The Penn State Nittany Lions watched time tick away last week during their shocking 34-31 loss to the UCF Knights and knew that some things would have to change, and fast.
For one, the team would have to quickly forget the deflating home loss that provided the visiting Knights with one of the biggest wins in their programs history to date. They also knew that they would have to clean up various aspects of their game such as tackling, third down conversions and turnovers.
Correcting those deficiencies started early this week as coach Bill O’Brien barred the media from practice in order to help his team focus on correcting those flaws. From all indications, a spirited – and focused- week of practice according to O’Brien and his staff, have setup the Nittany Lions in prime position to rebound in a big way when they welcome the Kent State Golden Flashes (1-2) to Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
Like the Nittany Lions, the Golden Flashes are coming off of a humbling loss, a 45-13 drubbing down in the bayou against LSU. While the Tigers almost never lose home games, and a loss was to be expected, the Nittany Lions weren’t expected to go down at home against the visiting Knights. If anything, the Flashes got a glimpse of the improved talent level that they’ll face when crossing paths with Bill O’Brien’s squad.
Part of that talent level would be the improving Penn State offense, led by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. In his first three starts, Hackenberg has averaged an impressive 293 yards per game despite arriving on campus just a few weeks before the season started. Even more impressive may be the 71.4 % completion percentage in his first 92 attempts in college.
Hackenberg hasn’t been alone, though. All Big Ten receiver Allen Robinson has been back at it in 2013, racking up 23 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns in three games. The standout junior has quickly become the go-to guy for the young quarterback.
Both Hackenberg and Robinson should be licking their chops while watching film this week of a Kent State defense that has given up 41+ points in back-to-back weeks since beating FCS Liberty to start the season.
On defense, the Nittany Lions had an uncharacteristically poor performance against quarterback Blake Bortles and the Knights last week. Bortles carved up the Penn State secondary for 288 yards and three scores, and tailback Storm Johnson ran roughshot through Nittany Lion arm tackles all night long.
Despite much being made this week about the teams “THUD” tackling during practice instead of full-on to the ground tackling, the coaching staff doesn’t feel that the practice tackling drills effect players on game day. More and more programs around the country are using the THUD technique during practices in order to preserve student athletes during the week.
Regardless of how well the Penn State defense tackles, it’s unlikely that Kent State’s most explosive offensive threat -Dri Archer- will play. His absence should make like much easier for a defensive unit that had trouble stopping the big play against UCF last week.
As for Kent State’s defense, allowing 500 total yards for a second-straight week cannot be an option if they have any designs on dealing the Nittany Lions a second upset in as many weeks. While the Penn State offense doesn’t have the experience of the an LSU, it has averaged more than 450 total yards per game this season and boasts great balance between the passing and running game.
Look for the Nittany Lions to establish Zach Zwinak and the running game early to allow for easier throws for Hackenberg. Also look for Penn State to get out to a faster start than they’ve had so far in three games, as playing from behind is not what O’Brien and company want to do with a young quarterback.
Seeing as how the Kent State defense has had problems stopping any type of offense so far in 2013, expect some fireworks from the Nittany Lion offense in this one. Penn State wins this one going away, 31-10.