Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The magic of Christian Hackenberg.

From the very second he committed to Penn State in February of 2012 the expectations for Christian Hackenberg were extremely high. As the top rated pro-style quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class fans thought of Hack as a quarterback capable of taking Penn State Football to the next level. So far, he has not disappointed.

The true sophomore quarterback has started all 15 games Penn State has played since he stepped on campus in the summer of 2013. The Nittany Lions are 10-5 in those games, and Hackenberg is the biggest reason why. Hackenberg already holds the school record for most career games with 300+ passing yard (7) as well as the single game passing record (454 yards). He is already one of just 10 quarterbacks in school history with at least 4,000 career passing yards (4,037) and he's got at least 21 more career games under center for the Nittany Lions.

Hackenberg has also proven he can come through in the clutch. It all started last year against Michigan. In front of a sold out crowd under the lights at Beaver Stadium he marched the Nittany Lions the length of the field with less than a minute to go in the game to tie it, and then went on to defeat the Wolverines in 43-40 in a 4 overtime thriller. he would do it again a few weeks later against Illinois, leading a drive that culminated in a game tying field goal with a little over a minute to go. The Nittany Lions would go on to win the game 20-17 in overtime.

Already this year he has led the Nittany Lions to two last minute come from behind victories, including last week at Rutgers in front of a hostile crowd. Last week's showing was extra impressive since the Nittany Lions had done nothing on offense all game. Yet Hackenberg still managed to march the team 81 yards to take a 13-10 lead with 1:49 to go in the game. Despite the fact Penn State's offense had sputtered all night, I for one had zero doubt in my mind that when Hack was handed the ball down 4 with 3:19 to go that he was going to win the game. With Hack under center, anytime the Nittany Lions are in a close game in the 4th quarter I have zero doubt that he will find a way to win the game.

Last season Hackenberg was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. Through three games this season he leads the Big Ten in passing yards (1,082) and total offense (1,103 yards). He is the clear cut early front runner for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

Akron coach Terry Bowden may have put it best when asked about Hackenberg before the Zips' matchup with Penn State last week. When asked how they planned to stop Hackenberg he said that there is truly no way to gameplan for a quarterback that good. That is an extremely high compliment to get from any coach. Especially a coach the quality of Terry Bowden, who has a defensive coordinator as good as Chuck Amato.

Despite terrible offensive line play through the first three weeks this season, Hackenberg has continually showed great pocket presence. He has endured one hit after another, as well as having already been sacked double digit times. Five alone against Rutgers. Yes, Hackenberg has the tendency to make throws he shouldn't resulting in interceptions. But this is something he can, and will, improve with more maturity and experience. Hackenberg has the arm to make any throw in football, this arm allows him to take chances most quarterbacks can't. When you combine that arm strength, his ability to endure hits, the risks he takes and often gets away with throwing the ball, and his clutch gene watching Christian Hackenberg reminds me a lot of Brett Favre. Also, much like Favre, Hackenberg is not the most mobile guy in the world but is a good enough athlete to avoid defenders in the backfield and can run for yards when the opportunity presents itself.

Now that the postseason ban has been lifted, Hackenberg has the chance to really do something special at Penn State. This team could easily win 9 or 10 games this season and find themselves in a very good bowl game. If they are able to upset Ohio State and Michigan State, both of which are at home, or even just one of the two the Nittany Lions could end up winning the Big Ten East and going to the conference championship game. He will enter next season as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, and if he continues to improve and play great, paired with Penn State winning ball games, a Heisman Trophy is not out of the question. Especially since people around the country are starting to realize that Hack is simply one of the best.

Hackenberg is well on his way to being a first round draft pick in the NFL Draft. Odds are he will leave after next season when he is draft eligible. There's also a very good shot that Hack will be the first quarterback off the board, whenever he enters the draft. He could easily end up a consensus top 5 draft pick by the time his playing days at Penn State are over.

