Touchdown of Takeaways: Ground game comes alive

Story posted September 22, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

For the first time all season, Penn State (4-0, 1-0 B1G) found success on the ground in the form of a 48-7 rout over UMass (0-4). The Nittany Lions put up 28 points in the second quarter and didn’t look back despite playing backups for much of the second half.

With the heart of the conference schedule set to pick up next week, let’s reflect on some things that can be taken away from a game that the Nittany Lions never had in doubt.

1) We’ll start with giving some love to the group that undoubtedly needed it the most heading into Week 4: the offensive line. Yes, it was UMass. Yes, the Minutemen have one of the worst run defenses in the country. But Penn State has struggled immensely to run the football all season, and needed to gain some confidence as they head into the conference schedule. 

The line and running backs stepped up, producing 228 yards on the ground with five touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Derek Dowrey saw increased reps at the right guard position this week and looked much stronger as he continues to battle a wrist injury.

UMass is certainly the worst defense that the Nittany Lions will face from here out, but the offensive line play Saturday is encouraging to James Franklin and his staff.

2) Outside of the line’s performance, the most important piece of information to take away from Saturday’s blow out concerns the freshmen that are now surely to be redshirted.

A total of six true freshmen had appeared in the participation reports before this week; S Marcus Allen, WR Saeed Blacknall, S Christian Campbell, TE Mike Gesicki, WR Chris Godwin and CB Grant Haley. With the game out of reach early, Franklin emptied the bench, which means that anyone who didn’t appear Saturday is now likely going to be redshirted.

Most notably on that list of those expected to redshirt are quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Michael O’Connor. Linebackers Troy Reeder and Jason Cabinda were thought to possibly supply depth at a much-needed position, but both have yet to see action.

3) The one new freshman to appear against the Minutemen was punter Daniel Pasquariello out of Melbourne, Australia. Pasquariello’s family had made the trip across the globe, which may have had an impact on Franklin’s decision to let him take two of the Nittany Lions’ three punts.

The freshman was impressive averaging just under 45 yards per punt, with one putting UMass inside of their 20. Now that his redshirt has been lost, is it possible that there could be a battle for the starting punter role? Regular starter Chris Gulla has been solid thus far, but had a punt blocked against Rutgers.

4) Notice anything different about the use of the Wildcat this time around? Instead of having a lone setback with a lead blocker, offensive coordinator John Donovan installed a form of the read-option with both Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch in the backfield.

Many believed during the preseason that this type of package was going to be used with McSorley as the quarterback given his athletic ability. But, Belton has shown the threat of throwing the ball, and now with he and Lynch, the defense can’t just focus on whoever is taking the snap.

It was a clever wrinkle from Donovan that now gives Big Ten foes another new look to have to think about.

5) Another week, another dominant performance from the Nittany Lion defense. Penn State limited to just three yards rushing, and now has the top rush defense in the nation.

The front seven also forced three fumbles despite only recovering one. Defensive tackle Tarow Barney, a junior college transfer out of Mississippi, recorded his first career sack, forcing a fumble in the process.

Before the season, Franklin said that he thought this defense had the possibility of being a top-25 unit. After four games, there’s a big enough sample size to see that that is looking like a likely statement.

6) Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton continue to be more than capable of filling the Allen Robinson void. The two are ranked number one and two amongst Big Ten receivers in receptions per game as well as receiving yards per game.

Lewis had yet another highlight grab on a fade pass down the right sideline. Hackenberg threw a beautiful ball towards the boundary, and Lewis went up to make the catch managing to keep one foot in bounds for a 38-yard completion.

7) Franklin had created a buzz around State College throughout the offseason along the recruiting trail. Now a third of the way through the season, and the Nittany Lions are undefeated with a real chance of being 5-0 before a bye week and then heading to Michigan.

An announced attendance of over 99,000, Franklin’s mission of putting 107,000 fans in Beaver Stadium every week could, and probably will, come true if Penn State continues to win.

The Nittany Lions host Northwestern next weekend for Homecoming with the number of alumni in attendance expected to be larger than normal years. After that, the next time Penn State will step onto the grass of Beaver Stadium will be for a primetime showdown with Ohio State.

If Penn State can continue to stay in the win column, look for them to average over 100,000 for the remaining five home games.

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Matt Lawrence is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, email mdl030293@gmail.com.