Penn State looks to improve to 2-0 against a rapidly improving Akron Zips program.
Penn State (1-0, 0-0) vs. Akron (1-0, 0-0)
Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Line: PSU +18
TV: ESPNMike Patrick (play-by-play), Ed Cunningham (analyst) Jeannine Edwards (sideline)
Weather: Muggy with scattered thunderstorms and an expected high of 76 for the afternoon.
PENN STATE RECORD: 1-0, 1st Year
OVERALL RECORD: 26-15, 4th Year
VS. AKRON: 0-0
AKRON RECORD: 7-18, 3rd Year
OVERALL RECORD: 147-80-2, 21st Year
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1
...NOW THE FUN PART
AKRON OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE Junior quarterback Kyle Pohl returns to lead the Zips offense after an impressive sophomore season. Pohl connected on 225 of 402 pass attempts for 2,438 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2013. Pohl has the arm strength and size, standing 6-3, 213pounds, that is desired by NFL teams and could start to garner more attention if he can improve his accuracy and eliminate turnovers as an upperclassman. Pohl actually played through an ankle injury much of 2013, which clearly limited his mobility in the pocket. He has the ability to dink-and-dunk his way down the field to point some points on the board on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Pohl, he will likely become very familiar with Penn State's front seven as the Zips offensive line lost the majority of its starters from a year ago. For the second week in a row, expect to see plenty of Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan and Anthony Zettel to find their way into the backfield quite often.
Senior running back Jawon Chisolm is not the type of player to wear down a defense, but he has big-play ability and is very dangerous out of the backfield. Keeping containment of Chisolm will likely be a major part of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's gameplan, as well as limiting the time Pohl has in the pocket. The Zips will cause plenty of frustration by converting several third downs, but we should also see the Nittany Lions force them to make a timely mistake or two as well.
AKRON DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE I might as well include this sentence in the template for this series- "All eyes will be on quarterback Christian Hackenberg as he looks to carry Penn State to victory." It will be very interesting to see exactly where his ceiling is, especially considering that eight or nine teams remaining on the schedule will field less skilled defenses than Central Florida. We'll also find out early is DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis are reliable targets rather than one-hit wonders. All signs point to the former- Hamilton looked like the second coming of Allen Robinson, while Lewis appears to have taken a giant leap during the offseason to become a potential All-B10 receiver.
Penn State may use this game as an opportunity to establish the running game- somewhat along the lines of a "bizarro world" 2013 Indiana game. While Belton has improved upon his strength and field vision from a season ago, the offense may be better suited for Zac Zwinak's downhill style of play.
One player who Penn State must stop is defensive end Se’Von Pittman. The four-star prospect is an Ohio State transfer, and could be the best Zips defender since former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor.
The Zips defense is led by defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Chuck Amato. If that name sounds familiar, Amato was the one-time head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Amato led NC State to several winning seasons, but was unceremoniously dumped after the Wolfpack decided they could do better with someone else at the helm. It turned out to be a very poor decision. Amato also served as defensive coordinator for Florida State, helping the program to its first two national titles in 1993 and 1999. The man knows what he's doing, and will have the Zips in the best position to slow down Penn State's offensive attack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: It will be interesting to see how Sam Ficken builds off his heroic performance against UCF. He looks much better after healing from a nagging groin injury in 2013. Ficken will need to become more consistent with his kickoffs- he has the ability to nail the ball out of the end zone, but also has times where he can barely make it past the 10-yard line. Chris Gulla only punted once against UCF, good for 41 yards. It's much too early to tell what we can expect from him this fall.
Penn State's kick coverage again struggled at times on Saturday, but the team should be in much better shape overall in 2014. The key will be to find the right personnel to avoid giving up long returns. The speed and talent exists to do just that.
Akron returns a very talented punter in Zach Paul. Hopefully he'll get plenty of playing time on Saturday. Akron does not have an extremely reliable kicker, so don't be surprised to see Bowden gamble on fourth downs when the Zips get deep into Penn State territory.
PENN STATE-37 AKRON-17 I was initially going to predict this game much closer, but after a second viewing of the Croke Park Classic I think Penn State will be too much to handle. Akron could keep the game close as they are much tougher team than years past, but at the end of the day Christian Hackenberg will have more time in the pocket throwing against a much less-skilled secondary.
Akron hangs tough well into the third quarter, but eventually the offense is able to put the game away. Hackenberg throws for 380 yards and three touchdowns, Lewis hits the century mark for the second week in a row, Jesse James hauls in a touchdown reception, Deion Barnes collects a pair of sacks and a forced fumble, while Da'Quan Davis gets a key interception to prevent an Akron score.