Christian Hackenberg is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The scary part is he will only continue to improve, as he is just a 19 year old true sophomore. We are quickly learning that as long as #14 is under center the Nittany Lions will have a chance at victory each week. Hackenberg is an extremely special quarterback, he is one that this generation of Nittany Lion fans will always be telling future generations about. Hack is going to go down as one of the best players in Penn State history, and before it is all said and done will most likely be the greatest quarterback in school history. Sit back and enjoy it folks, because Christian Hackenberg is going to win a lot more football games at Penn State before his time is up.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Previewing Penn State vs Umass.

What: Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0) vs Umass Minutemen (0-3)
When: Saturday, September 20th, 2014, 4pm on the Big Ten Network.
Where: Beaver Stadium State College, Pennsylvania.

Last week the Nittany Lions won their Big Ten opener in thrilling fashion. They went into a hostile environment in Piscataway and defeated Rutgers 13-10 on a last minute Bill Belton touchdown run. This came after Christian Hackenberg led a drive to pick up a come from behind win for the second time in three weeks. With the win Penn State got to 3-0 for the first time since 2009, and James Franklin became the first Penn State head coach to win the first 3 games of his Penn State career since Bob Higgins in 1930. This team still has issues that need fixed. Primarily the offensive line. But Umass is a good team to work on issues like that against. This week should be a breeze for the Nittany Lions.

The Minutemen come in at 0-3. Last week they lost to Vanderbilt 34-31 after leading 24-7 in the second quarter. The Minutemen have allowed 105 points in their first three games, an average of 35 points per game. This ranks 104th nationally. Despite scoring 31 points last week, they still rank 91st nationally in points per game (25.3). They are also 80th in passing offense (224 yards per game) and 119th in rushing offense (81 yards per game). Penn State's defense has been dominate through three games ranking in the top 10 nationally in points, yards, passing yards, and rushing yards allowed. Coach Shoop's group has got to be licking their chops this week.

On offense Umass is led by senior quarterback Blake Frohnapfel. This season Frohnapfel has completed just 48.9% of his passes for 619 yards, he has 5 touchdowns to go along with 2 interceptions. Their leading rushers are junior Jamal Wilson (20 carries, 88 yards, 1 TD), and freshman J.T. Blyden (20 carries, 68 yards). Penn State defensive line should dominate the line of scrimmage Saturday and stuff the Umass rushing attack without much trouble. Junior tight end Rodney Mills (6'1, 215 pounds) could cause matchup problems. Evident by him averaging over 20 yards per catch this season. However, he has just 5 receptions but 3 have been for touchdowns. Mike Hull, Brandon Bell, or one of the safeties should be able to neutralize Mills without too much trouble.

Umass has no one on their offensive line capable of containing players like Anthony Zettel and Deion Barnes. I look for Penn State's defensive linemen to control the line of scrimmage, and live in the backfield Saturday afternoon. We also could see a lot of playing time for some younger guys this Saturday since this game should be in the bag early on. Garrett Sickels, Gary Wooten, and Parker Cothren are all guys that may see more reps than usual. Same for senior Brad Barrs. It is always nice to get players like this plying time in blowouts, incase they are needed down the line due to things such as injury. I don't want to put the cart ahead of the horse here, but this game has no business even being close.

Tajae Sharpe

Umass' best wide receiver is 6'4, 200 pound junior Tajae Sharpe. This season Sharpe has caught 15 passes for 246 yards, and 1 touchdown. Any wide receiver that is 6'4 can be tough to cover. But with one of the Big Ten's best at cornerback in Jordan Lucas, the Nittany Lions should be able to prevent Sharpe from burning them.

What I want to see most Saturday is improved play from the offensive line. Umass has one of the worst, if not the worst, front sevens Penn State will see all year. There is no reason this offensive can't begin to build some confidence this weekend while giving Hack plenty of time to throw, and opening up lanes for the running backs. I also want to see those running backs (Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, and Akeel Lynch) play better. I realize a lot of their struggles can be chalked up to poor line play, but it is time one of them takes this running back jump by the throat and makes it theirs. Penn State needs their rushing attack to improve, or else they could be in trouble when they get into the teeth of their conference schedule and play teams like Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State.

