No. 7 Penn State Football Key Matchups vs. West Virginia

Abdul Carter, Penn State Football
Penn State linebacker Abdul Carter (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State Football finally kicks off the 2023 season against West Virginia Saturday night under the lights at Beaver Stadium.

With arguably the most hype for a Penn State team under James Franklin, Penn State must avoid a disappointing upset in Week 1, in order to accomplish the very lofty goals for the program in 2023.

Penn State Football 5 Key Matchups vs. WVU

Defensive Tackles vs. WVU RB C.J. Donaldson

West Virginia’s offense was not great in 2022, finishing 52nd in the nation. However, one bright spot in 2022 for the Mountaineers was true freshman C.J. Donaldson, who tallied 526 yards, six yards per carry, and four 100 yard games in only seven games (one start) before sustaining a season ending injury.

With three returning offensive linemen and a relatively inexperienced quarterback, expect West Virginia to lean on the talented sophomore in his return to action in 2023.

The Nittany Lions struggled against Michigan in 2022 to stop the run, allowing 418 yards and 7.8 yards per carry.

One key to stopping West Virginia’s rushing attack Saturday will be Penn State’s defensive tackles stopping runs at the line and not allowing Donaldson to get to the second level.

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Linebackers vs. mobile threat of WVU QB Garrett Greene

While West Virginia has not officially named a starting quarterback for Saturday’s matchup, everyone is expecting Garrett Greene to start for the Mountaineers.

The junior quarterback played in nine games in 2022 and started the final two games of the season for West Virginia. In an upset win over Oklahoma, Greene passed for only 138 yards and a touchdown, but added 119 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

With Greene being a mobile threat when the pocket breaks down, Penn State linebackers must stop Greene from running all over Penn State’s defense. B

oth Penn State’s secondary and defensive line are expected to be some of the best in the nation this season, so the pocket will likely break down before Greene is able to find an open receiver often on Saturday. Penn State’s linebackers must account for Greene’s ability to scramble and make something out of nothing in order to take advantage of both of these strengths for Penn State.

Offensive tackles vs. WVU DE Sean Martin

Defensive end Sean Martin is a bright spot on a Mountaineer defense that was rather poor last season.

West Virginia did bring in transfers to help on defense, but it remains to be seen how effective those transfers will be early in the season. Sean Martin ended 2022 with at least 1.5 tackles for a loss in four games and posted two sacks in West Virginia’s upset of Oklahoma.

Penn State’s offensive tackles must keep Martin at bay to give Drew Allar time to work in the pocket and find open receivers in what may be a very porous West Virginia secondary.

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Penn State special teams vs. WVU special teams

Penn State and West Virginia are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum for returning special teams.

Penn State does not return its punter, kicker, long snapper, or punt returner from 2022. West Virginia on the other hand returns starters on a punting unit that was very good last season.

In 2022, West Virginia only allowed 19 punt return yards all season and the Mountaineers punter averaged 42.3 net yards per punt. Penn State must not allow West Virginia to win the field position battle by pining the Nittany Lions deep to start every drive.

Drew Allar and TEs vs. WVU Linebackers

With Penn State returning two of the best running backs in the nation and starting a new quarterback, West Virginia may sell out to stop the run early until Drew Allar shows that he can beat the Mountaineers in the air.

Allar and Penn State’s tight ends must take advantage of space over the middle of the field if West Virginia’s linebackers play up toward the line of scrimmage to sell out against the run. If Penn State is able to force West Virginia’s linebackers to stay back to respect Allar’s passing ability, then Penn State should be able to capitalize in the running game in the second half.

Penn State should win comfortably on Saturday night with the respective talent on both sides of the field.

However, if Penn State does not win these five key matchups, West Virginia could give Penn State headaches and an upset bid could start brewing.

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Robert Casturo

Robert Casturo

Expertise: College Football, Penn State Football Education: Saint Vincent College, Penn State Law School Location: Washington, DC Experience: Robert Casturo has covered Penn State football for NittanyCentral since 2022. Casturo previously covered Penn State football through a social media presence (@PSU_FB_Thoughts on X) since 2019. Casturo earned his bachelor's degree from Saint Vincent College in 2015, where he was a punter for 1 season on the Saint Vincent College football team and worked in the athletic department for 2 years as a student manager. Casturo earned his JD from Penn State Law in 2018 where he was a senior editor of the Penn State Law Review.