Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's battle against the University of Massachusetts. The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing. The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football. Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
MH: Well, the Lions managed to grab another last minute victory, showing some resiliency to the tons of Lion fans who made the trek east. Now they look to UMass and the opportunity to move to 4-0 and take another step towards bowl qualification.
ND: After an emotional, exciting win in the Garden State, the Lions return to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium with a matchup against the UMass Minutemen. We’ll see if the Lions have a letdown after the big win over Rutgers or if Coach James Franklin has the kids focused on this week’s task – to go 1-0 this week.
Who: UMass vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, September 20th at 4:00 pm ET, 1:00 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: First Meeting
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: PSU favored by 30
MH: Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects of the Nittany Lions heading into the UMass clash.
GOOD RECEPTION: Penn Stat’s air attack had concerns with finding one receiver to replace Allen Robinson. Well, they’ve found two in Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton. Both young gun receivers are at the top of several categories in the Big Ten and Lewis is No. 5 in receiving yards nationally and Hamilton is No. 13. Both have also proven to be impressive deep threats. UMass’ secondary will have their hands full trying to keep track of both targets. By the way, both WRs are now late additions to the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
TURN, TURN, TURN: Through the first two games, Penn State was horrid when it came to turnovers, with Hackenberg tossing four interceptions in the two contests. Although the sophomore signal caller did throw the ball away to Rutgers once, the secondary grabbed an incredible five interceptions. If they can start winning the turnover battle and converting those opportunities this team could really become a force in the Big Ten.
POWER LINE: Penn State’s defensive line has been instrumental in creating opportunities and locking down the redzone. Anthony Zettel and the line lead the Big Ten’s best scoring defense and have shown a propensity to disrupt the pocket and blow up plays. In fact, Zettel is the only defensive Nittany Lion who has been a Player of the Game candidate in all three contest so far this season, and won the honor for his Rutgers performance from PSU fans.
LINE UP: On the other side, the emerging offensive line had bouts of struggle against Rutgers, but when the chips were down, the line buckled down and got consistent protection for Hackenberg and opened up some solid lanes for Bill Belton. This UMass clash will have the line focusing on consistency and confidence as they try to get that run game going early and often.
PRIMARY SECONDARY: Heading into Rutgers there were certainly concerns around aspects of the secondary. Trevor Williams, who had many of these concerned pinned on him, had a coming out party with two interceptions, which landed him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. He was much more sharp and fluid in his coverage. The question now is can he pick up there and make it every down consistency.
ND: In this section, I will review this week’s opponent, the UMass Minutemen.
S.O.S on the S.O.S.: Give UMass every bit of credit for the job that they have done scheduling opponents. Though they face an uphill battle to get bowl eligible, the administration at UMass has taken full advantage of moving to the FBS by scheduling tough opponents that will help fill their stadium and that will help them get a nice paycheck when on the road. UMass has already faced Boston College, Colorado and Vanderbilt. By facing 3 teams in the 5 Power Conferences, UMass will not be overwhelmed by the size and speed of Penn State. That will allow them to get settled in faster and help them compete in this game.
3 IF BY AIR: Offensively, UMass leans heavily on the passing game. Senior QB Blake Frohnapfel, who is a transfer from Marshall, is as tall and as strong as they come. UMass uses many formations and constantly has guys in motion try to get the matchup that they want. Frohnapfel distributes the ball well and is expected to get rid of the ball very quickly in this offense. That scheme proved to be problematic for the Lions against UCF and Akron. Expect more of that same approach this week.
SHARPE ROUTES: Tajae Sharpe leads the Minutemen in receiving. He is a tall kid with excellent hands a very good speed. He leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. He is the deep threat for the Minutemen.
MILLER TIME: The other kid that is having a good year is Rodney Miller. He is an undersized TE that is used more like an H-Back. Though his big play came off of a fake punt, he has some real speed despite his broad upper body. Coach Mark Whipple likes to use him around the goal line because of the matchup problems he creates with his big size but excellent speed.
DEFENSIVE RETREAT: The Minutemen employ a 3-4 defensive scheme but often have four guys with their hand in the dirt. They will even have 7 guys on the line of scrimmage to force the opposing offensive line to guess who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage. Regardless, UMass is struggling against the run in a big way. They are yielding 218.0 yards per game and those are coming straight up the middle. The UMass linebackers are big but are slow to react and pursue.
KICKED OUT: UMass has struggled all year in the kicking game and that came to a head against Vanderbilt when a missed FG prevented an overtime session. UMass is one of the worst in the country in Net Punting with a paltry 30.67average. Kicker Blake Lucas is only 2 of 4 for kicks this year with a long of 34 yards. As a result, this week, Coach Mark Whipple fired special teams coordinator and inside linebacker coach, Ted Daisher earlier this week.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: Penn State has come out quick, get the run game going and create the opportunity to get some younger guys some quality reps. They can’t come out flat and disinterested. This is a game where they need to play tough and try to work some kinks out of the run game particularly and probably shore up some things on special teams.
ND: The UMass defense won’t pose much of a challenge for the Lions but they also need to get much better at converting 3rd downs in the opponents territory and scoring TDs instead of kicking FGs. The Lions need to score TDs and put UMass out of the picture before halftime.
MH: The Lions have a chance to work out some running game kinks and get some reps for the backup quarterbacks. They can't take this game lightly, but if the focus and execute it should be an opportunity to build some confidence and work on some experience depth.
Penn State 37, UMass 12
ND: The UMass passing game will allow them to move the ball but the defense will prevent too many points yet again. The offense will focus on the running game, which will hit its stride, but will trigger less scoring than Las Vegas is expecting.
Penn State 30, UMass 13
Until next time,
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