The offensive line is in a good position to take some real steps forward these next few weeks. They play two very poor defenses in Umass and Northwestern, then have a bye week, go to Ann Arbor to play a mediocre Michigan defense, then have another bye week before the Buckeyes come to town. Also, none of these next three opponents have a defensive lineman that jumps out at you as one that can be a game changer and really disrupt things like Rutgers has in Darius Hamilton. This line is young, and will improve as the season goes on. How much they improve however is what remains to be seen. With enough improvement, Penn State could easily be a 9 win club this season.
This game Saturday should be no contest. The Nittany Lions are 28 1/2 point favorites for a reason. However, Penn State can not get stuck overlooking Umass. If they do that, they may end up in dog fight they do not want to be in. This is the worst team Penn State will play all season. The Nittany Lions dominate this one from start to finish, and cruise to a 4-0 record.
Penn State 35
Umass 3

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Penn State 13, Rutgers 10. The good, not so good, and other notes.

Last night Penn State welcomed Rutgers to the Big Ten by picking up a 13-10 victory in Piscataway. This game was not pretty, and Penn State probably should have lost. The offensive line is still a mess and needs to improve immensely. However what matters right now is Penn State has played 3 games and won them all.

This was a very gratifying victory for me, for a lot of reasons. Honestly, it was probably the best win for me since Wisconsin in 2012. Even if it was just Rutgers. It was a great night to be a fan of 'that team from Pennsylvania.' There's a lot of things the Nittany Lions need to sure up before the schedule really starts to stiffen with Michigan in a few weeks. But for now, it's time to enjoy being 3-0.

The Good
Christian Hackenberg
He just does it all. Last night Hack was given the ball with 3 minutes left, 81 yards to march, and down 4. He marched the Nittany Lions down the field and into the end zone for the 13-10 victory. He once again threw for over 300 yards, and has in all three games this season and in four straight games going back to last year's season finale at Wisconsin. He did this last night despite continued terrible offensive line play, and a rash of penalties by the offense that did nothing but cause Penn State to shoot themselves in the foot. We are quickly learning that as long as #14 is under center, Penn State is going to have a chance.

The Defense
Coach Bob Shoop's unit was dominate again on Saturday night. There is zero way the Nittany Lions win last night without the defensive performance they got. They forced 5 turnovers, held Rutgers to just 10 points, and surrendered just 3 first downs and 70 yards in the second half. Through three games the Nittany Lions have allowed just 295 rushing yards, and have not allowed 300 yards of total offense in a game yet. This defense has been a complete 180 from what we saw a year ago. Anthony Zettel, Mike Hull, Jordan Lucas, and Deion Barnes have all looked like all-conference performers so far. Trevor Williams is bursting onto the scene as a pretty good cornerback. Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman keep improving. This defense is fast, physical, they swarm to the ball, and they are fun to watch. If the defense continues to play the way it has, Penn State will be in every game they play this season. No matter how much the offense struggles.

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Anthony Zettel
Zettel looked like a man amongst boys once again last night. He dominate on the line scrimmage, was constantly in the backfield, and made it a long night for Gary Nova and the Rutgers offense. Last night Zettel recorded 3 tackles for a loss, half of his tackles this season have been a tackle for a loss. The move to defensive tackle has proven to be a great move for Zettel. Through three games Zettel leads the Big Ten with 2.33 tackles for a loss per game, this puts Zettel fourth nationally in this category. If these first three games are any indication, he could find himself as a first team all-conference player come season's end.

Halftime Adjustments

Penn State's offense did nothing in the first half and was getting shut out at halftime. Then in the second half the offense woke up. The gained 271 yards, 13 first downs, scored all 13 points, and had the ball for 18:29 in the second half. The offensive line also played better in the second half, and that played a big role in this. However offensive coordinator John Donovan also deserves a lot of credit for this. The adjustments he made at halftime worked brilliantly.

