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Solak | 5 takeaways as Penn State thrashes Michigan

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Scouting Notes

Solak | 5 takeaways as Penn State thrashes Michigan

#19 Michigan Wolverines v #2 Penn State Nittany Lions


Beaver Stadium – University Park, PA

Score:  #19 Michigan 13, #2 Penn State 42

1) Saquon Barkley remains transcendant

This takeaway is nothing new–but, at the same time, no takeaway could be listed before it. Saquon continues to give defenders fits with his explosiveness, agility, and contact balance. He had three touchdowns on the evening: one illustrated his vision and absurd straight-line burst as a ball-carrier; the next, his body control and retention of velocity when turning a corner; the last, his route-running prowess and concentration.

It wasn’t Barkley’s best performance, however. He had a couple of drops/shaky catches, though his hands away from his frame are about as good as you’ll ever find in a back. The biggest smirch on otherwise spotless film remains: Barkley must learn how to lunge forward and take 1-yard losses instead of dancing in the backfield and losing 4. When he faces NFL athletes on a weekly basis, there may be some growing pains in that regard.

The Heisman resume continues to build for Saquon, however–and, frankly, the case to be a Top-5, Top-3, and even Top-1 selection. He’s that level of game-changing weapon.

2) Trace McSorley is a ton of fun…just not an NFL prospect

I want Trace to be a draftable QB oh so badly. He’s truly an excellent athlete–not a mobile QB, but dual-threat–and competes with ferocity. Proven winner, too. When it comes to traits that maybe help him stick on an NFL roster or practice squad, pocket presence comes to mind: he does well to make subtle movements to buy time, and escape when he has an advantageous lane.

Tonight especially he impressed with his decision-making and poise. While he still struggled under pressure, as is typical, he did well to locate his checkdowns and give them a chance to make the play–though he’s too often bailed out by the excellent play of his pass-catchers.

The sad reality is that McSorley lacks an NFL QBs arm. He must hitch to generate velocity on any throw to the boundary or down the field; any balls to the intermediate levels of the field have an absurd amount of air under them. He’s an arm-punter; he throws jump balls. While it’s tons of fun, it simply isn’t sustainable at the NFL level.

That TD run sure was sick, though.

3) Michigan lacks its usual defensive pieces…for now

My love for the Wolverine’s senior DT Maurice Hurst is quite well documented. He had a decent night. On multiple reps, he presented in the backfield in typical fashion: with elite first-step quickness and lateral agility, Hurst works into gaps and busts up plays. He showed excellent hand work on swims and arm overs to generate interior pressure. Penn State did well, however, to expose Hurst’s lack of size, and on a couple of down blocks he got washed straight out of the play.

While Hurst continues to shine, Michigan’s defense–only returning one starter from 2016–simply lacks the studs of which it usually boasts.

Senior LB Mike McCray looked stuck in the mud all night as he tried to track Barkley around the field–when he hesitated, he fell behind; when he tried to anticipate, he over-pursued. Senior DE Chase Winovich lost leverage in the run game early and often, falling victim to multiple read option reps; his pass rushes lacked twitch and effectiveness. Junior DT Bryan Mone got bullied by the Penn State interior OL all night long.

Fortunately for Michigan, their youth impressed: sophomore DE Rashan Gary and freshman LB Devin Bush are already talented football players, and they’ll only grow into their roles. Reinforcements are coming for the Wolverines.

4) Penn State…does indeed have some defensive pieces

A unit that was supposed to be the Achilles’ heel on a close-but-not-quite team in the preseason has been anything but. The only team in the FBS to not allow a first-quarter point–like, at all–Penn State’s defense is led by two talented, draftable players: senior LB Jason Cabinda and senior S Marcus Allen.

Allen is the more popular name: a box safety playing single-high for his team, Allen showed decent pattern recognition tonight, though his range wasn’t tested by Michigan’s struggling aerial attack. He got involved early in the run game, but only finds significant success when closing downhill, between the tackles–when it’s to the boundary, he struggles to set an edge or come to balance. The real question for Allen is coverage–and he was hardly tested in this matchup.

Cabinda, further under the radar, was highlighted in my 3 prospect battles to watch post, and I’ll say that he answered the call. While the stat sheet won’t show too many tackles, Cabinda played a physical, disruptive brand of football against a team that can punish linebackers with their offensive scheme. Cabinda excels at seeing red and hitting red: When his gap opens up, he immediately fills it; when a puller comes his way, he immediately strikes him. He can be a click slow to get there, but when he arrives, he plays disciplined, intelligent football. I’m interested in his Combine numbers for sure.

Of the eligible PSU corners, I like the best the one most likely to return to school: Redshirt junior Amani Oruwariye. Keep an eye on that name.

5) Draft a Penn State pass-catcher

6’6″ TE Mike Gesicki, the jump-ball extraordinaire; 6’4″ Juwan Johnson, the physical specimen; 6’1 DaeSean Hamilton, slot machine; 5’11 DeAndre Thompkins, punt return specialist. Just pick your poison, folks.

DaeSean Hamilton had the most impressive night. Working the slot, he burned Michigan’s nickel defenders off the line with explosive releases and sudden cuts. He tracked more than a few McSorley prayer balls with ease, doing well to keep his body leveraged between the defender and the ball, making catches away from his frame. When Michigan rolled their better corners onto Hamilton, he struggled a touch with their physicality at the line–but he still regularly won releases with quickness and made a couple of tough catches through contact. Impressive stuff.

Gesicki made two Gesicki-esque catches–just trademark stuff. At 6’6, but with a storied, multi-sport athletic profile, Gesicki excels at attacking footballs at their highest point and making hands-grabs, in traffic, away from his frame. He showed nice body control and awareness for a sideline snag as well. While Juwan Johnson had a quieter night, struggling with the physicality of Michigan’s corners, his physicality and natural hands still impress. Only a redshirt sophomore, I’d love to see him return to school for an extra year of polish.

As a parting gift: Mike Gesicki, ladies and gentlemen.

Benjamin Solak

Ben Solak has been a football fan and film junkie for all of his life, and has the pleasure of serving as a National Scout for NDT Scouting. He also covers the Philadelphia Eagles for Bleeding Green Nation and co-hosts the Locked On Eagles podcast. Ben takes many things far too seriously, including fishing, Captain America, grammar, and Game Of Thrones.

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