Penn State rolled up 63 points for the second straight week in defeating Illinois and improving to 4-0 on the season, but there are some concerns on defense and in the kicking game heading into Saturday's showdown against Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.
Here are a few observations:
Miles Sanders had his breakout game against Illinois with 200 yards and three touchdowns, one coming on a 48-yard scamper. The junior from Pittsburgh has exhibited good speed and deceptive power, rarely going to the ground on the first tackle attempt against him. He has shown consistency in gaining positive yardage, whereas Barkley would go for the big play sometimes and be tackled for a loss. Eight of Sanders' 71 carries thus far have gone for losses, but that figure includes just one rush for a loss on 36 attempts the last two weeks. Head coach James Franklin attributes that stat to Sanders' maturity.
The Nittany Lions are just average in stopping the run. One week after limiting Kent State to 41 yards on the ground, the defense took a step back against Illinois, allowing 245 rushing yards for the second time this season. After Friday night's game, Franklin said none of the current 11 defensive starters have "separated themselves from the pack" and no leader has emerged as "an eraser in terms of making plays." The rush D will have to progress quickly this week to stop Ohio State's dynamic duo of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, and matchups later against Indiana's Stevie Scott and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor.
On its first two trips this season to the red zone (defined as the area between the opponent's 20-yard line and the goal line), Penn State scored a touchdown and kicked a field goal. Since then, the team is on an amazing streak of 20 touchdowns out of the 20 times it has had the ball in the red zone, computing to a 95.5 success rate on TDs for the entire season. It helps to have an experienced quarterback like Trace McSorley leading the offense in those situations, and he has accounted for nine of the touchdowns (six run, three pass) himself. Franklin has emphasized touchdowns in the red zone and it's been paying off thus far.
Since the installation of Joe Moorhead's up-tempo offense in 2016, the pass game has been more prolific than the run game, including a difference of 120 yards between the averages of run and pass last season. This year, however, the ground game has taken off behind a more experienced offensive line, averaging 275 yards, as compared to 239.5 through the air. With McSorley at the controls, the Lions always are going to be a threat to an opponent's secondary, but Franklin wants to see more consistency, and more balance, especially as defenses plan to stop Sanders.