While Penn State was not expected to have any trouble with Akron on Saturday, the Nittany Lions soundly took care of business against the Zips in their first game of the season.
Even against an inferior opponent, we were able to learn a lot about the PSU football team from this game.
The game in itself was really a tale of two halves: the first, in which Penn State dominated, and the second half, where Penn State went through the motions.
The good news for Nittany Lions fans is that PSU got off to a great start right away. The first possessions were perfect in nearly every facet of the game.
After a holding penalty set the Lions back on the kickoff, quarterback Daryll Clark completed all three of his passes, and running back Evan Royster carried three times for 12 yards, the last carry putting PSU into the end zone for a quick first score.
After the touchdown, kicker Collin Wagner put through the extra point and then boomed his kickoff well into the end zone for a touchback.
The Penn State defense then notched two straight tackles in the backfield before forcing an incomplete pass from Akron on 3rd-and-17.
The rest of the first half continued in much of the same way. The PSU offense put up 31 points on the board, and the PSU defense kept Akron from getting anywhere close to the end zone. In fact, the Akron offense was unable to even muster a positive yardage total against the Nittany Lions defense in the first half.
In contrast, Penn State was unable to get much of any results out of the second half. While rotating in several bench players, the Lions left a lot of their starters in for much of the second half to try to get some extra work in. But PSU was actually outscored and shut out by the Zips in the second half.
The offense looked incapable of running the ball at times, and Clark forced several throws into tight coverage. The defense was still able to shut down the Akron offense for the most part but showed some vulnerability in the secondary down the field.
Maybe Penn State became complacent with their first half performance and did not put as much effort into the second half. Maybe the coaching staff wanted to work on plays that are weaker areas for the team, knowing the results might not be optimal. Maybe the Lions were worried about running up the scoreboard and showing up the opposition.
Whatever the reason for the second half performance, it will not be a good habit for PSU to get into while they play two more weaker teams before a big matchup with Iowa.
Hopefully the Lions will be able to draw from their first half performance only in the next few games and eliminate the sloppy play while they can afford to against lesser opponents.
Nevertheless, even for the entire game there were many PSU players that put up big numbers.
Clark finished 29 of 40 for 353 yards and three touchdowns. The only blemish on his performance was one interception and a sack. Clark's game was good enough to earn him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for week one.
Royster garnered only 61 yards rushing on 14 carries but did notch the only rushing touchdown of the game for the Nittany Lions.
Receivers Derek Moye, Chaz Powell, and Graham Zug each recorded a touchdown reception and were the top three in receiving yards on the game. Moye was the most impressive of the group, pulling in 138 yards on six receptions.
Linebacker Sean Lee looked impressive in his first game since returning from an injury that kept him out for all of last season. Lee recorded seven tackles, including two for a loss.
Lee was PSU's second leading tackler on the game, trailing only backup linebacker Nate Stupar. Stupar, a sophomore local product from State College Area High School, notched 12 tackles in an impressive bid for more playing time.
One question mark for the game was new kicker Collin Wagner. Wagner was impressive in kickoffs and had a good-looking pooch punt that ended up rolling just into the end zone, but was only one of three on field goals. Wagner missed a 49-yarder wide of the uprights and also shanked a much shorter kick.
The results could just be from nerves in his first career start, but hopefully Wagner can get on track in the next few games.
The Nittany Lions now will get back to work and prepare for Syracuse and former Duke basketball point guard Greg Paulus next Saturday. While the Lions established that their passing attack will be a formidable force this season, look for them to get their running game more on schedule this week too.
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