Penn State Dismantles Akron

Penn State dominated Akron as the Nittany Lions went over, around, and through the Zips on their way to a 48-10 win in the season opener. The Lions ended the suspense early by jumping out to a 41-3 halftime lead before cruising home with the victory.

The Penn State faithful turned out on a beautiful late summer afternoon in State College to see what kind of team it had this year. Many were skeptical following losing seasons in three of the past four years.

The Blue and White Nation was rewarded early - and repeatedly - by a squad hell bent on executing it's game plan to perfection.

This off season marked the movement of long time assistant Fran Ganter to an admin post in the athletics department and the hiring of Galen Hall as his replacement. Many fans were wondering if it would make any difference at all. And what about the defense? Those questions needed to be asked as well.

It all came together for this squad on Saturday.

Penn State scored on all 6 of it's first half possessions and on it's first possession of the 2nd half as well en route to a commanding 48-3 lead. The domination of the Akron Zips was complete and total in virtually all aspects of the game.

Zack Mills rushed for 22 yards while completing 9 of 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Mills engineered touchdowns passing the ball, running the ball, and even catching the ball to become the first player in the Paterno era to complete that trifecta in one game.

Michael Robinson ran the ball 4 times for 16 yards and completed 3 of 4 passes for 42 yards, including one touchdown pass to Mills. But his presence may have been felt most blocking for the tailbacks and catching the ball. Lining up often in the slot or flanked outside, Robinson caught 3 passes for 35 yards and looked pretty solid in that role. In addition to his pass catching efforts, M Rob helped spring Tony Hunt on a 77 yard touchdown run on the 2nd play from scrimmage with a key block downfield.

Speaking of Hunt, all he did was put in what might have been a game MVP effort with 137 yards and that long early touchdown on only 8 carries. Hunt ran very hard and very tough and appeared to have some very good speed as well.

As well as Tony Hunt ran, Austin Scott wasn't far behind. All he did was rack up 116 yards on 11 carries, including a 50+ yard run from scrimmage early in the 2nd half.

Third string tailback Rodney Kinlaw, not to be outdone, accounted for 50 yards on 7 carries running behind 2nd and 3rd string linemen. Kinlaw, the cousin of former PSU great Courtney Brown, looked very quick in the process.

The truth is, the blocking was so crisp on Saturday that the running backs had some great holes to run through. The first unit of Levi Brown, Charles Rush, EZ Smith, Tyler Reed and Andrew Richardson so thoroughly dominated Akron at the line of scrimmage that things got easy for all of the skill players.

The line opened holes so big and wide that the backs were thru them and barely touched into the secondary often. And when the backs were confronted near the line of scrimmage, they often found ways to get by would be tacklers. This offensive line looks to me to be the best we have had here since the group that played in 1994.

And what about the passing game?

Well, for starters, the receivers caught everything in the pre game warm ups. That alone is a huge upgrade from last year when they couldn't even catch the ball when going undefended in pre game warm-ups.

Then they pretty much caught everything during the game. And they even caught balls where they had to make adjustments to make the reception. Sounds sort of like saying "Hey, they actually looked like major college football players", and to some extent that's what I am saying. But to those that have suffered the past few years, they'll take it.

Mike Robinson is a tough rugged pass target when he flanks out. He's a guy you have a hard time envisioning any corner trying to keep pinned down at the line of scrimmage.

Gerald Smith looked very sure handed and played with lots of wiggle on his way to 4 receptions for 48 yards. Several receivers caught one pass apiece, the most prolific reception of them being an O.J. McDuffie impersonation turned in by Terrance Phillips on a 17 yard touchdown reception where he had to leap into the air while twisting his body around to catch the ball between two defenders.

Penn State went up and down the field so quickly at times that you overheard otherwise cautious fans utter the unmentionable. The one word comparison that evokes the sensory nerves of Penn State fans far and wide.

1994.

Now, lest I be accused of placing the cart before the horse here, let's just call this for what it is - fans becoming overly excited after a long hibernation from the elite environs of the college football world.

But that's what happens to fans when they see their team do pretty much anything it wants to do with an opponent. This Penn State team so over matched Akron that they could have named their score Saturday. It looked to me that if they wanted to put a 70 spot on the score board they could have done it.

While I can't suggest the defense played quite as well as the offense did, the signs of improvement were obvious.

Facing an elite college QB and sure fire high draft pick next April in Charlie Frey, Penn State played very well defensively.

Because Penn State was up big early, it allowed the Nits the luxury of giving Frey all the dinks and dump offs he wanted on the short underneath routes. Penn State took pretty much everything else away from him though.

Akron was able to get only 72 yards rushing on 31 attempts Saturday as the Penn State front seven was just far too fast for the Zips. Akron was returning 4 of 5 starting linemen from an offense that scored over 40 points a game last year, but they were totally torn apart by the Penn State run defense.

Tamba Hali and Matt Rice started at defensive end while Lavon Chisley rotated in and out during the first half of play. Ed Johnson, Scott Paxson and Jay Alford all rotated at the interior line spots.