The Not So Good

Offensive Line

This is becoming like a broken record. The offensive line was a mess again Saturday night. Christian Hackenberg was sacked 6 times and hardly ever had time to set his feet when looking to throw. Penn State also allowed Rutgers to block and field goal and a punt. Furthermore, Penn State only mustered 64 yards rushing Saturday night. This coming against a Rutgers' defense that gave up nearly 300 yards rushing to Howard a week ago. There were times on Saturday when the line looked like they had no idea what to do. On some plays there were guys running into each other, and seemed to have their blocking schemes very messed up. There were also some extremely costly holding penalties called on the offensive line Saturday night. The offensive line absolutely has to play better, period. Donovan Smith has had a fine season thus far, but the rest of the line has been an absolute mess. This can not continue. Coach Herb Hand certainly has his work cut out for him.

Running Backs
I realize the messy offensive line has not helped this group out at all, but they are better than this. Saturday night Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch combined for 41 yards on 18 carries. That is horrible. One of these three need to step up and grab the position by the throat. Penn State needs to get a rushing game established when they head into conference play. A big step in that direction would be for Zwinak, Belton, or Lynch to step up and grab the position by the throat and, no pun intended, run with it.

On Saturday night penalties reared their ugly head once again for Penn State. The Nittany Lions only had 5 penalties, but they were costly. One called back a Jesse James touchdown, and one called back a play that would have set up a first and goal. The Nittany Lions have gotten a lot better since week one with the penalties, but they must continue to work to clean this up.

Special Teams
Penn State had a punt and a field goal blocked Saturday night, luckily neither came back to burn them. The blocked punt gave Rutgers a short field, but the Nittany Lions' defense wouldn't let Rutgers capitalize on it. There was also that pooch punt disaster with Hack. After the game Franklin said they should have taken a timeout there. That is a designed play where Hack throws it if the defense comes out in man coverage, and is supposed to punt if they are in zone. Rutgers was indeed in zone, Hack did indeed punt the ball, and it wnet horribly.

Other Notes
- Christian Hackenberg now holds the school record for career games with 300+ yards passing, and he's still got at least 21 more games as a Nittany Lion.
- Hack leads the Big Ten in passing yards (360.7 yards per game) and total offense (367.7 yards per game).
- More Hack goodness, he is now the 10th QB in school history to have 4,000 career passing yards.
- This is the first time since 2009 Penn State has started 3-0.
- Coach Franklin is the first Penn State coach since Bob Higgins in 1930 to start 3-0.
- Penn State leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (12.3 points per game) and ranking 11th nationally. They are also 2nd in the Big Ten and 7th nationally in rush defense (68.3 yards per game).

Monday, September 8, 2014

The sanctions are over.

In July of 2012 the NCAA dropped massive sanctions on the Penn State football program. A 4 year postseason ban, and a loss of 20 scholarships per year. Some people said PSU was done. Some said it was 'worse than the death penalty.' Well guess what, we are back!

Today the NCAA announced the sanctions are over effective immediately. Meaning Penn State can participate in postseason play this year. They also can be back at the full allotment of 85 scholarships starting in 2015. Really, PSU never went away. Despite massive odds against them, the Nittany Lions went 17-9 while playing under the sanctions. Including three wins over top 25 opponents.

Coach Franklin has already done an unreal job in recruiting, just imagine how he'll do now. Also, what BOB did can not be overlooked. Without his guidance, who knows where this program would be right now. I am thankful for what he did, and every PSU fan should be too. Oh and hey Mr. Emmert, and please excuse my language, go screw yourself. You tried to kill this football program, and did the complete opposite. You set in motion a series of events that has led to James Franklin awakening a sleeping giant in college football. Lookout Big Ten and, well, all of college football. Because Penn State is about to be a national power once more. What an awesome time to be a Penn Stater. WE ARE!

