Jahan Dotson’s withdrawal from the ball game created the opportunity for the young wide receivers to be able to step up. While KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Parker Washington have both played a lot of football over the past two seasons, they are still young players who will need to step up in Dotson’s absence next season.
On Saturday afternoon, the two receivers did just that. KLS threw an exit party collecting 3 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. He also came close to making a remarkable touchdown in the end zone for a second touchdown.
As for Washington, in his first game as WR1, he led the team in receptions (7) and receiving yards (98). This included a remarkable one-handed grab from Washington that saw him make his best Dotson impression.
Youngsters Malick Meiga and Tre Wallace also enjoyed career highs in snaps in the game. If either of those two can take a step by the start of next season, which Meiga already appears to be doing, then Penn State’s vast reception hall will be in good hands, especially once you get your hands on it. into account the transfer of western Kentucky Mitchell Tinsley.
In his first game as Penn State’s best guy on safety, Ji’Ayir Brown ended his breakout season with another great game. After her performance in the Outback Bowl, the former Lackawanna Falcon looks set to be one of the Big Ten’s best safeties in 2022.
After leading the Nittany Lions in regular season interceptions, Brown recorded two more in the bowl game. His two interceptions also came at crucial times. His first came in the end zone thwarting an Arkansas goal threat and the second came with the Razorbacks behind the wheel and within shooting range just before half-time. Without Brown’s interceptions, the Razorbacks likely would have scored at least 10 more points.
Brown was all over the pitch, including several free-field tackles that prevented the Razorbacks’ first tries / bigger wins. While Penn State will have a lot to replace in defense next fall, Brown is a great element to have.
The struggling Penn State linebackers on Saturday probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, it was a unit that struggled with inconsistency throughout the season and was without Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith.
This led to Jesse Luketa moving from defensive end to MIKE linebacker. In his likely swan song with the Nittany Lions, the Canadian native probably had the best game of his career as a linebacker.
Curtis Jacobs looked like a man on a mission in the Outback Bowl and wrapped up a season that saw him start to show off his five-star talent with a solid performance. Outside of Jacobs and Luketa, the linebacker play left a lot to be desired.
Jonathan Sutherland, to his credit, always gives his all, but at his best Sutherland is an average player at the Big Ten level. Charlie Katshir struggled to get in position and Tyler Elsdon looked like a player who is still a year or two away.
Next season, the Nittany Lions will add Kobe King and Jamari Buddin, who have worn a red shirt this season. Staff will also be hitting the gate hard for at least one linebacker this season.
Penn State knew they would be without PJ Mustipher, Hakeem Beamon, and Adisa Isaac on Saturday. Factor in the strikeouts of Derrick Tangelo and Arnold Ebiketie, as well as Luketa having to move on to linebacker and the Nittany Lions were deprived of their six best defensive linemen of the preseason.
Obviously, this led to testing the depth of the defensive line. To the credit of John Scott Jr.’s group, they stepped up and overall performed pretty well. Smith Vilbert struggled to play with the read / defense option, but made up for it with two sacks. Nick Tarburton had his best game of the season with multiple tackles for loss, Zuriah Fisher occasionally flickered and the Coziah Izzard / D’Von Ellies combination continued to look solid down the middle.
For most of the game, Arkansas tried to line up and lead him straight against the Nittany Lions. Apart from a three-drive streak in the third quarter, the Nittany Lion defense held up quite well in the race, all things considered. It started upstream. The defensive line is expected to be in good shape in 2022, especially with the return of Isaac and Beamon, as well as the injection of borderline five-star EDGE rusher Dani Dennis-Sutton.
Last offseason, James Franklin caused a stir by calling on the esteemed Mike Yurcich to replace Kirk Ciarrocca as the offensive coordinator. As the running game struggled all season, before Sean Clifford’s injury, the passing attack was buzzing. In the second half of the season, however, nothing seemed to work on offense for Yurcich and the Nittany Lions.
After scoring just 10 points in the Outback Bowl, it’s time for the offense to hit reset.
Sean Clifford made strides forward in 2021. However, injury or otherwise, he began to regress into bad habits in the second half of the season. Next fall the Nittany Lions have to get the Clifford they had in the first 6 games for the 12. If Clifford doesn’t, then Franklin has to be prepared to pull the plug and give Christian Veilluex or Drew Allar a chance.
While Taylor Stubblefield’s large reception hall appears to be in great shape, Ty Howle and the tight ends have to look at each other in the mirror. It’s a very talented venue that has significantly underperformed in 2021.
The biggest thing the offense has to do this offseason is understand the running game. Penn State hasn’t had a single running back to go over 100 yards in a game this season. Against Arkansas, they averaged just 4.5 yards per carry while rushing for 125 yards.
For most of the season, Noah Cain still looked unhealthy. While he can be perfectly healthy this offseason while Keyvone Lee takes another step forward, once you factor in five-star Nick Singleton who is the nation’s highest-rated high school student, the lack of talent / ability won’t shouldn’t be a problem to run. back next season.
For the entire offense, however, he will start up front. Penn State’s offensive line must be completely overhauled after the disaster of the 2021 season. It should start with the dismissal of Phil Trautwein. If Trautwein is selected, it will be a vital offseason for him as his job will almost certainly be on the line as we enter 2022.
There is smoke that Rasheed Walker will return next season. While they’ve struggled in 2021, Penn State needs every body they can get on an offensive tackle. It would also be a huge boost for the Nittany Lions if they could add an offensive tackle through the transfer portal, allowing them to slide Caedan Wallace inside to keep where he’s much better suited. It could also allow them to play the much-vaunted Landon Tengwall on the inside rather than the outside in tackle.
Regardless of how it’s done, the offensive line needs to be corrected this offseason as it’s the biggest question mark over an offense that has an offseason type of introspection coming up.