KICKING OFF MH: This a classic game. We saw some unexpected highs, like the young receiving corp stepping up with Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton and lows, like with the stagnant running game. The Nittany Lions now return home for James Franklin’s first game in Beaver Stadium. ND: Release the Ficken! What an amazing finish to a great game. The Lions were able to start out the season with a win and get off to a strong start. Meanwhile, Akron jumped on Howard early in the game and cruised to an easy 41-0 win. But, the competition changes a bit this week.
DIRTY DETAILS Who: Akron vs. Penn State When: Saturday, September 6th at 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 am PT Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA Series: Penn State leads 4-0 TV: ABC/ESPN2 Line:PSU favored by 14.5
PSU Playbook MH: Let’s take a look at the Nittany Lions as they head home to face Akron. PASSING JUDGEMENT: It was a record day for Penn State’s pass attack as Christian Hackenberg broke PSU’s single-game passing record with his 454 yards, set by Zack Mills in 2002. Freshman DaeSean Hamilton also broke Deon Butler’s freshman single-game receiving record. However, the passing game was not without issues; Hackenberg tossed two ill-advised interceptions, which the Lions had to overcome. Protecting the ball will be key from here on out. LINE UP: Coach Hand deserves a good amount of credit for getting a record-day performance to what amounted to a cobbled together offensive line. However, the line had a series of missed assignments that led to struggles opening up lanes for the run game. Granted, they were facing a veteran defense, but it’s another issue the Lions have focused on this week to improve. D ONE: Penn State’s defensive front shut down the UCF running attack, allowing only 24 rushing yards. The front seven, led by DT Anthony Zettel, looked swarming at times. The defensive ends, will have to get more pressure as the season progresses, but overall the front looks to be a solid asset for the defense. SECONDARY THOUGHTS: The secondary gave up some big plays in the second half and will have to tighten things up in coverages. The good news is that the defensive backs seemed to ditch the old school cushion coverage and played fairly aggressive throughout the contest. Akron passed for 400 yards this past weekend, so there is little doubt they will be looking to exploit the breaks in PSU’s secondary. KICK IT: While Sam Ficken gets praised heaped on him for going four for four on field goals and two for two on extra points, I think what may be more critical to his development for Penn State is his leg strength on kickoffs. He put the ball deep several times, including on his last attempt for a touchback. This gives a big advantage in the critical battle for field position.
Zipping Around ND: In this section, I will review this week’s opponent, the Akron Zips. DADGUMMIT: After taking a hiatus from coaching, Terry Bowden, the son of legendary Bobby Bowden, landed in Akron to resurrect the Zips. This is his 3rd season and they have not improved as many had thought. He is 7-18 with the Zips but many are looking to this year to be a big improvement considering some of the returning talent. POHL POSITION: Junior Kyle Pohl leads the Akron offense, which operates in the pistol and goes with an up-tempo and no-huddle style. Pohl has been largely underwhelming but he was very precise in the opener tallying over 300 yards. The offense relies on slants, quick outs and then taking advantage of cheating DBs by hitting hosts and fly patterns. Pohl is also mobile and is a threat when he tucks the ball. MAC ATTACK: The Zips return almost all of their key skill position players. This is an offense that does not run much but when they do, they will rely on Jawon Chisholm, who was the team’s Offensive MVP last year. At the WR position, the Zips are very deep and very talented. Mykel Traylor-Bennett had two scores en route to a four reception and 82 yard receiving day. Fransolhn Bickley is a slot receiver that is very dangerous and Zach D’Orazio is a steady, sure-handed option. BUCKING THE TREND: While most 4-star defensive lineman are trying to get to Ohio State, Se’Von Pittman left the Buckeyes to finish his career at his hometown school of Akron. He is a tall, athletic defensive tackle that will create issues for the Penn State offensive line. Despite the experience of this defensive line, they were pushed around by Howard leaving some pretty big holes for the Bison backs to exploit. This will be an interesting matchup overall for the Lions. RETURN POLICY: The coverage team woes for the Lions has been well documented and will surely be a focus this week. The Zips use two very fast and experienced guys on their return teams. LT Smith, who is also a WR, returns kicks while WR Imani Davis is an electric punt returner. The Lions will have to stay in their lanes to contain both of these guys.
KEYS TO THE GAME MH: The key on offense for PSU will be ball protection, the Lions have to play their game and protect the ball. I expect to see a focus on getting the run game going early. On defense, PSU has to get pressure on the pocket to rush throws, cause breakdowns and create opportunities. ND: Penn State has struggled against teams that have experienced QBs and WRs when utilizing a fast-paced, quick strike passing attack. The bend-but-not-break defense will be in full display on Saturday. The ability of Penn State’s corners to get up on the Akron receivers and push them off of their line will be key to the defensive approach.
PREDICTIONSMH: Akron has some weapons that will test aspects of Penn State, but the athleticism and overall skill of the Nittany Lions should be too much for the Zips. Penn State 30, Akron 13 ND: Akron has some nice pieces on their offense but defensive coordinator and former NC State coach, Chuck Amato, has a porous defense that Christian Hackenberg and the running game will exploit with ease. Penn State 34, Akron 17
Until next time, Fight On State!