STATE COLLEGE – Penn State’s 79-7 win on Saturday offered Nittany Lion gave fans a nearly perfect season opener.
Penn State scored its highest point total in 18 seasons, its 639 yards on offense were the most by a Nittany Lion team since 1994 and the Nittany Lions’ 35 first downs were the most posted by a Penn State team in 14 years.
For Idaho, the contest was close for all of three-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter.
“I think whoever you’re playing, you don’t think you’re going to get beat the way that we did, but it is what it is,” Idaho wide receiver Jeff Cotton said. “We’re going to come back and be better than ever. I mean, I came out here thinking that we were about to win, so.”
While the win bodes well for optimism, more importantly, it offered a glimpse into the future of the program.
Twenty Nittany Lions took the field at Beaver Stadium for their first time – 10 freshmen logged playing time – and a couple of newcomers even managed to find their way into the end zone. Penn State freshman running backs Noah Cain and Devyn Ford scored touchdowns in their college debuts.
Ford rushed for a game-high 107 yards and one touchdown. He turned his second collegiate carry into an 81-yard touchdown in the second quarter with an electrifying run that elicited roars from the home crowd.
His 81-yard touchdown run was aided by downfield blocking by another youngster, Nittany Lion redshirt freshman wide receiver Justin Shorter, who raced downfield and stepped in front of an Idaho defender in pursuit of Ford. Shorter, who is expected to contribute heavily to Penn State’s passing attack this year, tallied 36 yards receiving on three catches. His three catches on Saturday matched his receiving total from 2018.
Cain picked up 44 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the season opener.
Both Ford and Cain were heralded members of the 2018 recruiting class, and their nerves hardly seemed rattled by playing in front of the largest crowd of their young careers.
Penn State’s defense looked as good as advertised. The group accounted for seven sacks and held Idaho to a mere 145 yards of offense.
Penn State head coach James Franklin all offseason lauded his defense’s length and speed, and the unit lived up to his billing. Three Penn State defensive ends – Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney and Jason Oweh – recorded sacks. The defense menaced Idaho to the tune of seven.
Saturday’s performance showed just how imposing the unit can be this year.
“We think we’re in a conversation between five or six guys at defensive tackle and five to six guys at defensive end,” Franklin said. “We probably have less questions at defensive end than we do at defensive tackle, but we’re still talking five or six.”
After battling drops last season, Penn State receivers vowed to clean up the miscues this year. Wide receiver coach Gerad Parker was hired in the offseason, and the early returns on the investment appear to be good. Penn State combined for 25 receptions for 312 yards (13.7 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Thirteen Nittany Lions players caught passes.
“You have two redshirt freshmen who haven’t played a lot of football in Shorter and (Daniel) George, and I thought they did some really good things,” Franklin said. “We were able to get a bunch of guys involved with (Weston) Carr. Obviously, KJ (Hamler) did some great things like everybody expects.”
While it’s wise not to glean too much from just one game, Penn State’s present and future appear to be bright. After needing overtime to dispatch Appalachian State in last year’s season opener, Penn State wasted little time establishing the type of outcome Saturday would bring. The schedule will only get more difficult from here, but Penn State showed it’s well-suited to handle the uptick in competition.