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Takeaways: Penn State Cruises To Blowout Win Over UMass

The Nittany Lions hosted the UMass Minutemen on Saturday afternoon, cruising to an easy 48-7 victory en route to an undefeated 4-0 record to kick off the season. With another game comes another round of takeaways as we analyze the game and what it means going forward for the Penn State squad.

Here’s what we thought about the Penn State vs. UMass showdown:

The run game has arrived and should be here to stay.

It took four games and felt like it might never happen, but the Nittany Lions finally got the run game going on Saturday as they took advantage of a weak UMass front seven. Penn State entered the game with just 227 rushing yards on the season before totaling 228 yards in just four quarters Saturday.

Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak each found the end zone twice, and Akeel Lynch strolled past the goal line once on Saturday — by far the most success the unit has found this season. The offense pounded the rock all game long, finishing with 45 runs and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Lynch had the long run on the day, scurrying downfield for 46 yards after finding open field.

The blocking was solid, and there were holes all afternoon. The backs took advantage and made some nice moves, especially Belton,who had a couple of head-turning runs as he juked defenders and broke tackles all day. It may have just been the Minutemen, but putting a fire in the belly of a unit that was Penn State’s strong suit last year should carry some positive momentum forward to the Big Ten home opener against Northwestern.

Hackenberg isn’t Superman.

It’s hard to diagnose exactly what was ailing Christian Hackenberg on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback had the most pedestrian game of his career, going 12-for-23 with 179 yards, no scores, and no interceptions before he — along with the rest of the first-stringers — left the game in the third quarter.

He did eventually settle down after a rough start. Hack opened the game with a 3-for-10 clip before finishing 9-for-13 and making some sharp throws in the second quarter. Even still, some of the early passes were very concerning as Hackenberg overthrew, underthrew, and just plain missed receivers as he continued his season-long Brett Favre impression.

Hackenberg is certainly a quarterback who does well when scrambling and improvising and letting plays develop, but he’s been forcing balls into tight coverage this season with largely negative results. His longest completion of the day, a 38-yard throw down the right sideline to Geno Lewis, was less a good throw and more another brilliant catch from the young receiver. Then again, maybe Hack is starting to trust Lewis to make those catches as he did Allen Robinson last season.

It’s hard to criticize the young gunslinger overall, and it’s unclear if the coaches are pushing him to fit throws into tight windows, but those balls will get Hackenberg in trouble against better teams with better secondaries.

The defense demolished the Minutemen.

I said it last week, but I’d be remiss not to include it in this week’s takeaways. The defense is really good, especially the front seven led by linebacker Mike Hull. That isn’t to say the secondary isn’t really good too, because it is. But the Minutemen totaled just three, count ’em, three rushing yards against the Nittany Lions.

That’s less than one a quarter. That’s less than Christian Hackenberg had. In fact, Hackenberg averaged 1.6 yards per carry, so he outran the Minutemen (who had 28 carries) on just two attempts.

The numbers speak for themselves. UMass had 13 first downs, three rushing yards, 263 passing yards, 266 total yards (tough math there), and a turnover. They scored a touchdown in garbage time against Penn State’s backup defense.

Again, this was one of the worst teams in the country in one of the toughest stadiums in the country, but to hold a team those numbers that poor is no feat to gawk at. Going forward, it’s good for Hackenberg & Co. to know they rely on the defense should they have a slow start like they did today on the offensive side of things.

Sam Ficken is… trustworthy? 

Christian Hackenberg addressed the media after the game and took time to speak about kicker Sam Ficken.

“It’s just great when you have a kicker like Ficken to rely on,” he said.

I spent the next few minutes ignoring every word that Hackenberg said and thinking about how far Ficken has come. Just two years ago, he was the biggest question mark on the team. Actually, he was more of a big, fat minus sign than a question mark. Ficken struggled to make routing, short field goals. Fans held their breath on extra points.

And now? Ficken is 8-for-9 on the year with the only miss being a blocked kick against Rutgers. He’s starting off this season where he left off last season. Ficken has a trustworthy boot and the Nittany Lions can bank on three points just about every time they make it past the 30 yard line, should the drive peter out and force the special teams unit to take the field.

James Franklin is a stone cold killer.

Franklin has now done something that even Joe Paterno couldn’t do: start his career at Penn State with four straight wins. He’s the first to do it since Dick Harlow in 1915. Here’s a picture of him looking like a badass:

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That is all.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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