Why Penn State needs to dominate West Virginia in season opener

The Penn State Nittany Lion mascot and cheerleaders run across the field before the start of a game against Michigan St. at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College. The Nittany Lions won, 35-16.Hes Dr 112622 Psumsu
The Penn State Nittany Lion mascot and cheerleaders run across the field before the start of a game against Michigan St. at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College. The Nittany Lions won, 35-16.Hes Dr 112622 Psumsu /

Penn State is just a few hours from the start of one of the most highly-anticipated seasons under James Franklin with a Saturday night home matchup against West Virginia.

The Nittany Lions are returning the bulk of it’s young talent from last year’s squad that finished 11-1 and expectations are the highest they have been in a long time.

Las Vegas currently has Penn State as a 20.5 favorite over the Mountaineers — and while coaches and players don’t pay attention to point spreads — I think it’s important the Lions make a statement in Week 1, dominate a sub-par West Virginia team at home and set the tone for the season moving forward.

Here are a few reasons why:

Put Ohio State and Michigan on notice

If Penn State is going to reach the College Football Playoff, it will mean beating either Ohio State or Michigan and winning the rest of their games at the very least.

The last two seasons, Franklin’s team has squeaked out close wins against Big Ten opponents in its openers. Last year was a 35-31 victory over Purdue that was a back-and-forth showdown where the Boilermakers had a 31-28 lead halfway through the fourth quarter. Sean Clifford connected with Keyvone Lee on the game-winning touchdown with just 57 seconds remaining.

The 2021 campaign featured a 16-10 over Wisconsin. The Badgers dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 42:24 minutes compared to Penn State holding the ball for just over 17 minutes.  Still, despite getting dominated in most statistical categories, the Lions came out on top.

It’s time for Franklin and this talented 2023 squad to put the rest of the nation — especially Ohio State and Michigan — on notice and live up to the hype by dominating West Virginia from the first whistle.

FOX Sports Analyst Joel Klatt says Penn State needs to “put the hammer down” vs. WVU

FOX analyst Joel Klatt is one of the smartest voices in college football — and like every PSU fan — he’s anxious to see Drew Allar lead the offense.

“I think he’s a better fit for the Mike Yurcich offense,” Klatt said. “I can’t wait to see him play.”

Allar threw for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns on 35-for-60 passing last season in relief of longtime starter Sean Clifford. At 6-foot-5, 243 pounds, Allar has the build and arm talent to be a next-level talent, and he has plenty of weapons around him to work with in 2023. Klatt believes the Nittany Lions will lean on the sophomore duo of running backs, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, and then open up the downfield passing game with Allar once defenses are forced to go all-in to attempt to slow the run. .

After discussing Allar and the potential for Penn State’s offense to take a huge step forward and match the dominant defensive unit led by Manny Diaz, Klatt made it clear the Nittany Lions need to make a statement against West Virginia.

“This is a team in West Virginia that they should beat and they should handle,” Klatt said. “Two years ago they opened up in Wisconsin, and last year they went on the road to Purdue and somehow found a way to win. They need to come out in this game and say ‘Ok, we’re better, let’s go, we’re at home. Put the hammer down.’”

Penn State is far better than West Virginia

The Mountaineers finished 5-7 last year and are also debuting an unproven starting quarterback in coach Neal Brown’s 5th season. They are picked to finish last in the Big 12.

Penn State is 48-9-2 all-time against West Virginia — and 36-2-1 since 1956 — dating to the days when both programs were Independents in football. The teams last met in 1992, the year before PSU joined the Big Ten. The Lions haven’t lost within Pennsylvania’s borders in the series since 1954.

While Brown hasn’t named the starting QB for tonight’s opener, many believe junior Garrett Greene is expected to get the nod after starting two games last year, along with a handful of snaps in several other games. Greene started last year’s final two outings for WVU, going 1-1 with a combined stat line of 23-for-41, 252 yards, three TDs and three picks.

The other option is redshirt freshman Nico Marchiol, but it’s safe to assume Greene will be the guy.

Regardless, the Mountaineers will attempt to utilize the one strength they have, a stout offensive line returning all of its key starters from 2022. They will try to pound the rock with 238-pound lead back CJ Donaldson and likely design running plays for Greene, who has shown he can run when called on.

Manny Diaz and the Penn State defense won’t be fazed by this approach. They have the talent to shut down the run game, forcing West Virginia to alter their game plan and go to the air, which will lead to turnover opportunities.

Allar should have a prime chance to get comfortable and find a rhythm in this game against a defense that lost several key pieces off the No. 116 scoring defense in the nation (32.9 ppg) from 2022.

Penn State’s offensive line is one of the strongest units on the team, so there should be plenty of opportunities to find success on the ground with one of the top running back duos in the country, while providing protection for Allar to feel comfortable and open things up through the air.

On paper, the Nittany Lions should cover the spread and make a statement in Week 1.

Now we wait. Beaver Stadium will be a madhouse and it’s time for all the talk to translate to action.

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