The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
ND: Penn State looks to bounce back from a tough home loss to Central Florida. The Lions' offense looked great but the defense was on their heels the whole game. The coaching staff has been reviewing film and making the necessary adjustments. Kent State hits the road again after getting clobbered by LSU.
MH: Yeah it was a brutal outing for the defense and a frustrating one for the offense. Give UCF's quarterback and offensive line credit, but Penn State's defensive front needs to make some leaps and bounds getting pressure up front as they head towards conference play.
Who: Kent State at Penn State
When: Saturday, September 21 at 3:30 pm ET, 12:30 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 3-0
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 19 points
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: I am absolutely convinced that Notre Dame has no business being ranked in the top 25. Yet, the Irish bring their #22 ranking into a battle against Michigan State. The Spartans are terrible on offense and lack any sort of an identity. However, Michigan State might have the best defense in the conference this year. This should be a really good matchup that results in a pretty low score.
MH: No. 23 Arizona State is sky-high as they pulled off a home upset of Wisconsin thanks to game clock debacle. The Sundevils head to No. 5 Stanford hoping to get just as lucky against the Cardinal. Stanford is 2-0, but has yet to play anyone major yet, so well see how ASU fares.
ND: I firmly believe that USC is a bad football team. If they thought that their loss to Washington State was bad, wait until Lane Kiffin loses this weekend to Utah State. The Aggies are putting up an average of 49.3 points per game and they hung right in there with Utah, who took Oregon State to overtime this past weekend. I like the balanced attack of the Aggies going into SoCal and coming returning with a big win.
MH: I have never understood the love affair with Kiffin, but I am not sure that's really an upset at this stage. There aren't a lot of brewing upsets on the docket this week, but I am going to go out and say Auburn will give No. 6 LSU a game with the chance to knock them off. I know it's crazy, but Auburn is looking to prove they have the horses to hang in the SEC.
ND: Offensively, the Lions showed improvement in run blocking and made some very positive strides in engaging the tight ends. The play of Christian Hackenberg truly does improve week to week. I'm sure the coaches have been working with him to throw the football away versus taking a sack while hoping that an option develops. But, Hackenberg's accuracy has been unbelievable and, forget about the future, the present looks very bright with Hackenberg under center.
Hackenberg's fellow playmakers have been strong as well. The Lions continue to keep defenses guessing on which running back will get the majority of the carries – Zach Zwinak or Bill Belton. Zwinak received 21 carries last week and was able to chew up 128 yards of offense. The passing game continues to be the focal point, however. Allen Robinson has dominated the competition for the first 3 weeks. He is a fixture at the top in all of the receiving statistics and defensive backs have resorted to taking the holding penalty to prevent an even bigger play when Robinson gets a step. I look for Hackenberg to lean on Jesse James and Kyle Carter more this week. Kyle Carter suffered a bad arm injury in the Syracuse game and is finally get mostly healthy. With him added into the fold, there will be more options for Hackenberg to torch defenses that try to stuff the box.
The real question marks are on the defensive side of the ball. The Lions were very strong in the first two games of the season but looked very lost last week. Even coach John Butler admitted to frequently changing coverages and schemes trying to find a combination that would slow down UCF but nothing worked. The biggest surprise has been the lack of defensive pressure on the QB. To date, the defensive ends for Penn State have only tallied one sack and the Lions are unable to get any real pressure on the QB without a blitz. Unfortunately, the issues don't stop there. The linebackers are having a considerable issue trying to shed blocks and the secondary was yards away from the intended receiver when the reception was made. The Lions have had a tough week of practice trying to correct these issues. I look for far more blitzes trying to get the ball out of the QB's hands faster and force some turnovers.
MH: First off, I continue to be impressed with Christian Hackenberg. No doubt he has some freshman speed bumps, but he maintains his poise better than a lot of upperclassmen that are under center around the nation. The offensive line hit some potholes here and there, but managed to get it together for a solid offensive effort. Zach Zwinak was particularly impressive, topping 100 yards, after a slow start. The concern I have is that Allen Robinson, while dominant through the early slate, will start to see increased coverage. This means that the ball has to get spread around regularly. PSU has managed to do this pretty well thus far, but no one has shown to be a dominant receiving threat close to Robinson.
