In a game that was never in doubt, but one not exactly oozing with individual star performances, I'm half inclined to hand this week’s Game Ball to every one of the 109,800k+ of you that showed up to rock Beaver Stadium off its aging foundation! It’s been said more than enough that Penn State football survived the sanctions because of everyone involved, including us, and Saturday was as pristine an example of that as any. That said, the Game Ball honor goes to the team and this week’s standout is an often-overlooked unit that little by little has evolved into a true juggernaut: Special Teams. The speed on the coverage units is overwhelming opponents. Last year’s nemesis, Pitt All-American returner Quadree Henderson, had no room to breathe, let alone move and make plays by the time our guys were in his face and smothering him. Along with the speeding bullets on the coverage teams, Blake Gilliken has picked up where he left off after an outstanding freshmen season; Tyler Davis is Mr. Automatic as always; and DeAndre Thompkins is a lethal weapon returning punts. It’s just a matter of time before Saquon Barkley breaks one off on kick return duty. A unit that once represented a weak link has now become a strength and today receives the Battle of Pennsylvania’s Game Ball for its efforts.
On offense, Mike Gesicki leads the way earning a Helmet Sticker. His two early touchdowns set the tone for the game and Penn State never looked back. Two games in and Big Mike G has All-American written all over him. King ‘Quon complimented with two touchdowns of his own and totaled 130 yards on the day. Trace McSorley had a relatively off-day but still managed to throw for three scores and ran for 66 yards and DaeSean Hamilton came up big and is inching his way towards the all-time reception record. All-in-all the offense struggled more than we've become accustomed to, but still managed 31 points on its own. Not too shabby for an off day.
If Mike G opened the gates, it was fellow senior Marcus Allen who closed them shut and threw away the key. His smash and safety in the fourth quarter was as ferocious a play as you’ll see by a defensive back and The Hitman leads the way for the defensive Helmet Sticker handouts. Grant Haley's interception and return on the first defensive series got the crowd rocking and Troy Apke followed up with one of his own in the second quarter. Backup Nick Scott gets a Helmet Sticker for that textbook tackle he laid in the second half and Shareef Miller finished the day with two sacks and is beginning to have the look of an Alpha Dog along the D-Line. It was a “bend but don’t break” defense this week and one that only has allowed 14 points in two games.
There was a time, in our not so distant past when moral victories dotted the landscape. A time when we were forced to find a silver lining win, lose, or draw. We used to cringe as Sam Ficken lined up to kick a field goal; no disrespect to the greatest comeback story in our history by any means. Now, field goals are darn near automatic and punts that would sail the bare minimum now have blimps dodging their hang-time. There was a day not too long ago when one-point victories were just enough, and points came at a premium. Today, as sweet as that taste of revenge may be, there’s a sense we wanted more. The sharks circled with blood on their minds. We finally topped that hashtag #107k that FrankLion has been calling for. With visions of Hurricane Irma raining on Pitt's parade, the Panthers were only able to come up with a 19-point cushion.
We've come a long way in just a year. A 33-14 win is a far cry from the losing end of 39-42. We've come even further in the past five. Just look at the Special Teams Unit Coach Huff calls ‘The Nektons.’ We've got a long way to go, but here we are sitting pretty as a solid Top-5 squad at the moment, and back on top of the Big Ten power rankings. Pitt is just a small factor in that silver lining we know all too well. No matter how big they try to make it, “beating them is no different than beating Akron,” in the words of James Franklin and that’s just about how it feels nowadays. Ahhh, the sweet taste of revenge…MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!