Tim Shaw started at MLB with Derek Wake on the strong side and Paul Posluzny on the weak side. Dan Connor rotated in frequently to sub for Wake on the strong side.

The starting corners were Allen Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips with Andy Guman and Cal Lowry between them manning the safety spots.

The front four completely tied up the Akron offensive line, thus freeing up the linebackers and secondary to flow to the ball. And quickly flow they did.

On top of stuffing the run, the front seven pressure Frey mightily every time he tried to throw the ball downfield on any deeper route. It became apparent early on that he wasn;t going to be given a lot of time to do much of anything except throw short and underneath.

Twice he attempted to throw deep and twice he was rushed. Both passes were picked off by Anwar Phillips.

And while Penn State pretty much gave him the underneath routes, they punished the WR's with big hits. And Penn State eventually either stopped Akron short or just took the ball from them.

Asked why he didn't throw downfield more often, Frey responded "Penn State's defense was on the job today. They looked real good and fast."

Coach Paterno spoke about Frey and the Penn State defensive plan.

"He (Frey) made some great throws. He was under an awful lot of pressure. I think all we wanted to do was don't let him have any easy ones. Stay and keep the ball in front of us. …We just wanted to make them go a long way. I thought the offense kind of dominated the way we couple play defensively, because we never really gave them good field position to start. So they had to come a long way."

Akron wound up with 295 total yards, but roughly half of that total came in junk time. The truth is, the Penn State defense was very quick Saturday and they pretty much limited what Frey and his Akron team mates could do.

Aside from a few stellar plays, Paul Posluzny probably had the quietest day of the PSU linebackers. Tim Shaw had 9 tackles and true freshman Dan Connor had 5 tackles, including one for loss. Allen Zemaitis had 9 tackles to lead the secondary, and most of those tackles were of the bone rattling variety. I'm not sure why Akron even threw at Zemaitis given the punishment he was handing out.

Early in the third quarter they started to empty the bench. True freshmen like TE Jordan Lyons and DT Elijah Robinson saw action. Chris Ganter saw a series or two under center. The second and even third units saw action on the offensive line. Multiple fullbacks and WR's entered the game. The entire second unit on defense played as well.

With roughly 6 minutes to play Anthony Morelli entered the game.

We all know this kid is special, but few expected to see him play this year. He looked very good firing his trademark tight spirals at the pass targets. He threw a perfect pass to Terrell Golden at the flag on the west sideline of the south end zone that was deflected at the last second by an Akron d back.

Folks, this kid is our future at QB.

After the game in a long summation, Coach Paterno addressed the media regarding Morelli.

"I think Morelli is a really good prospect and I think that playing Zack and Robinson the way we are playing them, and I like Chris Ganter. I always have liked Chris Ganter. I think if we got in a jam that Chris can handle it. But I think that Morelli's got a little something special. He can throw the football. He's got a little stronger arm than Chris. And I think he just needs to play so that if we got into some kind of jam. If our wideouts come along and they continue to get better, then probably the move with Morelli may not have been the smart thing to do, because then we could move Robinson back into quarterback. Right now, Robinson and Mills have to be on the field. If something happened to Zack, I'm not sure what route I'd go. Whether I'd just put Robinson underneath and just play with the wideouts. Or whether I would try to stick somebody like Chris in there, and put Robinson in and out like we're doing. I don't know. We think we have a couple of things we like that we can do with two quarterbacks in there. One of them being Robinson, of course. And I'm not sure I'd want to give up on some of that stuff if something happened to Zack."

Translation - we probably need Mike Robinson at WR right now, and he's probably better off there in the long run too. Because Robinson and Mills are going to both be on the field most of the time, one of them might get injured, then what? Given how good Morelli is, we may need to be playing him at quarterback sooner rather than later.

That's what I took from the coach's comments.

Paterno spoke about expectations following a game like this one.

"I can't get excited about one win. I don't know whether we are good or bad. We got to see. We got to get better. We're certainly not good enough to handle some of the teams we have on the schedule now. The quality of our team isn't good enough right now for us to figure that we're good enough. We just have to keep practicing hard, working hard and see what happens."

Coach Paterno is right.

We don't know how good we are just yet. We don't know what will happen when the blockers try to handle a guy like Boston College DE Mathias Kiwanuka. We don't know what to expect when we face the daunting task of stopping the Minnesota running game. And we don't know how the team will even react coming out of the tunnel in the Horseshoe.

So relax.

Enjoy the sweet smell of victory.

Be optimistic and be proud to be a Penn Stater again. Things are looking a whole lot brighter right now, even if we can't fully see into the future.


Recruiting Tidbits

Harriton High School All American Defensive Tackle Callahan Bright paid a visit to Happy Valley for the Akron game. We'll get in touch to see what he thinks about Penn State.

St. Joe's Prep LB Steve Quinn has narrowed his choices to Notre Dame and Penn State. He'll decide later this month. Stay tuned on that.

Finally, a new leader has emerged for Coney Island New York native Nyan Boateng, one of the nation's most highly sought after WR prospects with offers from almost everyone. The new leader? Penn State!

Yes, things are definitely looking brighter. I might even have to put on a pair of blue and white shades!

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