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Game Preview: Penn State vs. Kent State

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Penn State kicks off the 2016 season at Beaver Stadium with some #MACtion.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With a new offense and plenty of new faces, Penn State looks to get the 2016 season off on the right foot against the Kent State Golden Flashes.

Penn State (0-0) vs. Kent State (0-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -21.5

TV: BTN-  Scott Graham (play-by-play), Chuck Long (analyst)

WeatherPartly cloudy, warm but comfortable with a high of 76 for the afternoon and little to no chance of rain.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 14-12, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 38-27, 6th Year

VS. KENT STATE: 0-0

Paul Haynes:

KENT STATE RECORD: 9-26, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 9-26, 4th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

...NOW THE FUN PART

KENT STATE OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE

If you thought Penn State’s offense was difficult to watch last season, count yourself lucky not to be a Golden Flashes fan. Kent State finished dead last in the nation by averaging a shockingly-low 13.1 points and 271 yards per game in 2015. That’s a lot of horrendous offense to sit through for 12 games.

One thing going for the Golden Flashes is that they have a battle-tested offensive line, returning four starters. However, they will be protecting a true freshman in Justin Agner, who may or may not ultimately be the team’s starting quarterback. Redshirt freshman Mylik Mitchell and sophomore George Bollas are also expected to see time. Bollas is the team’s returning leader in both passing and rushing, and will certainly give the Flashes offense a new look when he enters the ballgame.

Saturday will mark the return of outside linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White for Penn State, who missed nearly the entire 2015 season with a knee injury. He’ll be joined by fellow senior Brandon Bell and junior Jason Cabinda to form one of the most dynamic starting linebacker trios in the nation. Senior defensive end Evan Schwan has received high praise from Franklin throughout the offseason, and looks to be this season’s version of Carl Nassib to come out of nowhere to become a dominant pass-rusher. Expectations are also high for redshirt freshman Kevin Givens, who is set to make his first career start at defensive tackle, next to junior Parker Cothren.

KENT STATE DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

After eight months of speculation, it’s finally time to draw back the curtains and take a peek at Joe Moorhead’s offense. From the sounds of it, this could be the fastest-paced offense in the history of the program, as they aim for 80-85 snaps per game.

One of Moorhead’s calling cards is his desire to spread the ball around to help keep defenses on their toes. That should be no problem as Penn State is loaded in the backfield and receiving corps.

After an impressive offseason where Barkley set program records in the weight room and improved on his blazing 40-time, all eyes will be on number 26 as he sets out to establish himself as one of the premiere running backs in the nation. Additionally, redshirt freshman Andre Robinson and true freshman Miles Sanders will receive carries for the first time in their Penn State careers, with sophomore Mark Allen also getting in on the action.

Saeed Blacknall joins the already established Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton as the starting receivers, and has reportedly come into his own during the offseason and could become a major component of the offense. Keep an eye out for speedsters DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk, both sophomores, to see if Moorhead can get them the ball in open space to help open up the offense. After taking a redshirt season, deep threat Juwan Johnson is set to see major playing time, and along with fellow redshirt freshman Irvin Charles, could really stretch out the defense.

This game will mark the first career start for quarterback Trace McSorley, who could be the man under center for the Nittany Lions through 2018. After an outstanding performance in the Blue-White Game, expectations are high that he has the intelligence and accuracy to really be the man to make Moorhead’s offense run with the precision needed to keep the offense on the field and light up the scoreboard.

Despite suffering through a 3-9 record in 2015, Kent State had an outstanding defense and returns eight starters this fall. They should easily be one of the best units in the MAC in 2016. The Golden Flashes are led by Nate Holley, who collected a mind-boggling 141 tackles from the safety position in 2015. Holley has excellent instincts and is always close to the ball, and can also cause damage off the edge. Kent State loves to mix up its looks throughout the game and send rushers from all over the field, which could be a great test for the offensive line as well as for McSorley’s ability to read and react to a highly-capable defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The biggest thing to watch on special teams is new starting punter Blake Gillikin, the top rated punter of his class. The true freshman should provide a major upgrade for Penn State’s field position battles after two seasons of lackluster punting.

Another major item of interest is to see if Barkley will see time as a kick returner on Saturday. While there are plenty of reasons for both sides of the argument if he should be used on special teams, Barkley would no doubt be a legitimate home-run threat in the return game thanks to his nearly unmatched combination of quickness and field vision. Running back-turned-safety Nick Scott is slotted as the primary returner, and performed well in this role a season ago.

Redshirt junior Tyler Davis is set to be the team’s placekicker in 2016, holding off true freshman Alex Barbir, who many speculated would start immediately. Barbir is likely to redshirt in 2016 as long as Davis is able to hold on to the job. Davis went three-for-three on field goals and made all eight of his extra points after taking over for redshirt sophomore Joey Julius late in the 2015 season.

PREDICTION

Penn State-41 Kent State-13

With Kent State’s long record of being a MAC cellar-dweller, this will hopefully be a game where the Nittany Lions can clear the benches and get all the younger guys some experience- because after this game, not much is guaranteed.

Penn State will get off to a slow start with a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, causing some early concern before the offense finds its footing. Mike Gesicki gets back on track with a touchdown reception to put the Nittany Lions on the board first, and then Barkley breaks free for a 40-yard touchdown to open the second quarter, before McSorley connects with Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton to give Penn State a comfortable lead.

On defense, Wartman-White comes storming out of the gate to led the team with 10 tackles, while Brandon Bell contributes a strip sack with John Reid and Christian Campbell both coming away with interceptions.