The Penn State Nittany Lions posted a convincing, decisive win against the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday, dominating the team in all three phases en route to a 34-0 victory. Christian Hackenberg and the pass game struggled, but the run game, the defense, and the special teams unit all played great in the team’s final non-conference matchup.
Here’s what we learned about the Nittany Lions in Saturday’s game:
The defense bounced back with the first shutout since 2010.
After a poor performance last week, Penn State’s defense pitched a shutout against Kent State, the unit’s first in three years. The last one was a 24-0 win in the Rob Bolden era, also over the Golden Flashes. Kent State managed just 56 rushing yards and 134 passing yards for 190 yards of total offense. The rain has to be taken into consideration, but the Nittany Lions had no problem scoring points as they totaled 463 yards and scored four touchdowns and two field goals. Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon completed just under 50 percent of his passes and the team’s running backs averaged a very low 2.3 yards per carry.
Bill O’Brien got a little fired up at the post-game press conference when the first five or so questions were all about the offense. “You guys have to ask some defensive questions,” he said. “The defense just pitched a shutout and you guys were all over them last week. Can we get some defense questions? No? I thought the defense played a hell of a game today and I think John Butler and the defensive coaches did a hell of a job.”
“We focused on everything because last week we missed tackles, we didn’t pass rush, so we just emphasized doing everything we have to do and making our assignments,” senior defensive end C.J. Olaniyan. “After you lose, you’re a little frustrated, but we weren’t trying to do this for anybody, we were just trying to do this for the team, for our Penn State family.”
The run game can be trusted no matter what.
In sloppy, rainy games like Saturday’s you often see a run-heavy approach from both teams. Penn State ran the ball 53 times compared to 36 passes, although O’Brien admitted after the game that they should have run even more than that. Those 53 carries got the team 287 yards for a 5.4 yards per carry average.
Akeel Lynch didn’t enter the game until late in the third quarter, but he managed to leave the game as the team’s top rusher after carrying the ball 14 times for 123 yards (8.8 yards per carry). It should have been more as he broke out into the open field at one point, but apparently his pants are too big and they starting falling down.
“My pants were falling down,” Lynch said. “I have to change them, they’re a little too big. I thought I was going to the end zone. I still should’ve broken that run. [The running back rotation] is great. We feed off each other. We talk to each other and communicate with each other. It’s a very healthy relationship we have with each other.”
Christian Hackenberg will have growing pains.
And he had plenty of them on Saturday. Hackenberg had a strong first quarter in the game, but didn’t find much success at all after that. At one point in the second half, he missed on six consecutive pass attempts and was 1-for-11 after the break. He finished the game 13-for-35 passing with 176 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. That’s a 37.1 completion percentage. His average was over 70 going into the game.
“I think he had some good throws,” O’Brien said. “He had some that he’d want back. He’s probably a little frustrated tonight but that’s the mark of a fantastic player and that’s what he is. He’ll get better from this. Just like I want some play calls back, he wants some throws back.”
The offensive line is finding its rhythm.
After some shoddy play in the first two games, the offensive line has looked great for two consecutive weeks now. The unit is blocking extremely well for the run and the pass-block has improved as well.
“It says a lot about us up front whenever we’re able to push guys up front and let Zwinak, and Akeel, and Bill punch it in there,” offensive lineman Adam Gress said. “Whenever it’s rainy we run more and I like that. I love running the ball because its more physical. It’s definitely not something that halts our game.”
Sam Ficken could be an NFL kicker.
He hit a 54-yard field goal. Enough said.