Welcome back to the Blue/White Roundtable! This week, the Nittany Lions and Knights of the University of Central Florida are wishing upon the stars shining brightly upon them for their evening kickoff on Saturday night!
A refresher on how this works - every week, yours truly will pose a variety of questions to Penn State bloggers from every corner of the Nittany Lion internet. We'll post the greatest hits here each week, but make sure to check out our blogging brethren for their full responses every week!
Our panelists this week are the names and faces of the Penn State blogosphere that you know and love - BSD editor emeritus (and my former podcast partner) Jeff Junstrom, our own Cari Greene, Matt De Bear and Eric Sion from Victory Bell Rings, Michael Canzoneri, Ali Soho, Matthew Pencek, Bill Engel, Zach Fegely, and LB from PennLive's 50-Yard Lion Blog, and all of the D-O-double-G's from JoePa's Doghouse!
What are your thoughts on Christian Hackenberg after two weeks as our starting quarterback? What do you think of "poise" and "moxie?"
Jeff: Having followed recruiting for some time, I knew this kid was going to be special, both on and off the field. During his recruitment, I spoke with him a couple of times, and you could tell he had a good head on his shoulders. Transitioning to Division 1 football isn't easy, but he seems to be well on his way to becoming a great quarterback for PSU. Am I ready to peg him as the greatest ever, better than the Scranton Slinger? Not yet. He needs to settle down, take his time, make his progressions, etc. Essentially, he needs to continue to grow. But he's going to be a good one.
Matt: I'm not sure what excites me more about Hackenberg after two weeks. How good he is already, and how much trust O'Brien already has in him, or how much better he's going to get over the next few weeks, let alone years. He has all the physical tools we've read about, but his poise and demeanor on the field makes you forget he's a freshman at times. I'm not sure if I'd call in moxie, but the kid is good, and he knows it.
J. Schnauzer: Remember when have a young, skillful quarterback meant hoping he didn't regress under the tutelage of Jay Paterno?
Hackenberg is, right now, an above-average-to-good college quarterback. His current liabilities, such as nerves and decisiveness, can be overcome with additional experience. He has all of the skills to be a great quarterback and a wonderful core of coaches to develop those skills. Four more years of this would suit me fine.
Eric: For a true freshman, Christian Hackenberg has definitely been impressive after two weeks. Considering the complexity of Bill O'Brien's offense and the fact that he was not an early enrollee makes him even more impressive. He was able to air it out a little more against Eastern Michigan as opposed to his first start against Syracuse, and he looked very good when he got into a rhythm. Hopefully we see more and more of that as the season goes on. His poise has been pretty good and it seems like he doesn't let his mistakes get to him. He doesn't have the "moxie" that McGloin had, but that's just because these guys have very different personalities. But it will be interesting to see if Hackenberg develops some kind of persona during his time in Happy Valley.
Cari: I think he's very impressive, for a freshman. If he was a sophomore or junior I'd be calling for his backup for the turnovers (four through two games could be argued to be attributable to him). As is, he's shown incredible potential and is obviously learning on nearly every drive, which is very admirable. It can, will and has only gotten better since his first drive. And I have faith in BOB to help him along the way.
Frankly, I don't think he had as much poise as Bolden, at least in the beginning-he didn't have the obvious rattled nerves at the first home game as Hack showed. I also don't think he's shown as much "moxie" as McGloin, because he hasn't been as vocal and out there. In both instances, I think that's a very good thing.
Engel: Simply put, Christian Hackenberg has "it". Sure he came out fired up for his first start at Beaver Stadium and overthrew a few passes. But once Hack settled in, his 300+ yard freshman passing record setting performance demonstrated he has all the tools to carry this team on his young shoulders. Hackenberg and the Lion offense is only going to get better as he grasps more of Bill O'Brien's offense and he has to do so in a hurry before the Big Ten season begins. This week will be a good test and should continue to help that improvement.
LB: I was a little worried about how Saturday would turn out after Hackenberg's disappointing start, but I figured he was just nervous, considering his performance the week before and how well he handled himself then. Luckily, that turned out to be the case. Once he settled down, he looked great, and he managed to put behind him the three straight incompletions and embarrassing fumble that started the game off. I think his nerves and mistakes can be attributed more to his inexperience than a lack of talent, and I look forward to seeing how he develops over the coming years.
