Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye leapt from the Penn State 34-yard line and hit the grass 11 yards downfield, popping up from the soggy surface at the 23.
Before being mauled by Troy Apke and Grant Haley in celebration of his interception, Oruwariye placed the football on the ground and ran toward his pom-pom waving classmates while nodding and pointing to his chest.
The redshirt junior — who said earlier in the week he was looking to “open a lot of eyes” in 2017 — made quick work of that, securing what’ll likely be Penn State’s most acrobatic defensive play of 2017 less than a quarter into the new season.
It might’ve been lost in the shuffle in a 52-0 win over Akron on Saturday, but Oruwariye’s second career interception was beautiful.
“He stayed connected, was confident and comfortable turning and locating the ball in the air, which is a difficult fundamental to learn,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, unprompted in his opening postgame statement. “I thought that was very impressive.”
Indeed it was — and it wasn’t the only play Oruwariye made on the afternoon.
Later in the first half, Oruwariye stumbled in man-to-man coverage, leaving Akron’s wideout open deep down the heart of the field. But the rangy 6-foot-1 corner recovered nicely, diving backward to tip the pass away and deny Akron’s one true scoring chance.
This coming from a guy who’s never started for the Nittany Lions despite appearing in 24 games over the past two seasons.
It looks as if that’ll change, though. Franklin said postgame that he feels he has three starting corners: Oruwariye, Grant Haley and Christian Campbell.
With John Reid missing significant time, Campbell was a popular storyline throughout spring ball, and Haley’s Ohio State heroics — as well as his consistent work in the secondary — have made him a household name in the Keystone State.
Oruwariye tried to put himself on Penn State fans’ radars with his season-opening performance — and anyone watching it came away undoubtedly impressed.
Now, let’s take a gander at the remaining observations from the Nittany Lions’ blowout win:
▪ Tommy Stevens, H-back? Yep, that was a thing.
Stevens, Penn State’s backup signal-caller, saw plenty of action in the Nittany Lions’ ousting of Akron — but his initial involvement was a new wrinkle to say the least.
Stevens lined up in the backfield alongside starter Trace McSorley, sprinted out of the backfield and into the flat and caught a seven-yard pass that drew a “wait what” reaction from fans to those in the press box.
Franklin said they plan to use Stevens in similar packages throughout the season, bringing an excitement only a 6-foot-5 quarterback running routes can.
▪ Whadya know? Juwan Johnson is pretty good at catching footballs.
Johnson — coaches and players’ default answer to, “Who is primed to break out in 2017?” throughout the offseason — lived up to the lofty expectations. The 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore hauled in four grabs for a team-high 84 yards, including a 29-yard diving catch.
Was it a signature showcase? No, not really.
But the solid showing proved to everyone watching on Saturday that dominant performances are ahead for Johnson.
▪ Manny Bowen played like a bat out of hell from the get-go. The junior linebacker had three tackles on the Zips’ first drive, finishing the game with five total and 0.5 tackles for loss.
But his biggest hit came on a non-tackle.
Akron quarterback Tommy Woodson flipped a swing pass out to running back Warren Ball — and Penn State’s starting outside linebacker was there to meet him. As Ball turned to get upfield, Bowen popped him.
The New Jersey native let him get away, but Ryan Buchholz — who also had a hell of a day — cleaned up the play and forced a fumble.
Buchholz deserves a lot of credit for jarring the ball loose, but it Bowen’s quick reaction that set it up.
▪ McSorley didn’t have to prove he could still tuck and run. But the quarterback’s re-established role in Penn State’s running game was a welcomed sight for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
The redshirt junior recorded 12 rushing attempts for 48 yards, including a four-yard score.
That total doesn’t seem like much; fellow Heisman contender and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson tallied 107 rushing yards with ease this weekend.
But 32 of McSorley’s yards came on the Nittany Lions’ opening drive. The first offensive play of Penn State’s season was a seven-yard designed draw; McSorley bolted for a 15-yard gain on third down; and the Virginia native got loose for a 10-yard dash up the middle.
Oddly enough, we haven’t seen that side of McSorley in quite some time. He had six rushes for 13 yards in the Rose Bowl, six attempts for negative-20 yards in the Big Ten title game and 13 yards on 10 totes against Michigan State.
McSorley’s 48 rushing yards was a bigger deal than many might think.
▪ DaeSean Hamilton wrapped up the opener with a respectable statline: three catches for 74 yards, second-most on the team.
But it could’ve been so much more. Hamilton was targeted seven times — and while the weather probably played a factor, the senior dropped a couple.
Early in the first quarter, Hamilton was open on a seven-yard route across the middle but started looking upfield before securing the catch. Later in the first half, Hamilton let a 21-yard touchdown pass slip through his fingers.
Again, the conditions were poor, and he created better separation than last year.
But Hamilton knows he’s got to come down with those.
▪ Ayron Monroe, who lost the starting job at strong safety to Troy Apke in fall camp, wasn’t featured at all on Saturday. Backups Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor saw the field — but not Monroe, who was dressed.
Whether it’s an injury or disciplinary action, not seeing Monroe was cause for concern.
▪ The weather was pretty crappy, huh? A lot of ponchos in those seats.
But yeah, Penn State beat a MAC opponent by 52. Nothing too ugly out there.