Kevin Kelly converted on a 49-yard field goal with 9:51 remaining in the second quarter to get Penn State on the scoreboard, starting four consecutive Nittany Lion scoring drives after a poor start in a 37-3 win over Youngstown State in front of 104, 954 people at Beaver Stadium Saturday.
The kick was big for Kelly and the Lions. Following three botched field goal snaps or holds in the first two games of the season, PSU replaced long snapper Jay Alford with Pat Weber and holder Jason Ganter with Kevin Suhey.
At first the adjustments had the same result. Kelly shanked his first field goal try, a 30-yard attempt, on Penn State's third drive before redeeming himself just over six minutes later. The 49-yarder was Kelly's career long.
It's a good thing that the offense and defense stayed in the game after the first field goal, Kelly said. That's a crushing blow sometimes.
Penn State appeared to have great field position on its next drive, when Derrick Williams broke a long punt return into YSU territory. But an illegal block penalty pushed the Lions back to their own 24. But the penalty made little difference.
On the next play, A.J. Wallace took a pitch on a reverse from running back Tony Hunt, blazing 76 yards for Penn State's first touchdown. It reinvigorated a crowd that had been relatively silenced by a sluggish start against an overmatched opponent.
Penn State would score on all four drives of the second quarter, adding an 11-yard touchdown run by Hunt and another Kelly field goal for a 20-0 halftime lead.
The Lions' defense played solid throughout, allowing just a field goal on Youngstown State's opening drive of the second half.
Leading the defensive onslaught was senior linebacker Paul Posluszny. He had a team-best eight tackles and he also forced an interception.
As he planted Youngstown State quarterback Tom Zetts along the Penn State sideline, the rushed pass was picked off by sophomore Anthony Scirrotto, his second theft of the season and the third of his career.
Posluszny's performance answered those who said the knee injury he sustained during last year's Orange Bowl was hindering his play, or that he was failing to adjust after moving from outside linebacker to an inside spot.
"The more and more we practice and get to play, the more comfortable I'm going to be, Posluszny said. I think it's going to take some time to be completely at home, but every day I get a little bit more comfortable with it."
Part of that comfort comes from a new knee brace. Though he said he feels he can play without it, the trainers feel he should wear it a while longer. In Saturday's game, he played with a different brace than the first two games of the season and said it felt more natural than the one that it replaced.
Posluszny's pressure and Scirrotto's pick set up Hunt's touchdown run with 1:56 left in the half.
Hunt, meanwhile, surpassed the 100-yard plateau for the first time this year on his 16th carry of the afternoon. He had 18 carries for 151 yards overall. It was the eighth 100-yard day of his career.
It was a good ice-breaker, a good thing to do, Hunt said. It's only the third game and I think we'll do good running the ball. Last week we did a good job we'll be fine.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno said unless Hunt is hurt, running back Austin Scott will likely redshirt this season. That bumps junior Rodney Kinlaw from third to second string. Kinlaw rushed for 86 yards on six carries Saturday.
The Lions gained 389 yards on the ground overall but the passing game was off. Quarterback Anthony Morelli struggled, completing just 11 of 27 passes. On special teams, other than a 50-yard kickoff return from Kinlaw and the three field goals from Kelly, the unit was sub par against the Division I-AA opponent.
Two long punt returns by Williams were brought due to illegal blocks and Kelly missed three field goal attempts, all from inside 40 yards.
Sloppy, but I think we made progress in some areas, Paterno said when asked for his feelings on the game.
Concerns about sandwiching a Division I-AA opponent between games against Notre Dame and Ohio State were squashed both by Paterno and his players.
They're a bunch of grown men out there," Hunt said. A win's a win.