Previewing Penn State at Rutgers.

What: Penn State (2-0) at Rutgers (2-0).
When: Saturday, September 13th 2014, 8pm. Big Ten Network.
Where: High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey.

Through two games of the James Franklin Era the Penn State Nittany Lions are 2-0. This Saturday they will travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, to battle the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in what is the 2014 Big Ten opener for both teams. It is also the first ever Big Ten game for Rutgers.

Rutgers' two victories have come against Washingon State (41-38) and FCS Howard (38-25). The Howard showing was especially lackluster as the Bisons are a subpar FCS program. For comparison, Akron pounded Howard 41-0 week 1. Many in the Rutgers program are determined to make this series with Penn State a rivalry. Head Coach Kyle Flood referred to Penn State as 'that team from Pennsylvania,' and people at Rutgers have made 'Boarder Battle' shirts. A lot of the hatred for Penn State inside Rutgers stems from recruiting battles. Right now Penn State owns 5 of the top 10 recruits in the state of New Jersey for the 2015 recruiting class, while Rutgers owns just 1. Also, Nittany Lions' WR Saeed Blacknall was committed to Rutgers before flipping to Penn State shortly before signing day this past winter. Rutgers can try and make this a rivalry all they want, but to do so they must compete with Penn State on the field.

Paul James

Rutgers has the 2nd highest scoring offense in the Big Ten, and are 5th in total offense. To an extent that can be taken with a grain of salt though due to the poor quality of defenses they have seen so far. Penn State ranks 4th in the Big Ten in scoring defense, and 2nd in overall defense. Through two games Penn State is allowing 46.5 rushing yards per game, which is the 4th best in the nation, but they will see a tough test Saturday night. Rutgers' rushing attack is led by junior Paul James. Through two games James has 216 yards and 4 touchdowns, this comes after rushing for 881 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. James also has also caught 2 passes, a 69 yard touchdown and a 31 yard touchdown. Sophomore Desmon Peoples (19 carries, 91 yards) will also see touches. Not only does Rutgers have a good running back, but they also return all 5 starters on their offensive line from a season ago. So far Penn State's defensive line has dominated games. Anthony Zettel, Deion Barnes, Austin Johnson and the crew better be ready to go Saturday night. They are going to see a healthy dose of Paul James, and if they are able to shutdown the Rutgers' rushing attack then the Scarlet Knights will be in a lot of trouble.

At quarterback Rutgers has senior Gary Nova. So far this year Nova has complete 67.4% of his passes for 563 yards, 6 TDs, and just 1 interception. However, prior to this season Nova had completed just 54% of his 918 career attempts to go along with 39 career interceptions. Nova has had two good games to start the season, but they came against a bad Washington State defense and a bad FCS program in Howard. In my opinion Nova is not a quarterback that can put a team on his back and carry them to victory. If Penn State can stuff the rushing attack, they should be in good shape defensively Saturday night. Nova has also struggled in his career with holding the ball too long and taking sacks. The Nittany Lions' defense has been great at causing pressure and havoc through two games, if they can do it again Saturday they should be able to rack up some more sacks.

The team's leading receiver is junior Leonte Carroo who has 8 catches this season for 195 yards. Carroo is averaging 24.4 yards per reception so far, so the big play ability is there. But Rutgers still is looking for players to step up at WR. The only other player on the team with 100 yards receiving is Paul James who only has two catches, and both came last week against Howard. The next highest player in receptions is Janarion Grant whose got 7 catches, but is averaging just 8 yards per reception. Jordan Lucas should have a good game Saturday night trying to help shutdown the Rutgers' passing attack. The WR core of Rutgers is a very good matchup for Lucas, Adrian Amos, and the rest of Penn State's secondary.

