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55 Random Thoughts on Akron

Random musings on opening weekend against the Zips

Akron v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Akron Zips engaged in a contest of American football at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 52-0. I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below:

  1. As of Saturday, it had been 243 days since Penn State played a football game; exactly 8 months since a legendary Rose Bowl involving two historic powers trading incredible plays. While that season ended in a loss, your 2016 Nittany Lions finished 11-3, ranked seventh in the country, its first finish in the top 10 (and top 25) since 2009.
  2. Last year’s incredible run led to Penn State’s highest preseason ranking since 1999, as the Nittany Lions start the 2017 season ranked 6th, and in prime position to move into the College Football Playoff top 4 by taking care of business.
  3. The 2017 team’s most recognizable face isn’t even its coach, as had been true for several decades. This top 10 team features bonafide stars - Trace McSorley, Mike Gesicki, Jason Cabinda, and, of course, Saquon Barkley. Indeed, the Truth is at or near the top of every Heisman candidate list (including SI’s Bruce Feldman, who called him “spectacular”).
  4. So of course, you’ll forgive me for noticing that attendance at Saturday’s opening contest against the Akron Zips was 101,684.
  5. There are 106,572 seats in Beaver Stadium.
  6. Yes, I recognize it was rainy, and yes, I recognize it was Akron, and Penn State was favored by 30 heading into the noon kick. Yes, I recognize that drawing 100,000 fans to State College is a worthy accomplishment. It may be irrational, but I expected better.
  7. No one expects this team to put 110,754 people in this stadium for Akron in order to break the single-game record, but all of the stars seem to be aligned for this squad. Expectations + stars + historic power = ...not a sellout?
  8. Someday soon, the full stadium renovation plans will be released. We’ve already been told to expect a capacity reduction, and there’s some talk that it will hold fewer seats than the Horseshoe, which currently seats 104,944. This is Exhibit A in support. With a star-studded cast and national championship dreams, it’s still more comfortable to a good number of people to sit in their dry house with a fridge full of lager and a platter of Wings Over than it is pack up the grill, gas up the car, and wait in line to get into Beaver Stadium.
  9. End of rant.
  10. The weather was ugly early on Saturday, with the remnants of Hurricane Harvey barely grazing Central Pennsylvania. Despite the weather, not too many fans were concerned about the impact on Barkley and Company. Maybe Trace would have a tough time gripping the football, but on the other hand, we’ve all seen how nature impacts Saquon the Don’s agility.
  11. Hint: they don’t.
  12. And yet, Barkley didn’t touch the ball for Penn State’s first 9 plays. That seems a bit odd, and then you realize that Penn State’s 10th play didn’t happen until there were less than 6 minutes left in the first quarter.
  13. I’ve noted my concern about the defense this coming year, considering the losses of Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan (two solid bookends on the line), Brandon Bell (Penn State’s best linebacker last year), and John Reid (the Lions’ best corner, lost to injury). That’s a lot of experience and talent to cover. The secondary has plenty of talent, but having seen how decimated our linebacking corps looked at times last year, it seems comforting.
  14. Those fears could have been confirmed if Akron repeated the success of its first offensive play, where Warren Ball sliced through the Lions’ front seven for 9 yards.
  15. That was about the extent of Akron’s success on the day, at least until garbage time late in the fourth. While there were some missed tackles and odd angles, the defense looked better than I expected, gang tackling Akron’s offense and swallowing up the Zips’ offensive line.
  16. Credit Brent Pry for putting this new mix of players in a position to be successful, but you have to really credit Sean Spencer for the development on the defensive line. The sheer number of linemen that played quality minutes against the Zips was impressive, and the rotations kept things moving. That allows young guys to get real reps that matter, all the while ensuring the defense has enough veteran presence to put people in the right spots.
  17. What can you say about Marcus Allen? He’s transformed from over aggressive penalty-in-waiting to a guy with real potential at the next level. He’s a leader on the defensive side of the ball, and rightfully so. He was everywhere on Saturday. We’re lucky to have him back for his senior year.
  18. After seeing Thomas Woodson’s stats from last year, I expected him to be a bit more poised. After the announcers mentioned he had undergone shoulder surgery toward the end of the year, I wondered whether he should be in there at all. He’s lucky to have not hurt himself even more.
  19. Woodson’s a big, strong kid, but he had a tough time keeping his composure against the Nittany Lions. Obviously the offense struggled, but the camera constantly found shots of him complaining on the sideline and on the field. Not a great look.
  20. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have been pleased to have punted on 4th and short in the second half, but hey, my dad’s not Bobby Bowden.
  21. I forgot that Chuck Amato was Akron defensive coordinator. That’s a real fall from grace for a guy that once won 11 games in a power conference.
