Giger’s 5 keys: PSU shouldn’t be tested by Vandals

Five things to look for as Penn State opens the season — and the Sean Clifford era — as a 40-point favorite against FCS opponent Idaho, which is getting $1.45 million from PSU to play this game.

No. 1: Clifford in spotlight

Everyone is looking forward to seeing how new starting quarterback Sean Clifford handles the Nittany Lions’ RPO offense. He has the arm, but does the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder have the pocket awareness, foot speed and scrambling ability to make the offense as explosive as it was under Trace McSorley?

We’ll get glimpses today, although you just can’t put too much stock into anything that happens against this caliber of opponent in a glorified scrimmage.

There will be some nerves for Clifford, obviously, and the Lions have a lot of young players on offense, so don’t be surprised if the first half is a bit choppy. Penn State should be able to roll over this defense, though, and put up a ton of points.

No. 2: Defense will dominate

Penn State figures to have an excellent defense this season, while Idaho doesn’t have a particularly strong offense. The biggest question going into this game is probably whether the Vandals will even score.

The Lions should have a massive advantage up front, led by standout end Yetur Gross-Matos and tackle Robert Windsor in the middle. Idaho’s ground game will struggle getting much going, and if quarterback Mason Petrino has to throw a lot, look for the Lions to put heavy pressure on him.

Penn State should be able to do that without blitzing a lot. But when the Lions do blitz, we’ll see if linebacker Micah Parsons gets unleashed on the quarterback.

No. 3: Catch it, will ya?

The problems with receivers dropping the ball last year have been well documented. A byproduct of all the drops was that McSorley lost confidence in those guys and felt he had to do everything himself.

Clifford has enough pressure on him to deliver the ball accurately and on time, and the last thing he needs is for his receivers to be dropping passes.

Tight end Pat Freiermuth is a reliable target, so offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne may call on some safe throws to him early on to help get Clifford comfortable.

Then again, KJ Hamler is explosive going downfield, so Rahne may let Clifford air one out early to see if the quarterback can connect on a long TD and get everyone excited.

SUBHD: No. 4: Stay healthy

There’s nothing more important today than for the Lions to keep everyone healthy and not have a key player go down in a blowout.

Having said that, let’s hope the coaches don’t follow through on their completely foolish idea of having Parsons back deep on kickoffs, even if it is as a blocker.

It’s a dumb idea. Period.

It doesn’t matter if Parsons badly wants to do it, or if the coaches want to keep him happy trying something cool. Parsons has a chance to be a superstar linebacker, and risking his health on anything gimmicky makes no sense whatsoever.

But … injuries can happen at any time playing football, you might say, so coaches can’t be worried about that kind of stuff.

Wrong. Coaches need to put players in the best positions for them and the team to succeed. The potential downside far, far outweighs the upside putting Parsons in that spot.

SUBHD: No. 5: Players to watch

PSU: Clifford, obviously. Aren’t you excited to see what the kid can do?

Idaho: The defensive line will need to find some level of success against either the run or the pass, or else this is going to be a blowout.

Prediction: It’s going to be a blowout. Penn State 53, Idaho 0

Follow @CoryGiger on Twitter for live updates and analysis throughout today’s game.

Idaho (0-0) at PSU (0-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.


Line: PSU by 40; over/under 58 1/2

Notable: LB Cam Brown is suspended for the first half because of a targeting penalty in last season’s Citrus Bowl against Kentucky; CB Donovan Johnson is suspended for this game for violating team rules