Defensively, the Lions have problems. I know a lot of fans won't given the opposing team much credit given the team on their jerseys, but UCF played an impressive offensive game. I am with you though, Nirav, it was shocking that the front seven could not penetrate the pocket with any consistency. I am not sure what Larry Johnson will do to address the issues with the ends, but the line has to figure out how to force some decisions or it will be a tough conference road.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: The first thing that you notice with Kent State is the sheer number of injuries. The Flashes only returned two starters on the offensive line and lost one of them during preseason camp. The starting nose guard broke his leg last weekend. The biggest injury is Dri Archer, who is a very versatile and dynamic senior running back. He has an ankle injury and attempted to play against LSU before finally throwing in the towel and calling it a day after one play. His status for the Penn State game is very much in question. Despite 32 rushing attempts, the Flashes only gained 58 yards. Trayion Durham is getting most of the carries and the kid is a beast. At 248 pounds, he is very physical. The Flashes have a very accurate QB in freshman Colin Reardon. He is completing 65.9% of his passes this season but the offense doesn't ask Reardon to push the ball down the field. He throws screens, check-downs and quick slants. But, Chris Humphrey is the closest thing that they have to a big time receiver. He leads the team in yards, yards per reception and TDs. I look for Kent State to get the ball out into the flat quickly and force the Penn State defense to make tackles and run sideline to sideline.
Defensively, Kent State has to replace seven starters from last year's squad. The result has been very inconsistent. Nowhere is that more evident that the fact that Kent State has only forced one turnover, which is tied for the worst in the nation. Luke Wollet is leading the team with tackles but because of shoulder and ankle injuries, it's likely that Wollet won't see the field this Saturday. The team leader in TFLs, Roosevelt Nix, is also injured. Bottom-line is that the Flashes are in a world of hurt and they will struggle to keep up with the Nittany Lions. I'm sure that the Flashes will do everything that they can to get pressure on Hackenberg but in the end, they under manned and it will really start to show in the second quarter after the initial fire wears off.
MH: PSU's defense should be able to disrupt the KSU offensive line given the inexperience there. As you said the Flashes have more holes than a wiffle ball and they are struggling with not just injuries, but depth. Reardon is a good quarterback and will pin together some drives, but they have taken the dink-dunk approach, which makes for a lot of opportunity for mistakes. Reardon is their best weapon in this game. I don't expect they will have him airing it out, but they will look for him to toss the ball around and get it to the running backs to change things up.
Given the challenges they have with banged up guys on defense, the Kent State secondary will likely be playing soft to keep everything in front of them. Even though they will want to get pressure on Hackenberg, that will be a tall order for their front seven. Penn State should get the tight ends more involved here to exploit the blitzes KSU tosses out and take advantage of mismatches in the flat.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: I don't know if the fans can really enjoy any matchup after last week. But, it will be interesting to see what Coach John Butler does this week to get the defense to put more pressure on the QB and it will be important for the corners to play better on passing downs. A famous coach once said that you either get better or worse but you're not going to stay the same. We'll see which side this defense lands on this week.
MH: Yeah, that's a tough one, but I am going with Hackenberg against the Kent State defensive front. He could have a banner day if he spreads the ball around and keeps the Flashes on their heels.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: The Lions have to fine tune several elements of their game before the Big Ten schedule kicks off. Those items include pass rush, third down conversions, kick coverage, tackling and pass coverage. This is the game for the Lions to hone those skills. If the Lions can reduce the errors, they really can have a successful season. But, the mistakes were front and center last week and that triggered the loss.
MH: I think a big key is third down conversions. Penn State is downright horrid and they need to figure out how to solve the issue as the enter Big Ten play. Part of it's execution and part, in my opinion, is attitude.
ND: Lost in last week's loss was the fact that the offense scored 31 points and looked pretty good for most of the game. I like Penn State's defense stifling a weak offense and the offense putting up some big points.
Penn State 38, Kent State 10
MH: PSU should put up points in this one. I expect KSU to get some drives together, but will run out of gas early against PSU's size.
Penn State 34, Kent State 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!