Coaches will tell you you don't want your team to peek too early. Joe Paterno should have nothing to worry about in that regard as Penn State obviously has a lot of work to do to become a great football team.
Just like they did against Akron a week ago, Penn State opened the game with a precise drive capped off by a 49 yard touchdown pass from Daryll Clark to Evan Royster. After that the road got a little muddy and Penn State got bogged down.
Their second drive was a methodical march down the field that ate the final nine minutes of the first quarter. But with first and goal at the two yard line the offense hit a wall. Royster and Suhey were stuffed on first and second down. Then Clark couldn't get in on a quarterback keeper. Then on fourth down Clark fumbled the snap and Syracuse took over on downs.
It was a theme that would be seen all day. Time and again Penn State struggled to run the ball between the tackles. Royster was contained for just 41 yards on 12 carries. Stephfon Green only managed 26 yards on 8 carries. A tell-tale sign of the offensive frustrations came in the fourth quarter. With 11 minutes to go and Penn State holding a solid 20-plus point lead, the Nittany Lions came out throwing the ball on first downs. Do you think the coaches have lost confidence already?
Fortunately the Penn State defense gave the offense the cushion they needed to work out the kinks. The Orange were held to just 200 yards total offense and seven points. They struggled to move the ball on the ground with only 69 yards rushing, but the passing game picked up in the second half and Penn State was aided by a lot of dropped passes by the Orange receivers.
Penn State took control of the game in the second quarter. Following a defensive stop that had Syracuse pinned deep in the endzone, the Nittany Lions got favorable field position after the punt. After some short passes to Quarless, Zug, and Suhey, Evan Royster took a sweep to the left and cut it upfield for an easy 12 yard touchdown.
Penn State then opened the second half holding Syracuse to a three and out. On the ensuing Penn State drive Daryll Clark hit Graham Zug for a 20 yard touchdown on a pretty post pattern over the middle.
Syracuse responded with a steady drive all the way down to the Penn State redzone. With a first and goal it looked like they were going to get on the board. But successive stops by Bani Gbadyu, Sean Lee, and Jack Crawford brought up fourth down. Greg Paulus found Mike Williams wide open in the endzone, but Williams dropped the pass and Penn State took over on downs.
The teams traded possessions until midway through the fourth quarter when Nate Stupar picked off a tipped ball and returned it to the Syracuse three yard line. Penn State once again struggled to run the ball as Stephfon Green was stuffed on first and second down. On third down Clark faked a handoff to Green and rolled to his right. Then he found Mickey Shuler running open in the back of the endzone and hit him for the score.
Syracuse took the ball and began to drive once again into Penn State territory, but their drive was stopped when a pass bounced off a Syracuse receiver's helmet and right into the hands of Josh Hull. It looked like the shutout was going to stay in tact, but three plays later Kevin Newsome fumbled the ball and gave the Orange possession on the Penn State 16 yard line. Their first offensive play was a post pattern to Donte Davis for a touchdown.
It was an easy win for Penn State, but they have to be disappointed in the running game. Syracuse jammed up the middle all day and Penn State struggled to get the running game going for the second week in a row. The passing game wasn't quite as crisp this week as it was last week, but Penn State was able to create some big plays to set up some scores. There is still a lot of stuff to clean up, but there's no need to panic yet. This team reminds me a lot of the 2005 team. That team had a lot of new players on offense, and it wasn't until week five or six against Minnesota when things started to click and the offense found its identity.
So now let's all just sit back and enjoy the late games. Right now I'm watching Wisconsin fight for their season in an overtime battle with Fresno State.