The offense started a bit slow last week against Eastern Michigan. How do you feel the offense has progressed since August camp? Has the running game gotten on track?
The Underdogs: EMU fightin' emus is little more than a scrimmage against the scout team. I don't think they would fair terribly well in FCS this year. I like the idea of more rotation in the backfield early. Each of the three primary RBs has their own particular skill set and their own limitations. One of the backs may not be best suited for attacking a certain defense and we'll have to figure that out early before rolling with the hot hand.
Rowlff Dogg: I have no concerns about the offense. In fact, I'm really impressed with how much of the playbook O"Brien seems to have given to Hackenberg. All of its issues are either correctible or a symptom of having a true freshman quarterback. They will work themselves out in time. Once defenses begin to fear Hackenberg's throwing ability, the running lanes will open. This offensive line is talented and experienced, but there's little you can do when the opponent constantly stuffs the box.
Fegely: I think the offense has progressed extremely well and should continue to develop as the season goes on. Each game that Hack has with the players on this team allows him to build a better relationship and get more comfortable. I have been high on Akeel Lynch since he came to Penn State and everyone got a taste why last week. He is a dynamite runner and combine him with the power of Zwinak and the speed of Belton and we have a very great running back core that could rival anyone in the league. Just need the passing game to spread the field so that teams aren't stacking the box against our running game like Syracuse did in week one.
Pencek: Unfortunately, I don't think playing Eastern Michigan gives anyone a true indication of the progress especially in the running game. Belton and Lynch gained more yards as the game moved along, but where was Zach Zwinak? It is almost like watching 2012 in reverse when Belton struggled and ZZ was inserted to jump start the ground attack. Now Belton and Lynch have been more reliable to this point.
Jeff: Like any Penn State offense, and especially one with a freshman QB at the helm, it was going to take some time to get into a rhythm. The first two games were a little vanilla, but there were flashes of greatness and an apparent willingness to open up the playbook at times to let Hack stretch his legs (and Geno and ARob stretch theirs, as well). After Syracuse, the running game was all the talk, as they sputtered and didn't perform up to expectation. That belief was thrown to the wayside after EMU. Granted, much of the attack came near the end of the game, and was against EMU, which isn't exactly Ohio State. But fans got to see the Bill Belton they had hoped to see all year, and got the first taste as to how good Akeel Lynch can, and will, be.
Eric: Since camp in August, I feel the offense has progressed fairly well. Again, since Hackenberg is a true freshman who didn't enroll early it will take a little more time for him to grasp everything. But he was an elite recruit, so maybe it'll come faster to him than it would to another quarterback. I'm very confident in O'Brien's ability to determine how Hackenberg is progressing and gage his overall understanding of the offense. I'm pretty sure that many Penn State fans thought the running game would get on track during the Eastern Michigan game, and it did. Now it's just a matter of consistency. Not only for the three running backs, but for the offensive line. And the deeper Penn State gets into its schedule, the tougher it'll be to run the ball against some of the more formidable Big Ten defenses.
UCF will probably be the strongest test Penn State will see in the non-conference schedule. What do you expect to see out of George O'Leary's squad?
Cari: I have no idea what to expect. I expect a close, low-scoring game, with us making a few mistakes-I just hope they aren't too costly. I expect our defense to keep us in it, no matter what happens-because they've impressed me immensely so far this year.
LB: Central Florida comes into this game with momentum thanks to its 2-0 start. The Knights also put up 38 against their first two opponents and held their opponents to a combined seven points. Even though these wins came against Akron and Florida International, Central Florida can be overlooked as a guaranteed nonconference victory, but if the Lions can stay sharp, they'll be fine. A lot of the Knights' strength lies in UCF running back Storm Johnson, who has half of the team's touchdowns and 229 all-purpose yards so far this season, but the Lions' defense has been stellar in stopping the run and shouldn't have a problem shutting him down.
