The rain forecasted for today’s game doesn’t look too promising, which bodes well for Kent State (1-2). The Golden Flashes are major underdogs heading into Saturday’s contest against the Nittany Lions (2-1), but precipitation could force some mistakes from both sides. Kent State’s biggest chance at sticking around in this game will depend on their readiness to capitalize on Penn State slip-ups — figuratively or muddily.
Penn State’s defense was anemic last weekend in the team’s loss to Central Florida. This game may serve their confidence well, but it won’t serve as an indicator for where the defense stands. Kent State is eighth in the MAC in total defense, and 10th in scoring defense. Between a bye week and an away matchup against Indiana, Penn State has three weeks before their defense should be challenged again — enter Michigan. But the Wolverines are still far off. The Lions’ defense really can’t go anywhere but up after UCF dismantled them, so Kent State is as good an opponent as any to start their redemption.
Penn State also needs to start ironing out the wrinkles in their special teams. Sam Ficken has been stellar on kickoffs and field goals, but everything else has had a largely negative effect on the Lions’ field position this season. Penn State’s coverage units have fallen victim to the elusive returner, and while Eugene Lewis has showed some promise on Penn State’s own kick returns, he hasn’t exploded yet. Furthermore, Alex Butterworth hasn’t kept opponents claustrophobic with his punting. His average this season is 39 yards; Christian Hackenberg’s one punt against Syracuse was 42 yards.
FIVE KEYS TO A PENN STATE VICTORY
- Conservative play. This won’t be a day for long passes and electric runs. Look for Hackenberg to hand the ball to Zwinak and work his tight ends on short slants across the middle. Allen Robinson will be in the mix, but likely not as big a factor as he’s been so far.
- Deion Barnes. It’d be nice to see him get a couple sacks against Kent State, and Indiana for that matter, over the next two weeks, so he has momentum for Michigan down the road.
- The crowd. The Lions probably won’t need the 12th man too badly to beat the Golden Flashes (no offense, 12th man), but how many fans will actually show up to the Lions’ least intriguing matchup in less-than-appealing weather? State College’s bars could have the real breakout day.
- Staying healthy. Always a major component for victories. If Penn State has more than a two-touchdown lead at some point in the third quarter, Tyler Ferguson may rise from Penn State’s bench.
- John Butler. With Bill O’Brien’s offensive mind, Butler’s role can’t be emphasized enough. His defense had an abysmal game last weekend, and he tried to explain what happened as best he could afterward. Butler doesn’t seem like a guy who’d grapple with low confidence himself, but it’s worth looking to see if he tries to mix some things up against Kent State.
Hackenberg +/- 2.5 passing touchdowns
Under. He may run one in, though.
Barnes +/- 1.5 sacks
Under. He gets one, but the field condition is too subpar for him to burst off the edge like he showed the capacity for last season.
Both teams +/- 2.5 fumbles
Over. It’s going to be a slippery day out there. This could be a fun football game if you like turnovers.
Both teams +/- 2.5 missed field goals
Over. Of course, they’re all missed by Kent State because Ficken won’t be missin’©. (That’s sarcasm.)
Craig Fitzgerald +/- 0.5 times he rips his shirt off in the rain to pump up the Lions
PREDICTED SCORE: Penn State 24 Kent State 7