Rutgers' defense sucks. They have allowed 63 points through their first two games, and have the worst total defense in the Big Ten so far. CBs Dree Boggs and Justin Goodwin are both hurting and could miss Saturday's game further adding to Rutgers problems on defense. Penn State's offense should be licking their chops. Christian Hackenberg had a down game against Akron, but I believe he'll have a big bounceback performance Saturday night. Especially considering Rutgers has allowed 700 yards passing through their first two games, including 532 against Washington State week 1. I expect Hack, Jesse James, DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis and the boys to have a huge game Saturday night. The offensive line must do better is pass protection though. Rutgers has a good pass rusher in defensive end Darius Hamilton who had 12 sacks a year ago. Penn State can not allow Hamilton, or anyone else, to pressure Hack on a regular basis Saturday night.

It is crucial however that Penn State begins to get their running game going this week. Against Akron their rushing attack was much better in the second half than it was against UCF or in the first half against Akron. It is vital that they are able to run the ball well from start to finish this week. In my opinion the best way to do this is by getting Akeel Lynch, who averaged over 6 yards per carry last week, more touches. No matter how good your quarterback is, if you become a one dimensional football team you make an opposing defense's job much easier. You want some good news on the rushing game? Rutgers' rush defense is not good. Last week against Howard the Scarlet Knights allowed 269 rushing yards and couldn't tackle anyone. I look for, and expect, Penn State to exploit this on Saturday. Yes, Penn State has struggled running the ball so far this season. But I can guarantee you that Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch, and Zach Zwinak are all much better than any running backs Howard has. Also, Penn State's offensive line is a hell of a lot better than Howard's. There is zero reason as to why the Nittany Lions can't get the running game going early on Saturday night.This is the perfect game to improve upon the 2.7 yards per carry the Nittany Lions are averaging this year.

The Nittany Lions must also clean up the turnovers. They are -5 in the turnover ratio so far this year, that needs to change as they begin conference play. No team can continue to turn the ball over and make mistake like that without it eventually costing them a football game. Hack needs to avoid trying to force throws into coverage this week.

For Penn State the key to defeated Rutgers Saturday night will be stopping the Scarlet Knights' rushing attack. Through two games Bob Shoop's defense has allowed just 93 rushing yards, but they will get their stiffest test yet this Saturday. Rutgers has a very good, physical running back in Paul James to go along with an experienced offensive line. Gary Nova is off to a good start this season, but he is not a quarterback who jumps out at you as one that can throw the ball all over the field to defeat you. If Rutgers can not run the ball Saturday night, they will be in a lot of trouble. Coach Franklin said he wanted to 'Dominate the State' in recruiting when he got hired. Not only has he done that, but he has also dominated the Garden State in recruiting. Now it is time to, in my best Kyle Flood impersonation, dominate the team from the Garden State.
Penn State 34
Rutgers 24

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Penn State 21, Akron 3. The good, not so good, and other notes.

Today James Franklin and the Nittany Lions had their home opener, and dispatched of Akron 21-3 to improve to 2-0 on the year. The win was not pretty, but a win is a win. All that matters right now is Penn State is 2-0 heading into their conference opener next Saturday at Rutgers. There are things they need to work on, especially on offense, but like I said right now all that matters is they have played two games and won them both.

The Good

The Defense

For a second straight week Penn State's defense was outstanding. They held Akron to just 277 yards of total offense and 3 points. They were once again top notch against the run allowing just 69 rushing yards. They also did a good job when put in bad positions again. Akron had a drive start inside Penn State territory due to a fumble, and the defense gave up just a field goal on that drive. Bob Shoop's defense has been great through two games. A very pleasant change from the defense a year ago. They have been flying all over the field, stuffing the run, making plays, and have played well in the secondary. Maybe most importantly they have stiffened up in the red zone. Akron reached the red zone three times today resulting in a field goal, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs. Rutgers will test that rush defense next week, but I feel they Nittany Lions will be up to the challenge.

