expected Penn State to field another strong defense this season, but I don't know if anyone was expecting a performance quite like that on Saturday. Whether it was the first half in which Brent Pry's unit stonewalled the Badgers when it mattered most despite spending most of those 30 minutes on the field or becoming a turnover machine in the second half, this unit was outstanding.
The defensive line was mostly very good against an always-great Wisconsin offensive line. Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie was phenomenal in his first game in the blue and white. PJ Mustipher was a force in the middle. Ellis Brooks was everywhere. And then there was Jaquan Brisker, who made good on his preseason All-American nods. What a game for this defense.
The Penn State Offense Came Alive in the Second Half
The first half of the Mike Yurcich offense couldn't have gone much worse, but the second half showed exactly what this team can do when it finds a rhythm. Once Sean Clifford had the chance to establish some easy throws and get his guys in space, the deep balls for Jahan Dotson and KeAndre Lambert-Smith started opening up.
After they finally found success through the air, Noah Cain had a ton of room on the ground to work with. It seems like this might be the formula for the Lions in 2021, establish the run by using the pass.
This is Not the 2020 Penn State Team
What a way to start the 2021 season. The 2020 edition of these Nittany Lions almost surely walk out of Madison with a loss in this type of game, but this is not the same team. You can tell that they have the killer instinct that last year's team lacked. That's a credit to James Franklin and his staff, but even more so to the players.
This is mostly the same team as a year ago, and there's little doubt that the failures of the early-season schedule weighed heavy on them. The only way you can truly rebound from a failure like that is to get back out there on the field and show that it's in the past. This team is going to be a pleasure to watch this season.