Penn State 38, Villanova 17: Nittany Lions' Passing Game Shines En Route to 4-0 Start

By Joel Neuschwander on September 25, 2021 at 3:12 pm
Sep 25, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive tackle PJ Mustipher (97) reacts following a sack on Villanova Wildcats quarterback Daniel Smith (not pictured) during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium.
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State used big plays in the passing game and another stout defensive performance to stay undefeated.

We'll have more on this game in the next few days, but for now, here are the three biggest takeaways from the Nittany Lions' 38-17 victory over Villanova.

long touchdowns the story of the day for lions' offense

Penn State's first three touchdowns came on throws of 52, 52, and 83 yards. With several additional deep shots, the big plays downfield were there all day long, although Sean Clifford might have waited a bit too long for some of them to develop.

The concern for the Nittany Lions is that they become too reliant on those plays when they may not always be this easy to come by. Penn State struggled to move the ball for a large part of Saturday's contest, and it's fair to wonder how the offense would've fared if it didn't have those types of plays available.

Going forward, Penn State needs to be able to fall back on its run game when the passing game isn't as explosive, which leads us to another important takeaway.

slow start for the run game, cain mostly absent

For the most part, the Nittany Lions' rushing attack lacked a pulse against Villanova. While some of that was due to subpar offensive line play, a lot of it was simply a lack of production.

Noah Cain helped Penn State convert on a fourth-and-one in the first quarter and didn't get the ball again. The Nittany Lions found a little more success in the second half, as John Lovett got a much bigger workload in his second game of the season. That said, the unit failed to get anywhere close to the 100-yard mark as a whole.

Nittany Lions with things to fix

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Saturday is that Penn State is still a work in progress. And – at this point in the year – that's perfectly alright. The good thing about playing an opponent like Villanova is it allows the Nittany Lions to see where those holes may be on both sides of the ball in a low-pressure environment.

No team in the country is flawless, especially a month into the season. Things only get more difficult from here for the Nittany Lions, but all things considered, they should be happy with where they are right now.