PSU got the break in the form of undermanned and un-athletic UMass at Beaver Stadium Saturday. The Lions used a four-touchdown, second-quarter explosion to take a 34-0 lead and cruised to an easy 48-7 victory to improve to a conference best 4-0 on the season. Northwestern comes visiting for Homecoming next week.
The Minutemen fell to 0-4.
The most valuable aspect is that we were able to get a bunch of guys reps, PSU coach James Franklin said afterward. We were able to play those (backups), and they were able to learn and grow from it. Being able to get our starters out of the game and keep them healthy and keep them fresh is important, as well.
Here is how things played out Saturday.
MAN OF THE HOUR: RB Bill Belton scored Penn State's first two TDs on carries of 24 and 20 yards. He also handed off to Akeel Lynch on Lynch's third-quarter score. Belton had seven carries for 76 yards and two TDs on the day.
CLOSE SECOND: A collective nod to the offensive line. Sure, UMass is not very good. But the front five needed a good game and got the job done Saturday. Penn State ran the ball 45 times for 228 yards and five touchdowns.
CLOSE THIRD: PSU subbed liberally on defense so there were no eye-popping numbers. But LB Mike Hull personified the performance of the entire unit with six tackles and a forced fumble.
TURNING POINT: UMass had a kind of impressive seven-play, 41-yard drive on its first offensive possession. But Blake Lucas pushed a 39-yard field-goal attempt right, costing the Minutemen a chance at an early 3-0 lead.
SOLID STRATEGY: As noted earlier, Penn State's offensive line needed a confidence boost, so it was smart for the staff to focus on the running game in the first half. Things finally began to pop in the second quarter when the Lions scored four rushing TDs. For the game, PSU threw 32 times and rushed 45.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State had a total of 227 rushing yards through three games. In the first half Saturday, the Lions rushed for 149 yards. As noted, they had 228 in the game, and that was with playing subs most of the second half.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: K Sam Ficken got the Lions on the board early with field goals of 42 and 40 yards. He also had five touchbacks on six first-half kickoffs.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
PSU QB Christian Hackenberg being erratic in the first half for a second-straight game. He completed only 11 of 22 passes in the first 30 minutes.
Penn State with some very soft tackling early in the game. Yes, we are nitpicking here. But that sort of thing can have a much greater negative impact against the better teams on the schedule.
HIDDEN HERO: How about the effort by walk-on QB D.J. Crook, who saw his first college action in relief of Hackenberg and connected on 6 of 9 passes for 57 yards and a score. More on this later.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Lynch had eight carries for 81 yards and a score, including a career-long 46-yarder tote. What a weapon for a third-teamer.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Crook replaced Hackenberg at QB in the third quarter. In case you missed it, PSU is hoping to redshirt true freshmen backups Trace McSorley and Michael O'Connor, which is why the walk-on got second-team reps.
The heavy wrap Hamilton wore on his right knee for the Rutgers game was gone.
Derek Dowrey replaced Brian Gaia as Penn State's starter at RG. It marked the first start of his career. Gaia, who appeared to sustain some sort of leg injury vs. Rutgers, did not play in the game but Franklin (who does not discuss injuries) said he will be back for Northwestern.
Former Lion (and State College native) Alex Kenney had an 18-yard end-around on UMass' first offensive snap. Kenney also carried to open the second half, gaining four yards. They were his only two touches of the day.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: At 4-0, how long will it take the Lions to get the two more wins needed to be bowl eligible?