In most of our predictions, both those of us on staff and you fine readers in the comments, we expected big numbers from the Penn State offense yesterday, and expected Akron to get its scores but Christian Hackenberg and company to simply outgun the overmatched Zips.
But that was not how the day played out.
The home opener was, in many ways, the polar opposite of the season opener across the pond; though the score was more lopsided than last week's victory over the UCF Knights, somehow it seemed more in doubt the entire time. The stats weren't there. There wasn't the complete domination on both sides, the ability to move the ball at will despite not putting it in the endzone, that our offense showed in Dublin.
Every time US collegiate squads have gone to Ireland to play a season opener, the subsequent game has been a less-than-stellar one for the returning team, and yesterday was no different; perhaps we all thought Penn State would be above that, that because they returned home so quickly, and chartered a flight, that it wouldn't be a factor. Jet lag, or whatever it was, clearly was a factor though as week one's offense sputtered and died many times yesterday, to the point where none of us knew what the heck was going on.
But never fear--a classic Penn State defense was there to bail them out. Last week, the defense showed flashes of brilliance in run stoppage but allowed UCF to make it a game late. This week, they played classic Bend But Don't Suck Penn State defense and, helped somewhat by a missed field goal to end the Zips' first possession, held an opponent to its fewest points since the last time the Lions faced a MAC opponents. Oh, and this lovely gem:
#PennState held consecutive foes under 70 rushing yds for first time since since E. Illinois (59 yds) & Minn. (37 yds) in 2009— Jeff Nelson (@GoPSUJeff) September 6, 2014
Thanks, defense. We needed you today, and with Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers coming, you'll need to do work this week--but luckily Hack, Jesse James, Geno Lewis, DaeSean Hamilton and whichever running back emerges as the star in practice faces a Scarlet Knight defense that allowed 25 points to Howard--whom Akron had shut out the week before the Lions faced them.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
1) Five. That's the turnover differential between the two first games this year, and that's the lone dark spot amongst otherwise pretty stout defensive play. For a squad that aimed to have nine defensive scores spread out over the season, Bob Shoop's guys have a lot of catching up to do to make that goal a reality--and they aren't helped by a quarterback who is clearly asked to do a lot, but in doing so forces things a bit too much.
2) For all the accolades, the descriptions of his freak-of-nature abilities and the many calls that he'd potentially be the first TE drafted to the NFL after this year, James had never had a two-TD game--until yesterday. That may very well change, as the big man is likely the most difficult target for defenses to cover, and one can't simple arm tackle him. I'd just like to see him targeted at goal line situations a bit more.
3) Penn State is one of the standard bearers in the Big Ten yet again! With the losses yesterday by MSU, Michigan (zero points against Notre Dame? Really???), and Ohio State, PSU sits with BTPR, Maryland and Indiana as the undefeateds in our division--and clearly one of those will drop off after this week's matchup in Piscataway. The Sparty loss is the most understandable, of course, as they were on the road versus the number 3 team in the nation (and held a lead at halftime), but other than that the schedule for the Nittany Lions is looking just as manageable as many of us thought preseason--with even the OSU game looking more winnable now that forced starter JT Barrett's looking vulnerable.