Five observations from that game:
When Penn State scored on back-to-back drives in the third quarter to go up by 24-10, most of the fans sat back in their seats satisfied that the Nittany Lions had this game in hand and the result was a foregone conclusion. But Appalachian State is a team that has executed in hostile environments before and played Power Five teams close, and did it again Saturday with 28 fourth-quarter points and nearly the shocker of the young season. You could say the Lions had the better talent and the home-field advantage and the crowd and blah-blah-blah, but the game comes down to execution. The Mountaineers matched their hosts drive for drive and nearly pulled it out.
Depending on your rooting interest, nothing is more exhilarating or demoralizing than a big play on special teams, and App State succeeded on two of them: a 100-yard kickoff return after the Nittany Lions' first touchdown and a successful onside kick midway through the fourth quarter that led to a TD. Both mistakes were significant but correctable. James Franklin said that on the onside kick, his team's front wall started retreating a little early to set up blocking, leaving space for the kick. Plus, on two key punts in the fourth quarter, Penn State's normally reliable Blake Gillikin was unable to flip the field with efforts of 33 and 36 yards, giving the visitors great field position for the go-ahead TD.
One overlooked facet of former wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton's game was his ability to block downfield for Saquon Barkley or a fellow receiver. The Nittany Lions didn't get much blocking from anyone in their receiving corps against the Mountaineers. Miles Sanders had five rushes of more than 10 yards but couldn't get the one block he needed to break a big play. The receivers can start by just getting in the way of a would-be tackler, and then work on actually hitting the guy.
You have to give props to App State sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas, who passed for 270 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start and actually had a higher pass efficiency rating (137.58) than Trace McSorley (121.17). But the Lions' secondary got burned often, mainly when their coverage people failed to turn around and locate the ball in the air before a reception. The Mountaineers also seemed to find plenty of wide-open spaces in the middle of the field. And while we're at it, starting cornerback John Reid appeared to be on the sideline for much of the fourth quarter. Let's hope Franklin will be able to shed some light on that at his Tuesday news conference.