Penn State-Ole Miss Peach Bowl preview: Nittany Lions defense gets another test

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ATLANTA — Penn State’s captains and nan team’s activity assembly made it a constituent to stress that they wanted everyone to play successful Saturday’s Peach Bowl.

“We judge that you decorativeness what you start,” linebacker Curtis Jacobs said this week. “We decided that we wouldn’t really person opt-outs. Obviously, definite situations, you can’t blasted guys for their decisions, but I consciousness for illustration we person a really bully group of leaders who were capable to support this squad together.”

Still, No. 10 Penn State will beryllium without 2 protect starters against No. 11 Ole Miss, pinch seemingly nary squad immune to opt-outs. Though Penn State will person galore of its draft-eligible players participating successful this crippled successful immoderate way, nan vessel should besides supply a glimpse of what nan roster mightiness look for illustration successful 2024.

With 4 interim co-coordinators calling this crippled for Penn State — and pinch their replacements some hired this period — it’s 1 past chance to spot really Penn State measures up against a high-level force to adjacent retired a 10-2 regular season.

Here’s what I’ll beryllium keeping an oculus connected on Saturday:

1. What do nan threat counts look like?

Coach James Franklin has a scheme for everything, which intends there’s besides a scheme successful spot for handling threat counts for Penn State’s players soon headed to nan NFL. Defensive extremity Chop Robinson and cornerback Johnny Dixon some are not pinch nan team.

However, really overmuch aliases really small will players for illustration near tackle Olu Fashanu, protect extremity Adisa Isaac, tight extremity Theo Johnson, linebacker Curtis Jacobs and cornerback Kalen King play? Fashanu, a projected top-10 pick, continued practicing pinch nan squad and said earlier this period astir nan worth of not opting out. Does he play a fistful of snaps? A half? King, who has yet to denote his early plans, would look for illustration a logical prime to move connected to nan NFL, and Franklin said arsenic if nan cornerback is moving connected aft nan game.

“Kalen was great. Kalen’s parents were great. I had really bully discussions and came up pinch a scheme that everybody was comfortable with,” Franklin said this week. “So, awesome to person him present and beryllium portion of nan programme for 1 much game.”

Franklin wanted to activity pinch each players to travel up pinch a script wherever they could beryllium portion of nan vessel travel but besides not jeopardize their NFL futures. Isaac, who announced this week he will not prosecute an other twelvemonth of eligibility, said he’ll play successful astatine slightest nan first half.

With each nan uncertainties surrounding who plays and for really long, it besides raises nan mobility of what changes, if anything, if this crippled is adjacent successful nan 2nd half. Do nan players connected constricted threat counts lobby to play late? Do nan coaches person to protect nan players from themselves? This crippled will beryllium arsenic overmuch astir looking astatine nan early of this roster astatine respective cardinal positions arsenic it is sending nan players who are retired location retired pinch a win.

2. Does Harrison Wallace III play, and is he WR1 successful nan adjacent future?

Penn State spent each play needing a wide receiver to measurement up, and that taxable will beryllium discussed each offseason too. It’s unclear if KeAndre Lambert-Smith will enactment for different season. It would look apt that Dante Cephas would return, but he’s besides not said arsenic much. Penn State’s apical privilege successful nan transportation portal is adding a wide receiver, aliases likely, astatine slightest 2 of them.

With each of that, is it imaginable that nan team’s champion wide receiver is already connected this roster? Wallace turned heads successful nan outpouring and summer. His vertical impressed nan spot staff. His expertise to snare nan shot retired of nan aerial caught nan attraction of teammates and coaches. Teammates said this week that Wallace looked for illustration nan apical receiver coming retired of nan preseason.

But past he sewage hurt. And returned only to get wounded again, this clip pinch a different injury. Wallace hasn’t played since precocious October against Indiana and has 15 receptions for 161 yards this season.

But, he’s been practicing successful nan lead up to this game. Any benignant of momentum this receiving corps tin build for adjacent play is critical. Getting Wallace backmost connected nan section would beryllium a bully preview of what’s to come.

3. Establish affirmative momentum for QB Drew Allar

Newly hired violative coordinator Andy Kotelnicki has spent this period watching nan Penn State roster and floating done nan gathering rooms. Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and tight ends coach Ty Howle person implemented nan crippled plan.

Allar’s sophomore play hasn’t gone arsenic expected, but down nan agelong aft nan coordinator change, location person been immoderate positives. His play against Michigan State was a reminder of what he’s tin of. Running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen besides were explosive that game, and nan discourtesy was balanced. Ole Miss is simply a amended squad pinch a amended defense, but this is an opportunity to spot really Allar measures up ahead of adjacent season.

The discourtesy won’t toggle shape successful nan period since it played a game, but Allar has a chance to bookend nan play pinch positives. The 72-yard touchdown from Allar to Lambert-Smith successful nan play opener feels for illustration it was everlastingly ago. While nan discourtesy had galore forgettable stretches since past and fell level successful nan 2 biggest games, there’s still a chance for a marquee triumph and for a assurance boost for Allar.

4. Dive into nan extent of nan secondary

Without Dixon and pinch immoderate constricted threat count King could beryllium on, expect to spot a batch of sophomore Cam Miller, elder Daequan Hardy and freshman Zion Tracy and Elliot Washington II, among others. Hardy is disconnected to nan NFL aft this game, and Penn State is apt replacing each 3 cornerbacks adjacent season.

“It’s going to beryllium challenging because of nan type of wide receivers and discourtesy that we’ll beryllium playing, but these are nan guys that we are besides going to beryllium depending connected adjacent season,” Franklin said. “So it creates immoderate much opportunities successful this game. We’ve embraced it pinch a next-man-up mentality.”

Ole Miss has 3 receivers who each had 700-plus receiving yards this season. Franklin said it’s “probably nan champion operation of accumulation astatine nan receiver position” that Penn State faced this year. That’s saying thing erstwhile this squad played against Ohio State, though nan Buckeyes were shorthanded that game. It’s not nan champion clip to beryllium without a starter successful nan secondary, but it is an opportunity for nan future.

Keep successful mind

Both teams could’ve had iPads connected nan sideline and in-helmet exertion for this game. But some teams would’ve needed to work together to it, Franklin said. Penn State was successful favour of doing it but Lane Kiffin said Ole Miss opted not to.

Don’t hide about

How talented this Penn State defense is. Yes, coordinator Manny Diaz is gone, but arsenic safeties coach Anthony Poindexter put it this week, it’s not for illustration nan plays are changing. The top-ranked defense successful nan state won’t person Robinson, but it besides played astatine points this play without him. Quarterback Jaxson Dart and this receiving corps will coming a challenge, but nan beauty of this defense each play has been nan depth. There’s a chance to showcase that 1 much time.

Player we’ll beryllium talking astir this weekend

Dani Dennis-Sutton. The sophomore protect extremity was a co-starter this play and will beryllium nan existent starter successful this crippled and successful 2024. He looks to beryllium nan adjacent big-time protect extremity connected this roster, and though location will beryllium galore transitions adjacent season, Dennis-Sutton is simply a budding star.

Prediction

Penn State could beryllium without galore players for overmuch of this game. But, don’t discount nan talent that’s still connected nan roster and nan extent that’s been built. The defense should still beryllium really good, moreover without a fewer players. The offense, which will study a caller strategy aft nan vessel game, still has 2 explosive moving backs and a big-armed quarterback.

Penn State 27, Ole Miss 20

(Photo of Penn State’s Daequan Hardy: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

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