Fresh off bye week, No. 6 Penn State ready to resume against UMass
Thu, Oct 12, 2023
NCAAF News (AP)
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Penn State coach James Franklin had his players do some self-scouting during their bye last week. The Nittany Lions liked what they saw.
They believe a slight tweak here or there is all they need.
"I think we're in a good place," Franklin said.
No. 6 Penn State (5-0, 3-0 Big Ten) has rolled to 10 straight wins, all by at least two touchdowns, dating to last season and is ready for another big weekend when struggling UMass (1-6) visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday. It's Penn State's final non-conference opponent before visiting No. 3 Ohio State on Oct. 21.
Although the Minutemen are more than 41-point underdogs and winless since Week 1, coach Don Brown believes they can test Penn State.
"There's no checking out," Brown said. "If you look at it, four of the last five games, we've been very competitive. We just need to get that second win and get over the hump, then don't look back."
The Nittany Lions haven't done so since they lost to the Buckeyes on Oct. 29 last fall. Since the start of this season, Penn State's offense has steadily grown with sophomore Drew Allar under center while the defense has been one of the nation's stingiest.
Penn State is averaging more than 36 minutes of possession time, most in the country. The Nittany Lions have made the most of their time with the ball. They're 11th in scoring offense (40.6) and their only turnover came on a fumbled kick return.
Defensively, only Air Force has had to defend fewer plays than the 278 Penn State has faced.
"We feel good," Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon said. "We're less sore and we've been coming out to practice with a lot more energy. I feel like it's working out for us."
Franklin has been pleased with his offense's progress thus far even if it hasn't always been flashy.
Long, grinding drives of 10-plus plays have become the norm. Penn State scored on three drives of 11 or more plays in its 41-13 win over Northwestern two weeks ago and mounted six drives of 10 or more plays against Iowa.
"It's kind of hard sometimes when you're going on these long drives with not a ton of explosive plays," tight end Tyler Warren said. "But at the end of the day, 12 plays for six points is the same as two plays for six points."
Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz took time last week to appreciate the efforts of his No. 2-ranked scoring defense that's allowing a national-low 11.6 first downs per game.
Diaz sees the group's "soul" showing with nearly every play as multiple players have seen lots of reps at nearly every position.
"Guys are enjoying playing with and for one another and you're seeing our playmaking distributed amongst a wide group of guys," Diaz said. "That means everyone's doing their job and whoever's there to make the play is making it."
Brown and Franklin were coordinators together at Maryland years ago. They've continued to stress "complimentary football" for years, and while Franklin's team has been playing it for quite a while, Brown's Minutemen can't seem to get out of their own way.
UMass safety Juan Lua snagged his first career interception at midfield last week with his team up 21-17 midway through the second quarter. The Minutemen punted four plays later and lost 41-24.
"That's kinda been the piece that we're talking about," Brown said. "A key moment, but we end up not getting any points off of that drive."
Despite their struggles overall, the Minutemen can be dangerous on offense.
Kay-Ron Lynch Adams leads the country with 24 carries of 10 yards or more while quarterback Taisun Phommachanh has developed nice chemistry with wideout Anthony Simpson, who is 21st nationally with 19 catches for 10 yards or more.
"We think their skill players on offense would start for a lot of people," Franklin said.
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