Several from this group of seniors stood out and Rutgers offers young guns some seat time
Where did this 2019 season go?
I feel like it was only a couple weeks ago we were focused on the running backs, the new starting quarterback and Buffalo was on deck.
And in the blink of an eye it’s time for the final regular season game for this year.
Penn State is set to track down another 10-win season under head coach James Franklin Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
The opponent, Rutgers, is a hot mess on so many fronts that viewing the Scarlet Knights as a legitimate opponent is a waste of time. The Nittany Lions are a six-touchdown favorite and will beat Rutgers to finish 10-2 overall.
There still is plenty of meat on the bone to grab my attention for this match-up, though. And it starts with the 16 seniors who will be honored before kickoff at 3:30 p.m.
I’d like to mention a few of them from a group that has helped guide Penn State from a seven-win program to a Big Ten championship in 2016 and one win shy of helping steer the program to three double-digit win seasons in the last four years.
Offensive guard Steven Gonzalez tops my list. Remember in 2016 when he was buried so deep in the depth chart? Injuries forced the rather large human being into a starting role late that year and all he’s done since then is start more than 40-something games.
Gonzalez has been reliable, steady and available. Those are three exceptional traits in an offensive lineman. He was tinkering with leaving school early for the NFL after the 2018 campaign, but made the wise decision to return. Gonzalez has been a rock at left guard the last two years.
Punter Blake Gillikin came to Penn State with a big leg and some serious potential. In a nutshell his career has been a little up-and-down at times, but overall if you look back in 2017 and this season he’s been an impact player.
His ability to become more of a finesse punter by burying teams inside their own 20 has served Penn State very, very well. The punter matters to hardcore football geeks like myself. And Gillikin has been one of the best.
Remember when linebacker Cam Brown was thrust into action in 2015 and was a hot mess, naturally, because he was nowhere near ready?
He has slowly developed into a full-blown legitimate baller at the position and earned the role of being a captain of this team. He led by example both on and off the field and you could tell the second half of last season the light went on for him. He’ll get a shot at the next level for sure.
My final Senior Day tip of the cap goes to linebacker Jan Johnson. What an unbelievable athlete. He walked on at Penn State and after plugging in as wrestler for the Nittany Lions early in his career was thrust into action at Michigan in that 2017 beat down.
He blew out his knee after several plays and you thought at the time he would never be heard from again. That was certainly not the case. He earned a scholarship, became a starter in 2018 to the surprise of some and will end his career with 25 consecutive starts and more than 130 tackles the last two years. He earned my vote for the Burlsworth Trophy as the top player who started his career as a walk-on.
The other side of this game to keep an eye on is the future. With the injuries starting quarterback Sean Clifford is battling I see no reason to play him. Let Will Levis deal and see what he’s got based on a larger sample size and let both of the true freshman play once the game is in hand.
I also think you’ll see some mixing and matching on the offensive line with guys like Bryce Effner and Des Holmes seeing more snaps hopefully.
How about a steady dose of Devyn Ford and Noah Cain at running back? We all know Journey Brown is the alpha dog for the Lawn Boys.
On defense more Judge Culpepper, Jayson Oweh and Adisa Isaac won’t be a bad thing in my book. I also suspect you’ll see a lot of Brandon Smith at linebacker. How about Keaton Ellis, Marquis Wilson and Trent Gordon in the secondary? More meaningful snaps from them won’t hurt, right?
As for the football game, it’s almost hard to put into words how bad Rutgers really is. It’s a shame, but they are able to offer so little competitively on offense it will be impossible to make this a game of any kind. Tip of the cap to the seniors from this class, but get those young guns some more seat time.