Jury Still Out on Young Nittany Lions

Tim KingCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - OCTOBER 27: Head Coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions walks among his players during warmups before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium on October 27, 2007 in University Park, Pennsylvania. Ohio State won 37-17. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
The beauty of scheduling a cupcake for your opening game is that your school makes a ton of money and your fans get to watch their favorite team beat the daylights out of someone. The downside is that when the smoke clears you often don't have any better picture of what kind of team you have than you did before the opening kickoff.
Such is the case with Joe Paterno's latest band of Nittany Lions. Their 31-7 win over Akron Saturday was deceptive on several levels. The Lions pounded the Zips far worse than the scoreboard indicated. Akron didn't record a first down until well into the third quarter and their lone touchdown came on busted defensive coverage with the second string secondary in the game.
Quarterback Darryl Clark threw for 254 yards in the first half alone and then spent much of the second half mis-firing here, there and everywhere.  His newly rebuilt offensive line gave up only one sack all day and his new corps of wide receivers ran through and around Akron defenders at will all day. 
Yes, Saturday could have been far worse. Penn State did not find itself in overtime on the road as did Minnesota, or defending a two-point conversion against Navy with the reputation of the program on the line as did Ohio State, but the Lions fell asleep offensively in the second half and that should have 82-year-old Paterno a bit worried.  He knows that it will never get easier than Saturday and knows that some of his kids haven't learned that lesson just yet.
One real concern that appeared Saturday was in the kicking game. God help Paterno if Colin Wagner is going to be the difference in a critical game. The red shirt junior kicker missed a pair of field goals that were more than makeable and his kickoffs were nothing to write home about. From a program that has produced the Bahr brothers, Robbie Gould and Kevin Kelly much more is expected. That all world recruit Anthony Fera out of Texas couldn't beat Wagner out could have even more long term implications for this season and beyond.
At his Tuesday press conference Paterno whipped out his standard line that "good teams improve the most between their first and second games of the year and we're a good football team." If this team really does improve that much and can stay awake for 60 minutes Saturday could be a nightmare for the Orange. If not, Lion fans might be seeing ghosts a month before Halloween.