Sunday Morning Head Coach: Penn State Nittany Lions

Our VoM predictions were accurate in that West Virginia did not emerge victorious in the contest last night with Penn State. The #7 team in the country showed why it was so highly regarded in the preseason AP Poll, but surprisingly, I’m not very upset with the result. Everyone wants to see the underdogs overcome Goliath and gain some instant respect from the Big 12 and the nation, but WVU entered the game last night with nothing to lose – and left in a pretty good position.

Here is one glaring and prominent statement that must precede all later commentary about last night’s game: Penn State looked the part of a team poised to make a playoff run. Neal Brown said as much in the post-game interview, and he wasn’t wrong. So, let’s look at some of the great takeaways from last night, some of the ugly truths, and maybe some nuggets worth carrying into the upcoming battles on the schedule:

The Great Things About Last Night:

  1. The Defense Arrived (Somewhat)

If you took last year’s defense and put them into this game, Penn State would have likely had the spread beat before halftime. The secondary last year was sloppy and consistently out of position. Given the elite nature of this top-10 team and the ability to grow and gel in the coming weeks to become even better, this entire phase of our game has to be something fans are excited to see. It might not be as formidable as a Gibby defense, but it is much improved from 2022.

  1. Garrett Greene Became Multi-Layered

Garrett Greene added electricity to the field when he took over for JT Daniels at the end of last year, but he was a continuous flight risk when the throw wasn’t unmistakable. It is clear that this is an area of significant focus in the off-season, and Garrett Greene improved in many metrics statistically, such as bringing his average of 54% accuracy in throws last season to nearly 60% in this game. Still, balls were seemingly rarely positioned where they could not be caught. Some sailed over the receivers’ heads, but there was notable control in delivering quick and accurate passes in all four quarters of play.

  1. HC Neal Brown Did Not Make a QB Change

One of the most significant positives about last night was that you did not see a quarterback battle. When the Nittany Lions took a 24-7 lead in the game, I was sure that this would follow similar squads in seasons gone by where HCNB would pull Garrett Greene and see what Redshirt Freshman Nicco Marchiol would do instead. Thankfully, he did not choose to do something that could have easily killed the confidence of what will seemingly become a solid leader for the offense in the rest of the schedule.

What Went As Expected?

  1. The Offensive Line Was Solid

Much discussion has been regarding what many expected from the front five led by Center Zach Frazier. The country saw that this offensive line could severely limit a havoc-inducing defense and create lanes and space for Greene, Donaldson, and other runners to get north and south. Given that this is likely the most significant challenge this offensive line could face all season, it lends some expectations for the Mountaineers to be a successfully run-heavy squad.

  1. The Play Calling Was Mid

The Mountaineers went ‘back to their strengths’ of Neal Brown calling the plays, and let’s be honest – it wasn’t as bad as we have seen in the past. We got behind, but the team never seemed to panic, which might have led to even costlier turnovers. Instead, we had a very clear script that was put ahead of the team, and they mostly stuck to it. It took too long for Brown to incorporate transfer Devin Carter into the mix despite the deep ball completion in the first half. A bit more variety with airing it out might have led to a tighter contest. It is worth noting that unlike last year’s season opener, where everyone screamed at their television set not to punt on that critical 4th down in Pittsburgh, we were not scared to take some 4th down shots in State College, successfully converting half of these attempts.

  1. CJ Donaldson Put in Work

Who knows what might have happened in some of the closer games that WVU lost last season had CJ Donaldson not been hurt and off the field for half the season. It was clear last night that there is a legitimate stud in the backfield right now that can make people miss and run through players when necessary. Rushing accounted for both TDs and the extra point for the Mountaineers at Beaver Stadium, so having a healthy Donaldson will be hard for upcoming opponents like Pitt and TCU to stop.

The Ugly Truths

  1. Greene Isn’t in The Scheme as Much as He Should Have Been

Drew Allar can take off and run with his large frame and speed, and Penn State designed plays for him to do just that. In fact, you saw Drew Allar and second-string QB Beau Pribula both take off on designed runs catering to their specific skill sets. What you didn’t really see is Greene getting the same love. Garrett is fast and elusive, even making future NFL linebackers in the second level of the Penn State defense miss open field tackles, yet I do not recall any quick-release, wildcat-style running packages that could play to this apparent benefit. Yes, GG headed in for a late-game TD on a designed rush, but most of his yardage for the night was broken plays and scrambling for positive gains.

  1. Wilson-Lamp Needs to Tackle Lower

As happy as one can be to see some catches in the field getting broken up and coverage being tighter than in years past, one glaring issue that stuck out to me was the tackling style of Andrew Wilson-Lamp. On three separate occasions, the cornerback was around the ball handler’s helmet, neck, and collar to wrestle them to the turf. One of these instances resulted in a penalty. We will play in some tight games where we cannot afford to offer up free yardage for sloppy tackling, simple as that. I can’t tackle a driving running back, but I’m not a starting cornerback in a D1 program, either.

  1. Trick Plays Only Work When It Is Actually Tricky

Last but certainly not least was another 4th down debacle for the Mountaineers in the season opener. With only two yards to go, Head Coach Neal Brown gets Nicco Marchiol to come out and, after several shifts and motions, creates one of the most awkward-looking field products that Penn State sniffed out from a mile away. They were stopping that play before the ball was ever officially snapped. The frustrating part? It was not necessary. We had been successfully gaining small yardage on the ground all night, and a draw play would have fared much better than that embarrassment.

The Mountaineers should get back into the right rhythm by hosting Duquesne this Saturday night in Morgantown on Family Day.

(Picture by CBS Sports)

Previous articleNeal Brown’s Thoughts Following Penn State Loss
Next articleRich Rodriguez Moves to 2-0
Benjamin Gilbert
Benjamin Gilbert here - panhandle resident and enjoyer of Pitt losses. First and foremost, I am a lifelong West Virginia Mountaineer fan and do my best to inspire that passion in my beautiful wife and talented kids. Unfortunately, fandom doesn't always pay the bills. I have been writing for a decade and a half for various professions and multi-faceted franchises, so writing is what I do. Combining my skills with my passion for the WVU teams, I always seek to provide fair and honest takes on our path to finding the top of college athletics. Let's Go.