The Penn State Nittany Lions are set to play the Minnesota Gophers this Saturday. Ahead of the game, I list three Penn State players to watch. The Nittany Lions are coming off their first loss of the season, losing against the Michigan Wolverines. Penn State was blown out in a 41-17 loss. There are a number of players who will need to step up this weekend, but these are the top three Penn State players to watch.
Penn State Players to Watch: Sean Clifford
Penn State’s starting quarterback, Sean Clifford, is the most important player for the Nittany Lions. He needs to step up more than anyone on this team. As long as he does well, the team is put in a much better position to win. As the team’s starting quarterback, he is definitely one of the most important Penn State players to watch.
This season, Clifford has completed 92 out of 166 pass attempts, according to ESPN. Clifford has thrown for 1,150 yards, his longest being for 67 yards. Throughout seven games, Clifford only has nine passing touchdowns. This should be a higher number to put his team in a better position. Clifford also has rushed for four touchdowns, which has been a great help for the Nittany Lions. Clifford is among the Penn State players to watch, needing more passing touchdowns.
A large issue with Clifford this season has been inaccuracy. Despite only throwing two interceptions so far, which is very good, his completion percentage is only 59%. As a starting quarterback, this is a percentage that needs to grow. It is hard to judge quarterbacks only by their percentage because there are times when they do absolutely have to throw the ball away; however, the team is not doing well in the passing game, and it is partly due to his inconsistency. No matter how Clifford plays this week, he is definitely one of the Penn State players to watch.
In the loss against Michigan, ESPN lists Clifford as completing only seven passes, out of 19 attempts. There were no passing touchdowns in the game, and within the first half, there was only one first down. In a tweet by Audrey Snyder, a Penn State reporter for the Athletic, Snyder shows the first-half statistics of the game. These stats demonstrate how poor the Nittany Lion’s offense did. One first down and 17 passing yards are unacceptable stats for this team. Michigan had 106 passing yards by the first half.
Clifford does deserve respect for one great play that set up a touchdown for the Nittany Lions. The quarterback ran the ball 62 yards. A video of the run can be found here from a tweet by the Big Ten Network. Unfortunately, this was the only true big play for the Penn State offense. It is important to note that Clifford exited the game early, reportedly due to an injury. The injury makes him one of the most important Penn State players to watch because if he is fully healthy, he should play well.
When asked about freshman quarterback Drew Allar playing this weekend, head coach James Franklin did state the plan is still to stick with Clifford, according to a tweet by Audrey Snyder. With Allar on the bench, and many fans calling for him to start, Clifford must be one of the Penn State players to watch this weekend, as he could lose his starting position with another loss.
How to Step Up
Moving forward, Clifford must play more consistently. Yes, his offensive line did not show up, but Clifford has demonstrated that he can use his legs and run out of the pocket. If he wants to win, he will need to complete more passes. Running out of the pocket is great, but only making it back to the line of scrimmage will not help.
Clifford will also need to be more accurate in his passes. There were multiple plays where his receivers were open but the ball did not make it to them. This is Clifford’s fifth year as a Nittany Lion. If he wants to be one of the Penn State players to watch in the offseason by the NFL, he will need to step up.
Penn State Players to Watch: Parker Washington
Penn State’s wide receiver, Parker Washington, is another athlete among Penn State’s players to watch. Washington has not been playing poorly but has not done enough to be the guy to carry his team to a win. Washington is only a sophomore, but with a poor passing game, he will need to step up this weekend and be a guy Clifford can rely on.
Washington has had 23 receptions for 318 total yards. According to ESPN, the receiver is averaging 13.8 yards per reception but has zero touchdowns this season. Part of the reason is the pressure on the quarterback, along with wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley and tight end Brenton Strange getting the majority of the pass attempts. Despite this, Washington is still one of the Penn State players to watch this weekend.
Against Michigan, Washington only had three receptions. It is important to keep in mind Clifford only completed seven passes, and when Allar came into the game he completed five. Washington only having three may not be all on him, but it will still need to be better. Washington totaled 33 yards according to ESPN, his long being 15. 33 yards and no touchdowns are not overly helpful to the team. If he can improve on those stats, he will be one of the more enjoyable Penn State players to watch.
How to Step Up
If Washington can get away from pressure and stay open for Clifford, he can be a game-changer. Having low stats can make opponents doubt him and make them think he is not one of the Penn State players to watch. There is a possibility that Minnesota’s defensive backs focus on other targets, and with that Washington can have a big game.
Penn State Players to Watch: Joey Porter Jr
Penn State Cornerback, Joey Porter Jr was a big conversation topic going into the season. It was discussed that when Porter does declare for the draft that he could be a first-round pick. Despite this, Porter has not done much in the 2022 season to warrant a first-round pick yet. If he can change his game quickly, the wide receiver will be one of the top Penn State players to watch in the upcoming NFL drafts.
This season, according to ESPN, Porter has 21 total tackles and seven pass deflections which is in no way bad, but just not great. The downside is also that he has not forced any turnovers. To get an interception would be fantastic for his game and give him the momentum he needs. Despite no forced turnovers, he did recover a fumble this season.
Against Michigan, Porter had four total tackles, three of them being solo. He also did not have any pass deflections according to ESPN, which was a factor in Michigan putting up 41 points. Michigan’s quarterback J.J. McCarthy, completed 17 out of 24 pass attempts totaling 145 yards. Of course, it is impossible to put the blame on Porter with the rest of the Nittany Lion’s defense not stopping McCarthy, but being as discussed as he was, Porter will need to step up.
How to Step Up
As long as Porter can force more incomplete passes, he should be okay moving forward. It would really help him if he could be the one to force a turnover and this may be the game he can achieve this. According to Sports Reference, Minnesota has been using three different quarterbacks, with Tanner Morgan being their number one guy. Morgan has thrown five interceptions this year, making Porter one of the top Penn State players to watch this week. It is also important to note the Gophers have seven interceptions in six games.
Penn State will have its annual whiteout this weekend against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The game will be played at 7:30 pm Eastern, and expect there to be many Penn State players to watch.
For more NFL and NCAA football content:
Check out my article on the famous Penn State Whiteout, and its importance to the school. Also, check out my most recent article to see who I chose in my second Underestimated Player Spotlight.
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