Penn State returns home this weekend to host Navy, with both teams looking for their first win of the season (3:30 p.m. on ABC / ESPN 2).
Penn State’s season has gotten off to a rough start and the Nittany Lions look to avoid their first 0-3 start since the 2001 season. A week after a special teams meltdown at Virginia, which saw Sam Ficken miss an extra point and four field goals – the fourth miss sailing wide left as time expired in a 17-16 loss – the team looks to regain something positive to reflect on.
One positive that can come out of the agony of defeat last week on the road was the much-improved play of the defense, which forced four turnovers against the Cavaliers. The defense was the unit that allowed a season opening win slip away from them, first by seeing a lucky bounce go Ohio’s way and then watching as the Bobcats clawed back and snatched a win. The unit, led by senior linebacker Michael Mauti, took on the responsibility to step up their game and did a good enough job to pick up a win last weekend.
The offense, of course, remains a work in progress, and key players are already banged up. Quarterback Matt McGloin left last weekend’s game with an elbow injury but did return to help move Penn State into position for a last second field goal. He should be back and ready to go after not even appearing on the injury report in Penn State’s weekly game release. But sophomore running back Bill Belton continues to be listed as possible with an ankle injury, which means Derek Day may get a good amount of playing time out of the back field.
One offensive player who has taken advantage of the opportunities left by transferring players has been sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson enters this weekend leading the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards. Is it safe to say he has become the team’s go-to wide receiver? Probably, especially now that starting wideout Shawney Kersey decided to leave the team this week.
The loss of Kersey likely means a chance to play for freshman Eugene Lewis or sophomore Matt Zanellato. Again, young players are filling Penn State’s key positions now, and growing pains could come with it. But if there is a bright spot here it is that many of these younger players will get playing time and perhaps help build and sustain this football program through the four years of sanctions.
Penn State’s job this week will be to slow down the Navy triple-option offense, which they should be able to accomplish without too much trouble. But this may not be the same sort of Navy offense we have seen in recent seasons, as the Midshipmen have a quarterback in junior Trey Miller. The Georgia native had a fairly productive performance against Notre Dame but his consistent passing efforts were not enough to keep Navy in the game against a bigger, more physical Notre Dame team in week one over in Ireland.
One thing we have seen in the first two weeks is that Penn State’s defense struggles to get off the field. If Navy can pick up a few yards here and a few more there using their run-heavy offense, Miller may have more than enough to sustain a number of drives with a good eye in the pocket. This means Penn State’s defensive line needs to see the defensive line break through and breath down Miller’s neck. One underrated aspect of Navy is their somewhat larger than normal offensive line. Navy did allow three sacks against Notre Dame, so look to see if defensive tackle Jordan Hill can have a big performance for Penn State.
This is almost a must-win game for Penn State, if just for a bit of a confidence boost. Wins ultimately mean nothing for Penn State this season of course, but after two heart-breaking losses these players need something to celebrate. And with Temple coming to Happy Valley next week after a bye week, the pressure is starting to mount for Penn State to get something going now.
One final note, the game can be seen locally on ABC, but if you’re watching from elsewhere on the country, you’ll find it on ESPN 2.
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