Engel: O'Leary is a good coach and UCF has some nice talent at the skill positions on offense led by future NFL quarterback Blake Bortles who is certain to make plays. It will certainly be a tough test but I think the crowd gets close to 100k which will be the difference. Sure UCF played in the Shoe last year, but they haven't experienced Beaver Stadium's student section at night. In addition, the UCF offensive line will wear down particularly with their best offensive tackle likely on the sidelines. I think by the third quarter, Larry Johnson's defensive line led by DaQuan Jones will eventually be too much for the Knights line and Bortles will be running for his life.
Matt: I hope people aren't under estimating UCF. This is a game that has made me nervous since I dug into them over the summer. They have a ton of talent, and experience on the offensive side of the ball, especially at the skill positions. PSU will need a big game from the entire defense on Saturday. I feel like the offense can move the ball on the Knights D, but they can't afford a slow start.
The Underdogs: I expect a lot of fakes, sleights of hand, and misdirection. It's his MO. Written right there on his resume.
Rowlff Dogg: UCF will bring a mascot that looks like a Scooby Doo villain. George O'Leary will wear an ugly pale yellow shirt to match his toehead. They'll score some points, but they haven't faced a defense even close to Penn State's.
J Schnauzer: This is a stern challenge in Penn State's first match with the newly-formed AAC. For all of the preseason talk of their offense proficiency, their defense has held firm against two lesser opponents. I think this form continues.
Jeff: Contrary to popular opinion, this one opens up quickly and ends ugly for the Knights. Good guys win, 41-13.
Cari: 17-10 PSU. Sticking with what I said in the podcast.
Matt: I don't think this is going to be a low scoring type of game (and I like the over of 50.5). Both offense have the talent to move the ball and put up points, but I think Jones and Barnes will lead a strong effort by the defensive line that slows down the UCF offense just enough for PSU to get a good win, 31-28.
Eric: I think Penn State will edge UCF by a score of 31-28. Both offenses will come out strong and both defenses will give up a few big plays. But the student whiteout and the Beaver Stadium night atmosphere should give the Nittany Lions a little push at the end to pull this one out. John Butler's defense will force a turnover late in the fourth quarter to seal the game and keep Penn State undefeated.
The Underdogs: 56-55 in 5 OTs. Flip a coin for the winner. In other words, I see this an evenly matched game. The differentiating piece might be a well lubricated night time crowd and one Adrian Robinson, who will be the best player on the field (not named DaQuan Jones).
Rowlff Dogg: As far as I'm concerned, there are only 2 good things about George O'Leary. He was one of Bill O'Brien's coaching mentors. And he lied just to get out the hellhole known as South Bend. Pupil beats the teacher, PSU 41-UCF 24
J Schnauzer: Penn State has the talent to win this game, but they are still not putting everything together to my satisfaction. This team must start face--with reduced scholarship numbers it will be difficult to outperform deeper opposing teams in the second half. Until I see them control the pace of a game in the first half I will be wary to pick them to win. The knights gauntlet is thrown, I'm picking UCF Knights to beat Penn State 24-21.
Bill Engel: The Penn State offense will continue to improve and the defense which will be bolstered by the return of Hull and Kline is playing lights out. This will be a close game through three quarters but the crowd and two deep quality depth will allow Penn State to start to dictate their will on both sides of the ball. Penn State scores four Touchdowns and Mr. Automatic Sam Ficken adds another three field goals as O'Brien outlasts his former mentor 37-27.
LB: Penn State hits its stride late in the first quarter and tops Central Florida 38-17.
Zach Fegely: 38-17 Penn State
Matthew Pencek: The early evening Beaver Stadium crowd will be a plus for the Nittany Lions. Overall, I think Penn State has the better talent and Bill O'Brien continues to show his ability to adjust his game plan to that of his opponents. It will be a bit of a nailbiter with the Lions hanging on to a 31-27 win.
Michael Canzoneri: 15 references to the sanctions and three references to how O'Leary helped guide O'Brien when he came up for the Penn State job and when the sanctions came down. Otherwise, Penn State slips past UCF, but barely, 21-20.
Ali Soho: Penn State 34--UCF 17, I expect UCF to have some success in spots throughout the game, but I don't believe they'll be able to sustain that throughout the entire game. In the end, the defense is going to be too much for them to handle. I also believe the offense is going to play their most complete game to date from start to finish. I would expect a heavy dose of Belton and Lynch in this one, as their speed and ability to get to the second level will need to be utilized early.