Defensive Line
For a second straight week the defensive line was outstanding. Stopping the run all starts with the defensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, which the Nittany Lions have now done two weeks in a row. Anthony Zettel had another big game and looked unblockable, Deion Barnes was pressuring Kyle Pohl all game long, and backups such as Carl Nassib and Parker Cothren also had strong games. Zettel and CJ Olaniyan combined to stuff a 4th and 1 with 9:23 to go when Penn State was up just 14-3. Penn State has a talented and deep defensive line, and it appears to be one of the team's strengths so far this season.

Chris Gulla
Punter Chris Gulla had 5 punts today and averaged 48.8 yards per punt. He also pinned the Zips inside their own 20 three times. He was also helped out by some great punt coverage by his teammates. A good punter can be a great weapon for a team to have, and Gulla was just that today.

Akeel Lynch
In the second half today Penn State's offensive line began to wear Akron down and they finally got a bit of a rushing attack going. A big part of this was Akeel Lynch. Even though he carried the ball just 7 times, he had 45 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. He especially excelled in wildcat packages. As readers of the blog know I might be Akeel Lynch's biggest fan. He is the best all around running back on the team in my opinion, and should get the bulk of the carries. Hopefully today he showed the coaching staff he deserves more touches.

The Not So Good

Hack's Decision Making

Once again today Hack made some pretty head scratching throws. He threw a pair of interceptions both coming on throws he tried to force into coverage, one of which was badly underthrown. Both also came in the red zone costing the Nittany Lions points. Hack still threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, but his decision making must improve. The most discouraging thing about this was that he made plenty of bad throws when he had good protection and was not rushed at all. Today may have been the worst game I have ever seen him play. He can not keep trying to force balls into coverage. Luckily, decision making is something a quarterback can easily work on. He, obviously, has all the talent in the world but he needs to cut down on the mental mistakes. If not, it will cost the Nittany Lions a game at some point.

The Offensive Line/Running Game
Penn State finished the game with 109 yards rushing, which is subpar, and had just 29 yards rushing in the first half. Early on the pass protection was good, but it deteriorated as the game went on. The offensive line play must improve vastly, starting next week against Rutgers. Penn State has got talent at running back with Lynch, Belton, and Zwinak but without an offensive line you can not run the ball. Penn State must start running the ball better as they get into conference play, and that all begins with the offensive line playing better.

The Nittany Lions turned the ball over 3 more times today. They are now -5 in the turnover ratio this season, that is not good. It is very difficult to win football games if you are turning the ball over. Christian Hackenberg threw a pair of interceptions, and they also lost a fumble. Albeit the fumble was a freak thing where Angelo Mangiro snapped the ball while DaeSean Hamilton was still going in motion and the ball clanked off of Hamilton. The must clean up the turnovers moving forward.

Other Notes
- Today was Christian Hackenberg's 6th career game with at least 300 yards passing which ties Matt McGloin's school record. Needless to say Hack will shatter this record. He also moved into 10th place on Penn State's career passing yards list.
- Parker Cothren played a strong game and recorded his first career sack today.
- Brenden Mahon appears to have won the job as the starting left guard, he was there over Derek Dowrey all day.
- Through two games, the defense has allowed just 93 rushing yards.
- True freshman Grant Haley who had a good game returning kicks last week saw a lot of time in the secondary today, this goes with Coach Franklin saying after the game that they need to start using more players to avoid fatigue late in games. That is one place the sanctions really burn.
- The attendance today was 97,354, which was 4,491 more then last year's home opener vs Eastern Michigan.
- Next week Penn State kicks off conference play when they play under the lights at Rutgers at 8pm in Rutgers' first ever Big Ten game.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Previewing Penn State vs Akron

This past Saturday the Nittany Lions kicked off the James Franklin Era in thrilling fashion. Penn State defeated UCF 26-24 in the Croke Park Classic with a field goal by Sam Ficken as the clock expired. It was a game the Nittany Lions could have, and quite honestly should have, won much easier. They outgained UCF 511 yard to just 246 yards on offense. However, in the end Christian Hackenberg was able to march the Nittany Lions down the field in the last 1:13 to get into field goal range and allow Ficken to kick the Nittany Lions to victory.

