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

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2012

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

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    The Bill O'Brien era hasn't started off as planned. Now, at 0-2, the Penn State Nittany Lions will look for their first victory of the season against Navy in Week 3.

    It hasn't been all bad for O'Brien's squad. Matt McGloin has been much better than expected, the defense has been consistent in spurts and Allen Robinson has emerged as a No. 1 target.

    However, they are 0-2 for a reason. Simple mistakes and the inability to finish the game have dampened Penn State's season.

    The Midshipmen provide ample opportunity to turn things around, but Penn State still has to show up and play their game.

    Let's take a look at five keys against Navy this week.

Find Allen Robinson Early and Often

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    Allen Robinson dropped a few catchable passes against Virginia in Week 2, but he's been a major bright spot for Bill O'Brien's offense so far this season.

    Only a sophomore, the lanky 6'3'' target has shown possession and vertical qualities. He's fast enough to get behind the defense, but his ever-improving route running makes him a threat underneath as well.

    He has 19 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown in two games. Matt McGloin has an obvious rapport with him, and that should only improve against Navy's shoddy secondary.

    O'Brien needs to get Robinson involved early in this game. Sending him deep a few times will open up Penn State's run game and could very well result in an easy score.

Contain the Midshipmen's Ground Game

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    Penn State is giving up about 100 yards per game on the ground so far this season. Navy's No. 71 ranked rushing offense doesn't strike fear into anyone, but their scheme does.

    No one is used to defending against the option attack besides the scout teams that practice against it every day. It can catch teams by surprise if they don't come focused and ready to play.

    Navy quarterback Trey Miller will make all of their decisions. He will decide whether to keep it, hand it to Noah Copeland or find Gee Gee Greene out of the backfield. Prentice Christian and others will also be in the mix.

    Penn State must account for everyone in the Midshipmen backfield, and they must be disciplined in their assignments.

    If they do, there's no reason Navy scores.

Break a Few Big Runs

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    3.3 yards.

    That's what the Nittany Lions are averaging per carry so far this season, and that's not going to cut it.

    Their two longest runs—of 19 and 15 yards—have come from linebacker Glenn Carson, on a fake punt, and backup quarterback Steven Bench.

    That has to change. Penn State football has always relied on its running game, and that couldn't be more necessary now.

    Bill Belton and Derek Day are both questionable for Saturday's game, according to Guy Cipriano and Travis Johnson of the Centre Daily Times. That leaves Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak as the remaining ball carriers.

    Dukes is the better option of the two. He's experienced, and he's carried the ball 10 times for 30 yards this season.

    Matt McGloin has been solid this year, but a one-dimensional offense won't get you very far. Penn State must break a few big runs against Navy on Saturday.

Get the Crowd into the Game Early

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    The Nittany Lions will have Beaver Stadium's support on Saturday, and they must use it to their advantage.

    Beaver Stadium is one of college football's truest "12th man" environments. Fans will be eager to witness their team's first victory, and they will do their best to make that possible.

    Penn State must get the crowd into the game early. It could come from a big defensive stop, or it could come from an early touchdown, but something big must happen before the first quarter draws to a close.

    No one in Happy Valley wants to see an 0-3 start. The players must ease the fans' minds by showing some positive signs early on.

Make Field Goals

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    I hate to beat a dead horse, but this is simple. The Nittany Lions must cash in on easy opportunities and that includes the kicking game.

    Sam Ficken was 1-of-5 last week, including a miss on the potential game-winner. Now, with Matt Marcincin's transfer (via ESPN.com), Ficken is the only option.

    This game shouldn't come down to field goals, but you never know. Penn State's placekicker must exorcise some demons in this game, even if it's just for his confidence moving forward.