Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
GAME PREVIEW: Penn State vs. Akron
ND: With the amount of reporting that FOS provides during the off-season, it seems to make the spring and summer layoff go so much faster. So, here were are again at the start of another season. The Lions get to ease into the season with a game against the Akron Zips. It should be a good challenge for the secondary and it will provide the young players with some much anticipated experience.
MH: Wow, can you believe that this is our 14th season of the Blitz? The off- and preseason have had a lot of developments with some young guys like Kevin Newsome, Gerald Hodges and Devon Smith turning heads and some interesting scheme shifts. The team's leadership has been pointed at as a major asset, but beyond the captains Sean Lee and Daryll Clark. Guys like Jared Odrick, Brett Brackett, Stefen Wisniewski, Navorro Bowman and Evan Royster give this team a nice foundation to build from in terms of talent and leadership.
Who: Akron at No. 9 Penn State
When: September 5th at 12pm ET and 9am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 3-0
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 27.5 points
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: While the Lions have a nice warmup this week, the Hokies are jumping right into the season with both feet. VA Tech is expected to win the ACC while Alabama has the inside track on the SEC East. This is a great matchup of 2 teams that will be vying for a BCS game at the end of the season. I really like Alabama in this game with their stout defense. I'm also not sure VA Tech has a replacement Darren Evans, the great running back that set records last year as a freshman and who tore up his knee. Frank Beamer will hope that Ryan Williams can fit the bill but I don't see the Hokies running on the Bama D.
MH: There are a few other interesting matchups out of the gate. No. 13 Georgia heads to No. 9 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are looking to put the Big 12 on edge and make a run with Texas and Oklahoma at the conference title. Georgia will be a good early measurement of this. Georgia has been an underachiever in recent years, but Mark Richt has some offensive weapons that could give Oklahoma State some fits. Also keep an eye on No. 20 BYU as they head to No. 3 Oklahoma. The pundits say Oklahoma will romp the cougars, but BYU looks like they could have some fight in them with an air attack that could excite.
ND: It's not much of an upset but I think Toledo is going to beat Purdue. The Boilers have an empty cabinet and I really like the Rockets from the MAC giving new coach, Danny Hope, a very rude house warming gift. I also think that Nevada is going to give the Irish some fits early on until Coach Weiss uses his so-called genius to help Notre Dame pull out the victory.
MH: Wow, not sure the Boiler you're married to will enjoy hearing that. This may surprise some folks, but I think Nevada has a solid shot to knock off No. 23 Notre Dame. Nevada may be a mystery to a lot of PSU fans, but they have s dynamic offense built around the 2008 WAC Player of the Year Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick scored a total of 39 touchdowns last season and was the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. The Irish better be awake for this one.
ND: So much has been made of the Lions' offense during this off-season. With a new receiving corp, a newly constructed offensive line and a lack of experience behind Clark at the QB position, the Lions have quite a bit to overcome? Or do they? I do not believe the Lions are in much trouble on the offensive side of the ball. The receivers are not Williams, Norwood and Butler. But, they are not a bunch of true freshmen either. Zug and Brackett have been around and Powell saw plenty of action last year too. New faces like Justin Brown and Shawney Kersey could add a little spark though.
The interior offensive line will face some heavy pressure. DT Ryan Bain is finally ready to make an impact on the Zips DL. Bain played at Iowa before transferring to Akron. But, after last year's injuries, he's finally going to see the field. He is going to really challenge Wisniewski, who moves to center, Stankiewitch and Eliades. But, the Zips were terrible on defense last year so the Lions should still be able to move the ball.
I look for the Lions to use a balanced attack with Royster and the WRs all running pretty vanilla plays to ensure that they have the basics down pat before they inject more complex plays.
MH: The biggest question for Penn State's offense is the offensive line. The Lion lost the entire weak side of the line with Gerald Cadogan, Rich Ohrnberger and A.Q. Shipley off to the NFL. Replacing them has been Dennis Landolt (who shifted from right tackle to left tackle this off-season), Matt Stankiewitch at left guard and Stefen Wisniewski at center. Given the re-construction here, the question is can these three hold the wolves (or kangaroos) at bay from Clark's weak side?
Penn State has a load of experience and talent in the backfield between Clark and Royster. Royster's vision and athleticism and Clark's arm and reads give the Lions a great air/ground attack, if the offensive line can keep Bain and company at bay. Keep an eye out for true freshman and backup quarterback Kevin Newsome. He's been working on his patience and the reliance on his arm instead of just his legs. The staff is sure to get him valuable reps against the Zips unless this is an absolute dogfight of a game.
In terms of the wideouts, the core group PSU will rely on to replace Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler (all of whom are turning heads in the NFL) is a veteran set of Brett Brackett, Graham Zug, Chaz Powell and Derek Moye. This makes up one of the largest receiving units the Lions have had in some time, with all four 6-foot-1 or taller, with Brackett topping out at 6-foot-6. This will add another dimension to the passing game. And in terms of replacing Butler's deep threat, watch for the coaches to test Powell and Moye in this regard.
