Resilient Second Half Lifts Penn State Over Akron
James Franklin walked off the field for his first regular season game at Beaver Stadium with a simple message to the student section, “Thank you.” The Nittany Lions needed everyone to chip in for a 21-3 win on Saturday afternoon.
Franklin’s emotion played a big role in guiding the Nittany Lions to their 2-0 start.
“Getting off that bus with the extended tradition we’ve added, I was fighting back my emotions,” Franklin said. “Watching the fans and the community support these guys is an unbelievable performance.”
Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg gave an unbelievable performance of his own and had another record-breaking effort on Saturday. Hackenberg broke Zach Mills’ total passing yards in consecutive games with 773 yards to start the 2014 season.
Mills threw for 686 yards in consecutive games in 2002 and Hackenberg had 706 combined yards at the conclusion of the third quarter.
“People stepped up and made plays,” Hackenberg said. “I feel we’ve just got to play more consistent to rely on (the passing game).”
But on a day when the 1994 Penn State team and Rose Bowl Champions were honored, the 2014 offense wasn’t up to par in replicating that record setting offense.
Hackenberg’s struggles outweighed the lucrative amount of yards put up as the Nittany Lions offense was one-dimensional for the first half.
“I think when you have quarterbacks who have really strong arms and believe in themselves, they’re going to try to make some throws that other quarterbacks don’t,” Franklin said. “This is part of the growth process and we’ll get it resolved.”
The running game was limited all game long until a second half surge from redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch. Lynch finished the game as the leading rusher with 45 yards on seven carries.
“Akeel was able to do some things,” Franklin said “I’ve been pleased with those guys and we need his (Lynch) package to be able to continue to grow.”
Most of the work from the running backs came in as contributions to the passing game.
The first of three Hackenberg touchdown tosses came on a 22-yard pass to senior running back Bill Belton out of the backfield in the first quarter giving Penn State an early 7-0 lead.
Hackenberg then found junior tight end Jesse James twice for touchdown. Once over the middle for a 13-yard pass to extend the Nittany Lions lead 14-3 in the third and a 44-yard catch in the fourth.
James caught two touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his Penn State career.
“It was great even though in the first half we struggled a little,” James said. “I missed some opportunities in the second half, but (Hackenberg) found me today.”
For the second consecutive week, the Nittany Lion defense more than complemented the offense allowing only 69 rushing yards and 277 total yards.
“They’re playing well and they got to create more three-and-outs and turnovers,” Franklin said. “(Akron) had a good plan and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly.”
Senior linebacker Mike Hull led the Nittany Lions defense in tackles for the second consecutive week. Hull registered nine and a half tackles including a sack.
“I think we played well holding them under 300 yards,” Hull said. “I just think we need to work on taking the ball away to help our offense out.”
After a 41-0 blowout last week over Howard, Akron dropped to 1-1 on the young season. Akron junior quarterback Kyle Pohl and the rest of the Zip offense struggled in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd of 97,354.
Pohl finished throwing 24 for 46 with 208 yards on the afternoon.
Akron won the turnover battle forcing two Nittany Lions interceptions and recovering a botched snap by Penn State in the third quarter.
The first home game under James Franklin was a success and the emotion will be riding high this week.
“We are going to enjoy wins around here,” Franklin added. “Everybody is a part of this win.”
Penn State will travel to Rutgers next week for the Scarlet Knights’ first home Big Ten game. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. and can be heard on ComRadio.
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Ryan Stevens is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Ryan is a senior from Bloomington, Illinois majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in english. He has been involved with numerous radio shows, play-by-plays, beat writes and producing various Penn State athletics events since his first days of being on campus in the fall of 2012 with ComRadio. Since the fall of 2013, Ryan has been involved with State College’s ESPN Radio 1450 as an assistant producer intern and high school football reporter.
During the summer of 2014, Ryan co-hosted Sports Central with Cory Giger streaming over Altoona, Pa. and State College Pa. markets. Ryan also assisted USA Basketball media coverage in New York for World Cup of Basketball exhibition games.
Ryan was the marketing & communications intern for USA Track & Field at the national office in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the media contact for the 2015 USATF Hershey Youth Outdoor Championships as well as the 2015 National Junior Olympics.