I totally admit to being pretty conservative with my final score prediction of 38-0, but don’t be fooled by the hesitation. I didn’t call my first Pregame Predictor of the season ‘Smashed Potatoes’ for nothing. As mentioned if you read it, this was not App State rolling into Happy Valley. Instead, it was an Idaho program that reached its peak in 2016 with a win over Colorado State in the…wait for it…Potato Bowl, but has been in a severe decline ever since. Boy did it show as we kicked off the 2019 season on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon to a 79-7 demolition of the Vandals.
So much went right for the re-tooled and re-energized Nittany Lions that it is way easier to look at what went wrong in this glorified exhibition, so here’s looking at you, Mac Hippenhammer, and a case of fumble-itis being the only true negative of a pristine game. Besides that, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like all preseason questions were answered in a game of clearly outmatched competition, but at the same time, there were some big answers that should ease our minds heading into the next few games.
One of the big questions was how former five-star wideout Justin Shorter would look coming off an injury-shortened redshirt season. The first completion of the day was hauled in by Shorter who sprinted across the field to shield true freshman Devyn Ford from any potential would-be tacklers on his 80-yard touchdown run. Question answered: he will be just fine. As will the rest of our wideouts, who spent 2018 dealing with a severe case of the dropsies, only to come away on Saturday without dropping one.
Another question heading into the season debut was how could Penn State overcome all the losses and drama that the transfer portal delivered this spring? Answer: Jordan Stout, a transfer kicker from Virginia Tech via the same transfer portal that seemed to take so many away, boomed a 53-yarder in the first quarter with plenty of room to spare and completely eliminated the Vandals return game by sending all of his kickoffs into the end-zone. If you don’t think having a leg like that on your sideline is important down the road, then you just don’t know football.
When your team hangs 79 points on the opponent, gains 35 first downs and over 600 total yards of offense, has all FIVE running backs score touchdowns, commits no penalties and has a defense play every bit as good as advertised, there are so many directions I could go with the first edition of Game Ball and Helmet Stickers.
KJ was KJ, collecting two highlight reel touchdowns and 115 yards receiving. Quarterback Sean Clifford shook off some early butterflies and ultimately rang in the new era in commanding style. Those running backs, you ask? A five-headed monster indeed, and that includes the fifth man up, Nick Eury, who carried the entire Idaho D into the end zone late in the fourth quarter, reminding everyone that although we no longer use a fullback, we still have someone that can bury his shoulder and gain those tough yards.
Lamont Wade, who spent some time of his own flirting with transfer opportunities, only to return home to Happy Valley, earned a starting nod at Safety and was all over the field making plays and crushing hits. John Reid logged the first interception of his senior season and those junkyard dogs up terrorized the Idaho backfield. As a whole, the defense was a stone wall, giving up only one big play all afternoon and, were it not for that fumble deep in their own territory in garbage time, would have easily logged the shutout.
There are so many ways I could go in the post-game accolades but this new breed of Nittany Lions played with a chip on their shoulder in their debut and something tells me they weren’t out there to gather awards but to gain respect instead. Game Balls and Helmet Stickers will come by the truckload, I promise, but there are bigger fish to fry in the near future and it all starts under the lights as a much better Buffalo squad comes to town for a tussle on Saturday night.