As for younger guys who may see some time, Nirav you talked about Brown and Kersey, but I'll also toss in Curtis Drake and Devon Smith who are two other freshmen who could get the nod. Smith may see some return action given his high-4.2 range hand-timed 40 speed, so why not toss him in the slot? The guy took a swing pass 70 yards to the house in the last preseason scrimmage, so he can haul. I doubt you see more than two of these younger WRs see action this season unless the injury bug hits the team.
ND: Well, Mark, I said that I thought all of the attention on the offense was unfounded. But, that's not how I feel about the defense. Bradley and the other defensive coaches really have their work cut out for them this year. With Koroma gone, McEowen banged up and now Brandon Ware with a broken foot, there is not much left on the defensive line. Plus, there are nothing but newbies in the secondary. Things on the secondary will get better once AJ Wallace returns from his suspension for cutting class but until then, the secondary is very, very thin. However, the linebackers are the crème of the crop. Lee is probably having sleepless nights just waiting for the moment when he can hit someone not wearing Penn State colors. It's been a long road back for Lee but he is ready to pick right up where he left off as he chases another Big Ten title for himself as well as becoming Penn State's all-time tackle leader.
Akron brings a really good offense to Beaver Stadium. QB Chris Jacquemain will called upon to carry the heavy lifting this year since the Zips graduated Dennis Kennedy, who rushed for over 1300 yards last year. Fortunately for the Zips, Jacquemain has a 3-wide set that has a ton of experience and a ton of talent. The Lions are going to struggle with this offense since the defensive front will have a tough time getting pressure on the QB, which will allow him to use his dip-and-dunk approach to gobble yards. However, the Lions will shut down any attempt at a running attack, which should keep the Zips out of the endzone.
The Zips are going to give the Lions their best warmup for the Illinois game and the corners are going to be thrown right into fire and we'll see how they perform.
MH: Nirav, I have to disagree with your offensive line assessment. Yes, losing Koroma (to transfer) and Ware and McEowen (both to injury) hurt, but with Ollie Ogbu, Jared Odrick, Chimaeze Okoli and Devon Still, Larry Johnson has a four-set of solid tackles inside to build a rotation from. McEowen could be back in short order as well. The ends will have the likes of Jack "The Ripper" Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore and the much anticipated return of Jerome Hayes. There are questions with the inexperience, but I think the talent and speed is there to have the makings of a solid line.
The linebackers lost Michael Mauti to an ACL injury, and the off-season ravings were off the chart with FOS' practice observers. Having said that, the linebackers should be the pride of this defense with the return of Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman on the wings, and Josh Hull and Bani Gbadyu stepping in at different looks in the middle. This group is fast, aggressive and should live up to their battle-cry – reckless.
The secondary does have a series of questions. With A.J. Wallace demoted to third team corner this preseason, the starting corners have been Knowledge Timmons and sophomore D'Anton Lynn. The safeties have powerhouse hitter Drew Astorino at free safety and Nick Sukay at strong safety. Sukay has looked solid in drills, the question that remains is can he stay healthy?
This group should get tested early and often with Walt Harris orchestrating an air-attack for Akron. Watch for them to test the defensive backs, so it will be key for the defensive line to get a push and rush the decisions of Jacquemain.
ND: The Lions have a ton of question marks on special teams this year. Who is going to be the primary kicker? Who will kickoff? Who will return punts? Who will return kicks? In almost all cases, the answer will be someone that is inexperienced. We'll see if Wagner can provide any consistency in the kicking game and I really hope that Devin Smith gets some shots returning kicks. His game-changing speed could be a real asset farther down the road.
MH: Watch for Colin Wagner to be the place kicker. Paterno says he was "right behind" Kevin Kelly last year. We could see freshman Anthony Fera eventually handling kickoffs with his "monster leg." The punt return game is reportedly getting manned by Astorino and Royster. The big question is will we see freshman flash Devon Smith in kickoff returns?
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: The best matchup in this game is going to be the Akron veteran offensive line against the patched up Lions defensive line. Akron returns four starters from last year that were among the best in the conference. They will face off against a defensive line rotation that is made up of Ogbu, Odrick and a whole slew of guys that have been injured throughout their career. It should be fun to see how the Lions perform against a team that has chemistry.
MH: I am going with Akron's QB Jacquemain against the Penn State secondary. Watch for Akron to test the defensive backs early and often, so this will be a good first test for the secondary. If they can pass it will build some confidence and show fans that the secondary is solid enough to hold its own.
Keys to the Game:
ND: The Lions need to come out and execute. They need to use this game as a way to focus on fundamentals and to ensure that all units are comfortable with their assignments. The coaches need to use this game as a session to help the young players get better. In-game coaching is really key for the Lions to get ready for the Iowa game in a few weeks, which will be the first real test for this team.
MH: I think it comes down to focus. The Lions have focus on the basics and get into their game. The coaches should come out with a balanced offensive attack and spread the load out across their various weapons, Clark's arm and legs and Royster's vision.
ND: This game is not going to be a cake walk for the Lions on D. The Akron offense will be able to throw on the Lions but I don't think they'll be able to score at close range when the run defense shuts them down. The offense should be clicking pretty quick.
Penn State 48, Akron 20
MH: Impeccable leadership and solid veteran experience should lead to another impressive campaign for PSU. With some scattered question marks in the secondary, receivers and offensive line the Lions could get nipped a few times by teams that look to take some risks to exploit their issues.
Penn State 31, Akron 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!