VIDEO: PSU’s Allar focused on cleaning up ‘little things’ after dominating his starting debut
Penn State is 1-0 in the Drew Allar Epoch. The No. 7 Nittany Lions opened a highly anticipated 2023 season with a 38-15 victory over West Virginia at Beaver Stadium on Saturday night.
Allar appeared to play the role of the former five-star quarterback with great hype, completing 21 of 29 passes (72%) for 325 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. There were some growing pains here and there for the sophomore, but he established himself early in a season where Penn State’s ceiling could be determined by his play.
Allar deferred to the redshirt freshman Beau Pribula in the fourth quarter, looking for a touchdown to cap off the evening.
Penn State’s rushing attack was a young second-year quarterback’s best friend Nick Singleton Rushed 13 times for 70 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown and a classmate Kaytron Allen chipped in 10 carries for 51 yards (5.1 yards per carry).
Allar looked at the wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith as his deep threat, and the senior had four catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore Harrison Wallace had a game-high seven catches for 72 yards. Junior Malik McClainThe transfer from Florida State had a breakout season with four catches for 58 yards and a score.
Penn State was bolstered by a bend-but-can’t-break defensive effort that didn’t necessarily have many individual stars, but West Virginia did, averaging just 4.5 yards per play and 3.5 yards per carry.
The Nittany Lions will face greater challenges this season, but the Mountaineers, a Big 12 opponent, still presented Penn State with some challenges that they can learn from next week’s game against Delaware.
LIONS247 PENN STATE KICKOFF SPECIAL: 50% OFF VIP!
Here’s a recap of Saturday night’s game with game balls and turning points.
TURNING POINT: Drew Allar announces himself with a 72-yard touchdown pass KeAndre Lambert-Smith.
With his second pass as the starting quarterback, Allar made a significant contribution to the college football party when he hit Lambert-Smith for a 72-yard touchdown pass to put Penn State on the field first. Showing confidence and comfort in navigating the pocket, the sophomore stepped up to find Lambert-Smith, who had beaten his man downfield.
The pass caused a jolt. It showed Allar wasn’t afraid of the moment and this offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was willing to trust him. It delivered one of the first big highlights of the 2023 season, bringing 110,747 spectators to capacity at Beaver Stadium early Saturday evening – the fourth-largest crowd in the stadium’s history.
Read more: WATCH: Drew Allar throws first touchdown pass as Penn State starter as Nittany Lions take early lead
Offensive play ball: quarterback Drew Allar
Allar looked like this in his first career start. Arm strength was in play, along with decision making and mobility in the pocket. He showed it on his first drive when he hit Lambert-Smith deep. Allar was a five-star prospect coming out of Medina (Ohio) High School, and the combination of size and skill is a perfect fit.
There are some things to clean up. He was under pressure at times and took a few hits, and at the end of the half he also led to some poor execution in the second quarter. But Allar was assertive and accurate and distributed the ball.
Penn State may need Allar to be transcendent at some point this season, but that wasn’t Saturday, and he was more than capable.
Read more: Drew Allar will start at quarterback for Penn State in its season opener against West Virginia
DEFENSIVE PLAYBALL: Linebacker Curtis Jacobs
Linebackers Curtis Jacobs delivered a solid performance at the second level while playing both the Will and Sam linebacker positions. He finished the game with 10 tackles (seven solo), one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry. He’s a versatile and athletic player, and it allowed him to play on a night when West Virginia’s running game could regularly push into the secondary.
Jacobs may not receive the same accolades as the second-year linebacker this season Abdul Carter did, but he is a former high-profile prospect who had many spectacular performances throughout his college career. This was also evident against West Virginia.
SPECIAL TEAMS GAME BALL: Kickoff specialist Gabe Nwosu
Penn State struggled with some inconsistent kickoffs last season Jake Pinegar took over the job on the home stretch. On Saturday, punter Gabe Nwosu, a redshirt sophomore, has done a solid job at a position he couldn’t win last season. All six of his kickoffs that night were touchbacks. That’s a level of consistency Penn State never had at this position last season.
TURNING POINT: Sander Sahaydak missed two field goals in the first half.
Penn State suffered a disappointing end to the first half at kicker Sander Sahaydak missed two field goals from 40 yards. He pushed a 38-yarder and a 34-yarder wide right, costing Penn State a chance to take a 20-7 halftime lead. Instead, West Virginia was still within one score. The first miss came from good Nittany Lions defense that saw the Mountaineers’ offense turn the ball over on downs, and the second miss came on the heels of tough execution at the end of the half by Allar and the offense. Still, Penn State went into halftime having given up six points in a one-score game.
Offensive play ball: Wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith
Lambert-Smith earned the nickname “Big Play Dre” with his performance on Saturday night. The senior showed off his game-changing prowess with his 72-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and he showed finesse in the third quarter with his 12-yarder when he was all alone in the back of the end zone for Allar’s catch High, arched pass to make it 21:7.
However, Lambert-Smith also showed some progress on the mental side of the game. On third down on Penn State’s first drive of the second half, Lambert-Smith had a step on his man, and even though Allar’s pass was a little deep and behind him, the receiver couldn’t catch it. It probably would have been a…landing. In the past it might have derailed Lambert-Smith, but he has been open about his mental development and it showed on Saturday.
DEFENSIVE PLAYBALL: Cornerback Johnny Dixon
Penn State’s defense was relatively quiet when it came to individual performances and splash plays, but cornerback Johnny Dixon been in the right place at the right time a few times. He finished the game with three tackles and two pass breakups and provided pressure with a key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS GAME BALL: Kicker Alex Felkins
Penn State needed some stability in the kicking game after Sahaydak missed two field goals in the first half. Kicker Alex Felkins made it available after the break. He made three extra points and made a 25-yard field goal in the second half. The Columbia transfer may not necessarily have the same leg strength as Sahaydak, a redshirt sophomore, but he provided accuracy on Saturday.
TURNING POINT: Abdul Carter stops West Virginia on fourth down.
On fourth-and-2 with about 11 minutes left, West Virginia tried a little trick: Greene moved out from under center and backup quarterback Nico Marchiol made a move to take a deep direct snap and run left. Dixon charged into the backfield, and then Carter – who had been relatively quiet most of the evening – cleaned up by taking Marchiol to the ground. Penn State was leading West Virginia 24/7 at this point and hadn’t quite gotten separated yet. But considering how much game time was left and how big the lead was, the stop helped salt the game.
On the next possession, Allar hit McClain for a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-7 and seal the game.
Penn State faces Delaware at noon next week at Beaver Stadium.
(Photo: Grace Brennan-FOS/247)