Penn State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Virginia

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2012

Penn State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Virginia

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    Penn State's loss to Ohio University in Week 1 was heartbreaking for Nittany Lion fans, but it wasn't the upset that most people make it out to be.

    The Nittany Lions will try to mend that disappointment in Week 2 against the Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavaliers enter the game 1-0 after beating Richmond 43-19 in their season opener.

    Penn State is one of this year's most scrutinized teams, and that attention will only increase with every loss it incurs. If the Nittany Lions want to avoid an 0-2 start this year, five things need to happen.

    Let's take a look at what Penn State needs to do to defeat the Cavaliers in Week 2.

Air It out

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    Richmond threw for 238 yards against the Cavaliers in Week 1, and the Nittany Lions should improve on that effort.

    Matt McGloin wasn't the issue in the season opener, and he will try to build on that in Penn State's second game. The QB threw for 260 yards against Ohio. McGloin threw two touchdowns and was extremely poised in the pocket.

    The Nittany Lions must attack Virginia's secondary from every angle. The Cavaliers won't give up many yards on the ground, so Penn State must take advantage otherwise.

Keep the Defense Honest

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    Derek Day will start for Penn State in place of Bill Belton, and he must keep the Cavaliers defense honest in Week 2.

    Day lacks Belton's explosive qualities, but he's solid. He hits the hole, and he runs hard north to south.

    The Penn State offensive line must make space for Day. Belton was able to create his own room because of his elusiveness, but Day will require space to maneuver.

    Look for the Nittany Lions to throw the ball, but they won't win behind a one-dimensional offense. Day must keep the defense on the line of scrimmage, allowing Matt McGloin to air it out.

Keep an Eye on Tim Smith

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    Tim Smith had six catches for 96 yards in Week 1, and he will be Virginia QB Mike Rocco's top target against the Nittany Lions.

    Last year, Smith averaged just more than 17 yards per catch. He's undersized, but his quickness could give the Nittany Lions problems.

    Penn State struggled against the pass in Week 1, giving up 324 yards through the air. Smith is capable of doing damage underneath, but his speed also will stretch the field.

    The Nittany Lions secondary must keep an eye on him in this one.

Force Turnovers

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    Penn State didn't force any turnovers against Ohio, and Virginia didn't commit any against Richmond, but something has to give in Week 2.

    The Nittany Lions defense can provide an extra boost by giving their offense a few extra possessions against the Cavaliers.

    Expect this game to be close; one possession could be the difference. The Nittany Lions must hunt the ball from tape to tape.

Stay Focused

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    The Nittany Lions were outscored 21-0 by Ohio in the second half, and that will result in another loss if it happens again. Football games are won in the second half, and Penn State failed to deliver.

    Head coach Bill O'Brien and his squad will not have the home crowd at their back in Week 2. Expect Scott Stadium's crowd to greet them with loud cheering in the Cavaliers' favor.

    The Nittany Lions must play 60 minutes of football to win on Saturday. If they don't, they will enter their Week 3 game against Navy looking for their first victory.