  22. No surprise that Akron kicked it to DeAndre Thompkins the first three times. Thompkins didn’t exactly have a banner end of the year, and he’s technically Penn State’s backup punt returner, since John Reid played well at that spot in 2016. Still, kid’s got speed to burn.
  23. I liked that first drive, although I was a little surprised at how much running they allowed McSorley to do. Years ago, I was conditioned to watching a Penn State team protect Daryll Clark and prevent him from taking off because they had no viable backup. Obviously that’s not the case here.
  24. More than that, the coaches must be comfortable in letting Trace move because they’re comfortable in his decision making. He looked great out there.
  25. As my one friend noted, “Barkley is the best Heisman contender decoy we’ve ever had.”
  26. “...that we should consider using.”
  27. It’s not that we need Barkley against Akron, but who doesn’t want to watch Saquon work?
  28. I’m still on the DaeSean Hamilton train. That first drop was ugly - hit him perfectly in stride with room to run. I’m less concerned about the “drop” in the end zone that people keep calling “a sure touchdown.” I’m not so convinced it was.
  29. Hamilton played well otherwise. So did the rest of the receivers, including Juwan Johnson.
  30. We keep hearing great things about Double J, but he dropped a few balls in the Blue/White Game and has really been a practice warrior since he stepped on campus. Watching him fly one-on-one against a defender in live action is nice to see. He’s certainly big enough to replace Chris Godwin - I hope he’s nearly as tough.
  31. That was an awful decision by McSorley on the interception. He tried to fit it between two defenders on either side of Hamilton while another was directly in his line of sight.
  32. Trace is a great player, but he’s not pinpoint accurate. No need to make that throw in that tight of a window.
  33. The offensive line played well enough for me not to notice them all that much. Sure, they could have allowed less penetration, but some of that is by design based on the read option. Lots of deception and misdirection involved.
  34. Mike Gesicki continues to be the guy we all thought he would be. Thank goodness he’s over the drops that plagued him early in his career. The kid runs like a deer and bullies defenders like Karl Malone.
  35. Turf monster got him on a sure touchdown if he had kept his feet beneath him, though.
  36. You can see why Akron kicked to Thompkins the second time. You can even see why they’d re-kick on the third time.
  37. I don’t understand why you’d kick to him at all after that.
  38. Man, that kid is just straight fast. He ran right around and through that defense.
  39. Special teams looks like, generally speaking, a strength yet again. How long has it been since you could say that several years in a row for Penn State teams? Credit to James Franklin for emphasis.
  40. SBNation’s own Steven Godfrey mentioned something on Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody last week that stuck with me. When speaking with Bill Connelly about the Florida State/Alabama match up, he said that it’s hard to talk about games “in the moment,” rather than in the context of long term prognosis. What does this mean for the teams the rest of the way? What does this mean for a specific coach?
  41. We see that a lot in sports now - the meta analysis. It’s why the Cavs winning the 2016 title is a story for a minute, but Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors is a nine month story.
  42. This is mostly true during the early part of the college football schedule. We’re concerned about what a win against the Zips says about Penn State in the aggregate. Did we beat them by enough? Did we look right? Are people at the right positions? How do Ohio State and Penn State match up after watching the Indiana and Akron games?
  43. The remedy to that is Saquon Barkley.
  44. When Barkley touches the ball against anyone, I’m not thinking anything except trying to stop expletives from flying out of my mouth. The kid is flat out, jaw dropping, USC Reggie Bush, Barry Sanders-level amazing.
  45. 22 yards on his first three carries. A 17 yard catch and run in which he could have kept running left to get the first down, but instead stopped on a dime, cut backwards, hurdled a defender and dragged some tacklers for extra yards.
  46. He was inbounds. The spot was insane. He was either out at the 11 or not at all, so I can’t figure out why the ball was set at the 7. Regardless, he was unequivocally inbounds and that was an 87 yard touchdown run.
  47. I was irrationally upset at the fact that McSorley ended up with that touchdown.
  48. In the grand scheme of football things, there are worse problems.
  49. McSorley just walked into the end zone on that play. The only people who didn’t see that coming were the 11 guys on Akron’s side.
  50. I have no objections to letting Barkley return kicks, even in the second half. For one thing, it was the only kick return of the game. For another, these guys need live reps to get the rust off. Moreover, let Barkley make magic happen whenever you can. Number 26 is special.
  51. Apparently it doesn’t matter whether its Joey Julius or Tyler Davis, we’re bound to kick one kickoff out of bounds per week.
  52. Tommy Stevens did Tommy Stevens things. He’s a great runner who I think can use some work on his passing. A quality reserve who is going to be exceptional under center when he finally gets his chance to dance.
  53. There’s honestly not that much else to say. The best part about this game was how boring it got late in the third quarter. That’s all I want out of life on my first football Saturday of the fall.
  54. On to Pitt.
  55. We are...