Quarterback - Clark had one of his best days ever statistically and looked very comfortable throwing to a brand new set of wide receivers: 29/40, 353 yards, 3/1 ratio with an 8.8 average. All large improvement over his 2008 average, but of course they are, it's Akron. But that's the point: in week one, with a half-new offense, he did what we hoped.
And for the most part he looked good doing it. I'm still impressed with Clark's fearless throws into oncoming moving trucks; I don't remember a pass off his back foot all afternoon. There where occasional flashbacks to inexperience — rocket passes too high for the receivers, focusing on the number one option, forcing a pass into too much coverage — but he also put up beauties for Moye, Powell and Zug all day and (mostly) hit the safety valves out of the backfield.
He still looks like the best quarterback in the Big Ten, a far more poised player than anyone in the league I watched on Saturday, and he's doing it with his arm. Only three rushes for 5 yards (including one sack), and that interception was more bad luck than back accuracy.
Final Grade: A-
Running Backs - The biggest concern out of the Akron game has to be the rushing attack. The formula last year was to let Royster run patiently behind a strong line, and then open things up from there. Penn State was never able to establish a strong ground game on Saturday and the passing game was successful despite this.
Now it's only one game, and we don't know how strong Akron's run-stop will be this year, but:
A lot of the criticism will be saved for the offensive line, but there are adjustments that aren't being made by Royster and Green.
No one was better suited to run behind the 2008 line than Royster, his patience combined with their ability to get a good push and continue to drive became mostly deadly. But that's not happening this year, at least not early on, and Royster needs to know when to put his nose down and fight out a yard or two. He's no power back, but that kind of loss-cutting approach is going to be important this year.
Green, on the other hand, continues to have the opposite problem. He's fast as lightning but is a waste of a carry if there isn't a hole open as soon as he touches the ball. Too many times the line was either still fighting it out or in a stalemate and Green simply ran full steam into the mess.
Offensive Line - Something kind of funny happened: pass protection was outstanding yet very few holes were opening up for the backs. This is the opposite of what you would expect during week 1, especially with a proven running game from a year ago and the opponent coming in ranked 101st in rushing defense a year ago. This has surpassed the secondary as my number one concern.
The pass protection was outstanding. Clark had all day to throw and took very few hits even when he was able to stay long enough to find a (often mid-to-deep) receiver.
But the rush was discouraging. The averages above tell part of the story, but often the problem is from the get-go: there simply aren't holes opening after the hand-off. The issue wasn't just up the middle; sweeps and gut shots alike were stuffed by the Zips. The line is only going to get better, that's the nature of replacing three solid starters from a year ago, but keep an eye on this.
Final Grade: B-
Wide Receiver / Tight End - So how many times did we hear about OMG NO WRS DOOM!!1! this off-season? A lot. But now? Not so much.
Derek Moye was an absolute stud with six catches and a 23 yard average. He's a deep threat with height, something we haven't had in a while, and great hands to boot. The TD catch was the balls. Chaz and Zug had sixty-something yards each and looked good as well, bringing in great catches and fighting for yards. I never got the feeling that either one was going to Reggie Bush the secondary or anything, but we didn't see much of that last year either and the offense rolled just fine.
The expanded role of tight end didn't exactly bloom, however. Andrew Quarless (who left injured) and Mickey Shuler combined for just two catches and many of the plays their way seemed forced. This was probably a result of wanting to work on those plays when the gameplan didn't really warrant the calls. This is fine, although Clark needs to realize that if the TE play isn't there Plan B needs to kick in.
Devon Smith quickly: how fun is this guy? You can tell his size will continue to limit him when plays become overcrowded, but he's five yards down field before anyone realizes where the ball is. I'm looking forward to seeing him more.
Final Grade: A
Going forward...There is a lot of good that came out of the Akron game, notably the wide receiver play and pass protection. Clark didn't skip a beat and Kevin Newsome, very briefly, looked rough but athletic. However, the rushing game is a major concern, and something needs to be done about creating holes or the passing game will suffer mightily against Big Ten defenses not wearing Orange.