Penn State disposes of Kent State, 34-0
STATE COLLEGE — About eight minutes into his postgame press conference, Bill O'Brien quickly shifted topics.
"You guys need to ask me some defensive questions," Penn State's second-year head coach interjected after answering a question about running back Bill Belton.
Unlike last week, there were many positives for O'Brien to discuss when talking about his defense, as Penn State notched its first shutout in three years with a 34-0 blowout of Kent State. The Nittany Lions (3-1) limited Kent State to 190 yards of total offense, while the team's running game exploded for 287 yards of its own on a rain-soaked afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
"Can we get some defensive questions, no?" O'Brien asked a room of reporters after Penn State's final nonconference contest. "They pitched a shutout. And I think [defensive coordinator] John Butler and that crowd of coaches and players over there did a hell of a job."
Fresh off a performance in which the unit gave up 34 points and 507 yards in a losing effort to Central Florida, Penn State's defense bottled up the Golden Flashes (1-3) attack for an average of 3.2 yards per play. Linebacker Glenn Carson had a team-high seven tackles (two for a loss), safety Ryan Keiser snagged his first career interception, and Philadelphia native Deion Barnes tallied six tackles and half a sack -- his first of the season.
"If you give up 34 points, you're always going to take that to heart," said Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. "We definitely want to go out here and prove ourselves and pitch a shutout like we did."
It rained the entire game, and the Lions took the field in a downpour. The announced attendance was 92, 371, but as the second half wore on, it looked much more like a crowd of a spring scrimmage.
Barnes noted it was the rainiest game he played in since a little league game in Southern Philadelphia years ago, and there was an agreement among defensive players that the sloppy conditions helped give the unit a leg up.
"That's backyard football right there, raining and everything," linebacker Nyeem Wartman said. "It's one more thing that slows down an offense, too, especially a team that runs the option. They don't want to run pitches or anything."
Kent State didn't get much done in the rain, and the weather also took its toll on Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. A true freshman, Hackenberg completed 13 of his 35 throws, and just six of his final 25 passes ended up in the hands of a wide receiver. He ended the game with 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and was backed by a tridented running attack of Zach Zwinak, Belton and Akeel Lynch.
Zwinak had the least amount of yardage of the trio (65), but found the end zone on three occasions. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound bruiser scored each time from either one or two yards out for his second straight three-touchdown showing. He has eight scores in the first month of the season, two more than he had in all of 2012.
"They trust me to be a short-yardage back, to get the one or two yards that we need," Zwinak said. "I feel honored that they trust me in that position and it's always fun jumping over the line."
Lynch, a redshirt freshman, got the majority of his carries in the second half and ended with a career-best 123 yards. Meanwhile, Belton had 90 rushing yards on 13 carries and also caught a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The Sickerville, N.J. product looked like he was in the end zone for the second time on a scamper in the third quarter, but he had a score overturned by replay.
"They always mess with me in the room about being down at the one-yard line," Belton joked postgame.
The Lions will get the next week off before starting their Big Ten slate on Oct. 5 with a road trip to Indiana. O'Brien said the team will have a mandatory day off Sunday, before it gets back to work Monday. The coach would obviously like to erase the UCF blemish from the record, but O'Brien said he feels "decent" about where Penn State is one-third through the season.
"We’re happy to be 3-1," he said. "We’d love to be 4-0, but 3-1 is better than 2-2."
NOTES: Sam Ficken hit a 54-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The only Penn State kicker to ever connect on a longer field goal was Chris Bahr, who hit three 55-yard kicks in 1975. Ficken's 54-yarder is the longest by a Penn State kicker at Beaver Stadium. …Linebacker Mike Hull (left knee) did not suit up for the contest. Hull injured himself in Penn State's season-opening win against Syracuse on Aug. 31. He did not play against Eastern Michigan, but did take the field against UCF. However, he was not 100 percent in the loss. …Penn State's last shutout also came against Kent State in 2010.