UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Prior to the season, the NCAA instituted a new rule regarding redshirts that allows teams to play athletes in up to four games without hurting their ability to redshirt. At Penn State, they’ve taken advantage of that and then some.
On Saturday, it was a full-on youth movement on the field against Kent State, and while the score was able to dictate most of that movement, it’s a microcosm of the Nittany Lions roster management as a whole this season.
Look no further than true freshman Jayson Oweh, who saw his first playing time against Kent State and promptly recorded the first two sacks of his career. Oweh got the nod over true freshman Nick Tarburton, who appeared in the first two games of the season, or half of his four game allotment to preserve a redshirt.
“It’s hard to tell short-term, because right now, (Oweh) and Tarburton, we’re kind of complementing those two guys,” James Franklin said at his Tuesday afternoon press conference. “So we played Tarburton first two games. Probably gonna play Jayson Oweh in two games and evaluate them from there.”
Both Oweh and Tarburton getting experience early is huge, and with Penn State’s schedule early in the season, it bodes well for them should someone get hurt down the road.
Having true freshmen get playing time early and having on-field success like receiver Daniel George, who had a 95-yard touchdown reception against the Golden Flashes, is two-fold. It not only gets the young players experience, but it allows starters and backups the opportunity for rest they wouldn’t otherwise get.
Getting younger guys reps helps with health and well-being, both mentally and physically, as the grueling season begins to pick up steam and head toward Big Ten play Friday against Illinois.
“That creates a really healthy locker room. We limited our starters’ reps. All this stuff is critical because we have a short turnaround.” Franklin said after the Kent State game.
Having a unified team is imperative to success, and from interacting with Franklin’s squad, it’s easy to see the buy-in from all involved. What’s different about these freshmen is they’re coming into the game and instantly having success, which speaks to the depth of the roster and also the sheer athleticism of those who make it up.
Guys such as linebacker Micah Parsons and Pat Freiermuth have not only played in all three games but also have seen their roles expand as a result of their quality of play. As their play develops, it puts the coaches in positions where they have to make a decision whether to play a young guy over a veteran if they’re more athletic and capable of having success at the position.
It’s a good problem to have, not only for the time being, but also in the future, as the young players gain experience this year and see the field more as their careers roll on. Take Oweh, for example. The plan was for he and Tarburton to split the first four games and then save them potentially for later in the season.
Oweh possibly thwarted those plans because of his play Saturday afternoon against Kent State. His play has the coaching staff evaluating him more thoroughly and making a judgment on whether to “green-light” him (take away his redshirt) or continue the scheduled plan.
“Obviously, depending on how Jayson plays this week, we’ll determine — Do we just green-light him the rest of the year based on his production last week? Or does he go back into kind of a wait-and-see type mode?” Franklin said.
It’s still early for the Nittany Lions, but this week’s game against Illinois should provide them with another opportunity to get young guys in the game and get them valuable experience before conference play ramps up with Ohio State coming to town next Saturday.
A lot can happen between now and the end of the season, but for now, Franklin and company are right where they want to be as far as roster management is concerned.
“The way the season plays out, some things are going to be out of our control. But right now, how things are going, we want to be able to get some guys some experience for this year, but also for years moving forward.” Franklin said.