Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Syracuse
We’re just one day away from the start of the 2013 season. Bill O’Brien is entering his second season opener as Penn State’s head coach. A new starting quarterback — either Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson — will take his first snap on Saturday afternoon. The Nittany Lions are playing at an NFL stadium — the home of the New York Jets and New York Giants — starting at 3:30 p.m. against the Syracuse Orange. Let’s see what our writers think about tomorrow’s contest.
Penn State 27, Syracuse 20
Cuse has a very solid offense, with two strong running backs and a good passing attack despite not yet naming a starting quarterback. But on the other side of the ball, Penn State has a very promising defense that looks good both in the secondary and the front seven — highlighted by a group of linebackers that are poised to represent the Linebacker U moniker very well this season. Cuse will beat the Nittany Lions’ defense a couple times, but they’ll hold them to a pair of touchdowns and a pair of field goals.
Christian Hackenberg will take the first snap on offense for Penn State and end the suspenseful wait for a starting quarterback. He’ll struggle for a series or two as he adjusts from high school football to playing for Penn State in an NFL stadium. But Hack and Penn State’s strong receiving/tight end corps will make some magic on Saturday. Oh, and Zach Zwinak will pick up the slack and score two touchdowns to Hackenberg’s one. Penn State comes out victorious and helps the fans forget the nightmare that was last year’s Ohio opener.
24 Penn State, 13 Syracuse
Both of these teams are similar on offense in terms of how they are constructed: very uncertain QB situation, solid o-line and what I anticipate will be a strong emphasis on the running game. The biggest difference is on the outside, where Penn State has a major edge in terms of WR’s and TE’s.
The big difference between these two teams is on defense. Penn State’s front seven is much, much better than Syracuse’s, and I would argue that Penn State’s secondary is better than Cuse’s, no matter how much uncertainty there is at CB.
Also worth mentioning: Syracuse had a major overhaul of their coaching staff after DC Scott Shafer was named head coach. Penn State’s coaching staff has been together for the most part aside from a minor change or two. I think this game is ugly due to the young QB’s, but Penn State is ultimately the more talented, better coached team.
Penn State 27, Syracuse 16
Penn State played well in every game away from Beaver Stadium last season, scoring first in four of those five contests, and that should continue tomorrow. Both teams will be breaking in new quarterbacks, but Syracuse also has a first-year head coach patrolling the sidelines as former defensive coordinator Scott Shafer takes over for offensive guru Doug Marrone. In addition to a talent edge, this should give the Nittany Lions an advantage.
Christian Hackenberg gets the start under center and finds Jesse James for the first passing touchdown of his collegiate career. Despite being third on the depth chart, Akeel Lynch announces his presence with a big game on the ground. Penn State’s young cornerbacks will be tested, but John Butler’s defense puts the game away late in the fourth quarter with an interception.
Penn State 20, Syracuse 14
I think Penn State takes this by less than a touchdown. With both teams dealing with inexperienced quarterback play, I’d expect finding the end zone to be a struggle, especially early, but I have more faith in Penn State’s front than Syracuse’s OL. Allen Robinson should be able to take advantage of Cuse’s defense and Sam Ficken should fare better than early last season, which will benefit Penn State down the stretch. Expect Christian Hackenberg to start and play well enough to notch his first win in the Blue and White.
Penn State 24, Syracuse 10
Hack is the starting quarterback. Being a true freshmen quarterback he’s going to be nervous. Expect O’Brien to rely on his stable of running backs early on, led by Zach Zwinak. O’Brien has already said both quarterbacks will play, but don’t expect either to throw any bombs. Instead O’Brien will keep it simple with short high percentage throws.
On defense don’t be surprised if our young corners get burned early on. As nerves start to settle expect the solid play we’re accustomed to with Penn State defenses.
Penn State 27, Syracuse 10
With both teams playing two quarterbacks, this game will be won in the trenches. Our experienced offensive line goes up against a defensive line replacing three starters, and their offensive line has to handle the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes. If Barnes and the front four can slow Orange RBs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, it should be a long day for the ACC’s newest member. Look for Christian Hackenberg to start, Zach Zwinak to rush for 120 yards, and Penn State to win big.
Penn State 24, Syracuse 14
Hack starts. A-Rob starts where he left off: kicking ass, taking names, and bringing in 100+ yards. Obeng-Agyapong and Carson give their home crowd something extra to cheer for with a handful of solo tackles. Ficken gives us the extra cushion.
Penn State 31, Syracuse 20
Penn State enters this season with lots of questions swirling regarding the starting QB, CB, and LB depth among others. After Penn State opts to take the ball to start off the game, Bill O’Brien answers the burning OB question and sends Christian Hackenberg in to lead the offense. After a quick 3-and-out, with an obviously nervous Hackenberg missing his first two throws, the defense comes out to set the tempo and show who will control the game.
Deion Barnes stuffs ‘Cuse in the backfield right off the bat, leading to an early exit for the Syracuse offense. Hackenberg rights the ship with a bomb down the sideline to Allen Robinson for the first score. Penn State’s aerial attack gets set to cruise control, with Zwinak and Belton keeping the defense honest. With a dominant second half on both sides of the ball, Penn state put the cherry on top of this one and leave the Meadowlands without a blemish on the record, and a lot of silenced skeptics.
Penn State 17, Syracuse 10
I expect the game to be fairly close, but Penn State should pull this out in the end. The main concern going into the game is clearly the QB issue, as O’Brien has two very inexperienced QBs to choose from. Because of this, don’t be surprised if both Belton and Zwinak have huge games. Syracuse has had QB issues of its own as of late, so expect the Penn State defense to eat them alive. If either HackenbergF or Ferguson can play turnover-free football, I’d imagine Penn State leaves MetLife 1-0 on the season.