Penn State is 1-0, and that is what is important after one game. They do however have things to work on after their week 1 victory. First off, the offensive line needs to play better. Last week Hack was constantly under pressure when dropping back to pass and the Nittany Lions were only able to rush for 57 yard. The line is young and inexperienced and should improve each week. That is something to look for this week. Secondly, they need to not be as sloppy. Last week Penn State had over 90 yards in penalties including three personal foul penalties. Two of these personal fouls extended UCF drives that had been stopped. This can not continue, especially when the Nittany Lions get into conference play or else it will burn them. Finally, Penn State must also clean up the turnovers. Hack threw two interceptions on ill-advised throws, and was lucky he did not have one or two more, and the Nittany Lions also lost a fumble. This can not continue.

This Saturday’s game should be much easier for Penn State. They will host the Akron Zips in their home opener, and the first ever home game for Coach Franklin. Penn State is an 18 point favorite this Saturday. Akron comes in at 1-0 after a 41-0 victory over Howard last week. But Howard is a lackluster FCS program, and Akron is not exactly a world beater in the FBS. This game should provide as a good week for the Nittany Lions to work on cleaning up some of the mistakes of a week ago.

Kyle Pohl

Akron runs a spread offense and is led by Kyle Pohl at quarterback. Last week vs Howard Pohl threw for 304 yards and a career high 4 touchdowns. The Zips returned 14 starters between offense and defense this season, however they have had three consecutive 1-11 seasons before going 5-7 a year ago. They do have a top notch coaching staff with head coach Terry Bowden and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato.

Pohl is in his third year as the starting quarterback, and the Zips also have their top running back from a year ago back. Jawon Chisholm rushed for nearly 1,000 yards a year ago, however Chisholm was only able to muster 21 yards on 9 carries a week ago. This may partially be chalked up to the fact that the Zips returned just two starters on their offensive line from a year ago. As we saw last week, the Nittany Lions have a pretty good defensive line led by Anthony Zettel and Deion Barnes. This is an area where Penn State has a massive advantage on Saturday. I look for Penn State’s defensive line to have a banner game again this Saturday.

On defense the Zips have 7 starters back from a year ago. They are led by linebackers Jatavis Brown and Justin March, both of whom had over 100 tackles a year ago. Akron lost both their starting defensive tackles from a year ago. So they have a young defensive line, the complete opposite of what Penn State saw last week. UCF’s defensive line is much deeper and more talented than Akron’s. So I feel safe saying Penn State’s offensive line will play much better this Saturday. I’ll be shocked if Penn State struggled running the ball and with protection that much again this week, and if they do I’ll be close to panicking about this offensive line.

The Zips also lost 2 of 4 starters in the secondary. So Hack has got to be licking his chops. This defense allowed 29 points and 400 yards per game last year, neither of which are very good. However, Chuck Amato is a hell of a defensive coordinator and they have 7 returning starters. They also pitched a shutout last week, albeit that shutout came against Howard. Akron’s defense should be better this year, but I don’t think Penn State will have an issue scoring points this week. One area Penn State must be careful on Saturday is the turnovers. Last season Akron forced 27 turnovers. Penn State can not afford to turn the ball over 3 times again this week, and Hack can not continue to try and force throws into coverage as he did a week ago.

Akron returns a lot of players from a year ago. They have a good quarterback in Kyle Pohl, and a very good coaching staff. Their coaching staff is one of the best in the nation that is not in a power 5 conference. This team will not just come into Beaver Stadium and lay down Saturday. They came damn close to defeating Michigan in the Big House a year ago. However, Penn State’s talent is too much for Akron. This game could be close through the first half, but the Nittany Lions will win it comfortably and get to 2-0.
Penn State 34
Akron 14