On Saturday at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania, the Mountaineers (0-1) dropped their first game of the 2018 season in overtime against the Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0) by a final score of 45 to 38. The Nittany Lions entered the game ranked No. 10 in the nation and are led by a Heisman Trophy hopeful in senior quarterback Trace McSorely.
The game went back and forth in the first half and was tied at 10 apiece going into halftime before Penn State was able to open up a 24-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers were able to battle all the way back and even take a 38-31 lead with just 1:12 left to play in the game. Penn State managed to tie the game in regulation, and ultimately came away with the victory after senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye intercepted a potential game-tying pass in the end zone in overtime.
The first time the Mountaineers touched the ball in the 2018 season, redshirt sophomore wide receiver/running back Darrynton Evans took the Penn State kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at seven. The play seemed to ignite the sideline and prove to any doubters that App State belonged on the field with the highly ranked Nittany Lions. Evans provided the only touchdown the Mountaineers would score in the first half.
It was a tale of two halves for either side of the ball for the Mountaineers with the defense excelling in the first half and then the offense getting going in the second half, more specifically in the fourth quarter.
Senior linebacker Anthony Flory led the defense with nine tackles, a near interception that fell incomplete and a quarterback hurry. The defense as a whole did a solid job of limiting McSorely through the air, holding him to 21-36 passing, 230 yards and a single touchdown. Penn State did the majority of their damage on the ground.
First-time starting redshirt sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas was impressive, totaling 270 yards on 25-38 passing and two touchdowns through the air, along with 43 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Even with a crowd of 105,232 on hand, Thomas kept his composure and put his team in a position where they had a chance to win, all the way down to the last play of the game.
App State had a balanced attack through the air with nine receivers catching passes during the contest. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Corey Sutton led the Mountaineers with 87 yards on six receptions while sophomore Malik Williams totaled 66 yards on 4 catches and found the end zone twice.
Senior running back Jalin Moore also played well, picking up 88 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries along with 36 yards on five catches in the pass game.
Another player that shined was redshirt freshman punter Clayton Powell, punting six times for 261 yards and an average of 43.5 yards per punt. Powell pinned the Nittany Lions inside their own 20 yard line twice.
From start to finish, penalties hurt the Mountaineers and undoubtedly altered the game. On the opening drive, after a big third down stop in Penn State territory, App State was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct call that gave the Nittany Lions the opportunity to drive down the field to take an early 7-0 lead. There were a total of nine penalties called against the Mountaineers that totaled 100 yards they gave away.
The third quarter was also a rough patch for App State, getting outscored 14-0 in the quarter that created a hole they would later have to dig themselves out of. The offense totaled only 103 yards of offense and just four first downs while the defense allowed 185 yards of total offense and a pair of touchdowns.
Another area App State struggled with was stopping the run. App State’s defense never found a way to slow down the Nittany Lions rushing attack. The Mountaineers allowed 204 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in the contest.
Quarterback Zac Thomas: One position that App State fans haven’t had to worry about in four years has been their quarterback play. Four-year starter Taylor Lamb was a consistent cornerstone that knew how to run the offense, but following his departure at the end of last season, the starting slot at quarterback was up for grabs. Thomas won the race over the summer and proved tonight that he is fully capable of leading this team. He showed no fear or nervousness, even going up against one of the strongest defenses in the Big Ten, not to mention taking his first snap as a starter in front of over 100,000 fans. The future appears to be bright.
Penalties: The amount of penalties App State committed against the Nittany Lions drastically hurt their chances at winning the game. The Mountaineers must figure out how to limit the penalties if they want to win these close games moving forward.
High-powered offense: By putting up 38 points inside Beaver Stadium against a top-tier defense in the country, App State showed that they have the ability to score effectively against any opponent left on their schedule. They have weapons from top to bottom.
App State will travel to UNC-Charlotte to take on the 49ers Sept. 8 inside Jerry Richardson Stadium at 6 p.m.
Story By: Silas Albright, Sports Reporter (@SilasAlbright)
Photo By: Brendan Hoekstra, Staff Photographer