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Penn State-UMASS Game Preview

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A look ahead at Saturday's contest against the Penn State Nittany Lions and the UMASS Minutemen.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State looks to improve to 4-0 in its first ever contest against the UMASS Minutemen.

Penn State (3-0, 1-0) vs. UMASS (0-3, 0-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Line: PSU -26.5

TV: BTN Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Glen Mason (analyst) Lisa Byington (sideline)

WeatherPartly cloudy with a high of 74, cooling into the 60s as the game progresses.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 3-0, 1st Year

OVERALL RECORD: 28-15, 4th Year

VS. UMASS: 2-0

Mark Whipple:

UMASS RECORD: 49-29, 7th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 121-62, 17th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 0-0

...NOW THE FUN PART

UMASS OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
Despite the 0-3 record, UMASS is a team capable of putting up points. The offense managed to put up 38 and 31 against Colorado and Vanderbilt, respectively. If the Minutemen plan to light up the scoreboard yet again on Saturday, it will have to rely on quarterback Blake Frohnapfel as UMASS has one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation, averaging a paltry 81 yards on the ground per game. In a stat line similar to Penn State, UMASS' leading rusher, Jamal Wilson, has earned 23, 47 and 18 yards in the first three contests of the year. Facing a surprisingly stout Penn State run defense, those numbers should be even lower this week.

Frohnapel has put up more than 200 yards during each of the last two games, yet is completing less than 50 percent of pass attempts on the season. He has also been sacked eight times thus far, meaning that he may spend a lot of time staring up at the Pennsylvania sky since Penn State can create enormous pressure with it's front four.

Anthony Zettel is currently fourth in the nation with 7.o negative hits on the season. Don't be surprised to see him move up the rankings after Saturday's contest. Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan will join him to take occupancy in the UMASS backfield.

After struggling at times, Trevor Williams responded brilliantly by intercepting two passes and notching five tackles against Rutgers, a performance that earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. He certainly did his part to nail down the starting cornerback gig opposite Jordan Lucas, but he will still need to fight of Da'Quan Davis and true freshman Grant Haley to become a permanent fixture.

UMASS DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE
Will this finally be the week that the offensive line takes a giant leap forward? Despite being a large favorite, the answer is probably not. The offensive line is still a work in progress, and we'll need to be patient before they gain the experience to look like a solid Big Ten lineup. To the OL's credit, they played much better in the second half against Rutgers, opening up holes and giving Christian Hackenberg slightly more time in the pocket. If nothing else, it will be a big confidence boost if they can create some room for Bill Belton and Zac Zwinak while allowing Hackenberg the time to scan the field and make things happen. We all know by now exactly what Hackenberg is capable of when given enough time in the pocket.

UMASS linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox currently leads the entire NCAA with 42 tackles on the season. The junior is a fast, aggressive player who always manages to be close to the action. Expect to hear his name quite a bit on Saturday. He is, however, one of the only bright spots on the team's defense. The unit is allowing 431.7 yards per game, split almost equally between pass and run yards. While neither area is atrocious, the pass and run defense are far from being described as stingy.

We've all been pleasantly surprised at the production of Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton. Each receiver ranks in the top 13 nationally (Lewis at 5, Hamilton at 13) and find ways to make jaw-dropping plays each week, especially when one is desperately needed. Look for freshmen Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, along with junior Matt Zanellato to increase their role in the passing game to prepare for the remainder of the season. The trio will likely need to become a larger part of the offense once the Big Ten schedule is in full swing and teams attempt to focus more on Lewis and Hamilton.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Sam Ficken looks to be a totally new kicker and has proved once again he's reliable when called upon. The consistency on kickoffs seemed to improve against Rutgers, and it will be very important for him to produce a few kickoffs on Saturday. Trey Dudley-Giles is one of the most electric return men in the nation, averaging 35.4 yards per kickoff return. While Penn State's kick coverage has improved gradually during the past three weeks (and tenfold since 2013), Dudley-Giles could certainly make them pay by taking one to the house and/or setting up the Minutemen with excellent field position.

PREDICTION

PENN STATE- 31 UMASS- 13
While this is Penn State's best opportunity to clear the benches, there are still a few reasons for concern. For one, UMASS has come a long way from being a complete doormat the past few seasons. While they have yet to win a game, they nearly pulled off wins against Colorado and Vanderbilt. Secondly, it's tough to expect a blowout when Penn State has yet to establish a running game. It makes it extremely difficult for the offense to remain on the field at times. Finally, Penn State is coming off an emotional road victory and may struggle to immediately get up for this game.

I think UMASS will find a way to keep it close in a low-scoring first half before the offense finds a rhythm and begin finding its way into the end zone. There will be some hand-wringing early on, but those concerns should be squashed early in the second half.

Anthony Zettel amasses two sacks and another three tackles for loss, firmly establishing himself as the B10 Defensive Player of Year favorite while Grant Haley raises some eyebrows with a big interception return. Christian Hackenberg exits the game after amassing just over 300 yards passing while finding himself on the right side of the touchdown:interception ratio.