The Siege of Syracuse

The Siege of Syracuse by the Romans in 214 BC took two years.  Yesterday, the Nittany Lions besieged Syracuse in three and a half hours before a partisan crowd of 61,202.  It was a war in the trenches, with the Orange stacking the line and daring true freshman Quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, to beat them through the air.  And Hackenberg did not disappoint in his debut.

Syracuse had the Claw of mathematician Archimedes . . .Penn State had the heart of John Urschel

While the rookie signal caller had two interceptions, he also threw for two touchdowns, went 22-31 for 278 yards, and gave Penn State it’s first real deep threat since, well, probably Clark is the closest in 2008-9.  And I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest Hack was more accurate in those throws already as a freshman, which will put him way ahead of the curve at this point.  And his second interception was by a defensive end that dropped back into linebacker coverage.  Are you kidding me?

And while the paucity of points, especially in the first half is concerning, the score does not accurately reflect the dominance of Penn State over a Syracuse team that I will now admit is better than I thought.  The alleged “fumble” by Allan Robinson resulted in a flip-flop of field position when the Lions seemed to be clicking on offense and had gotten to the Syracuse 27.  Fortunately, the defense held and Syracuse missed the potential tying field goal at that point.  It’s a good thing they didn’t review the kick or they probably would have given Syracuse 3 points after further review.

In fact, I think the defense played a heck of a game.  Don’t forget, that on top of the depth issues, injuries, sanctions, and the like, the defense has a new coordinator on the headset, Ted Roof having left for Ga Tech.

I fully expected our offense to be more prolific than it was, and our defense to be more porous.  The final result was a satisfying mix, as both units, injuries not withstanding, will improve and benefit from this close game.  I don’t imagine Wisconsin’s head coach learned a whole lot about his team in a 45-0 win over UMass.  UMass should be thankful that Bielema wasn’t still on the sideline, or that figure might have approached 70.  But I digress.

While the Nittany Lion rushing game managed only a paltry 57 yards, the Syracuse running game didn’t do a whole lot better, gaining just 71 yards on the day.   Our rushing game started slow last year, and I think the potential is still there.  And as I said above, the Syracuse game plan was pretty obvious–stack the line and stop the run.  They succeeded, but that is not necessarily a poor reflection on our offensive line.  Even veteran lines have trouble opening holes when the opponent stacks the box against the run.

It is also quite evident that the Penn State offense is a different (and better) beast with ARob in the game.  For whatever reason, O’Brien sat him on the bench for the first half.  But then his first two touches in the second half keyed a two play scoring drive.

Unfortunately, the Orange weren’t going to be squeezed so easily, answering back with a two play scoring drive that kept the PSU margin at 3.

In the end, the officiating sucked.  We didn’t cover the spread.  Despite the offensive ballyhoo and hype of Hackenberg, it was still a defensive play that won the day.  Joe Paterno must be smiling.  Fergusen didn’t look as comfortable in the game in his lone series, and he fumbled.  It’s too small a data set to draw any conclusions from that.

But I was also a little concerned about the late game play calling.  I liked the aggressive fourth down call on the first drive.  But then the last possession looked like Paterno has somehow come back from the dead and called running plays which not only didn’t gain any yardage, but didn’t even bleed much time off the clock.  I’m not sure why O’Brien suddenly became so conservative–maybe it was the two picks by Hack and a tired offensive line on a hot humid day that caused him to lean more to the conservative side.  It worked and we still won, but it was more of a nail biter than I would have liked it to have been.

I also want to throw in, and here is as good a point as any, but I don’t think we are seeing the full Hackenberg package yet.  The fourth down play aside, the tight ends were not dramatically involved in the offense as I would have expected.  Lehman and James had two catches apiece and Carter none.

I think we will see the tight ends used more as the season goes on.  Brenneman was in the game on special teams.  I am very glad we have three more games before the conference schedule to fine tune this offensive machine.  Hackenberg looks to be the real deal.

BY THE NUMBERS:

From the GoPSUsports site:

PSU SU
FIRST DOWNS………………. 14 11
RUSHES-YARDS (NET)………… 38-57 37-71
PASSING YDS (NET)…………. 296 189
Passes Att-Comp-Int……….. 32-23-2 37-16-2
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS….. 70-353 74-260
Fumble Returns-Yards………. 0-0 1-46
Punt Returns-Yards………… 3-44 2-16
Kickoff Returns-Yards……… 3-66 2-70
Interception Returns-Yards…. 2-4 2-52
Punts (Number-Avg)………… 7-39.0 7-42.1
Fumbles-Lost……………… 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards…………… 4-20 8-70
Possession Time…………… 30:45 29:15
Third-Down Conversions…….. 1 of 16 6 of 20
Fourth-Down Conversions……. 2 of 2 0 of 2
Red-Zone Scores-Chances……. 2-2 3-3
Sacks By: Number-Yards…….. 2-17 3-22

Penn State was perfect in fourth down conversions, but abysmal in third down plays.  The lack of a running game and not wanting to put too much pressure on Hackenberg were probably contributing factors.

Penn State outgained the Orange by about a 100, and time of possession was about equal, with a minute edge to the Lions.

The punting game is still meh, but hang me up and paint me surprised, but I was impressed with Ficken.  Three field goals including a 46-yarder (he didn’t make one over 40 last year!) is more than I would have expected.  I still got queasy when he trotted out on the field, but he sure did knock ’em through.  One of the kicks was low and ugly, but the snap was high, I think.  Overall, give that guy a gold star.  He also put most of his kicks deep with no returns which is also a great plus.

INTANGIBLES:

O’Brien won his first season opener.

Christian Hackenberg became the second freshman to start a season at Penn State at quarterback since 1910.

Syracuse won the toss and deferred.

THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:

The 2nd. ranked Buckeyes rolled over Buffalo 40-20.  Wisconsin badgered UMass 45-0.  In the battles of the Great Lakes State, THEM beat Central Michigan 59-9 and the Spartans defeated Western Michigan 26-13.  Northwestern beat Cal 44-30.  Indiana crushed Indiana State 73-35, and Minnesota gnawed on UNLV for a 51-23 final score.  The Huskers survived against Wyoming, winning 37-34, and Illinois managed a win against Southern Illinois, 42-34.

Losers include Iowa (there’s a surprise!) losing to Northern Illinois 30-27 and Purdue being steamrolled by Cincy 42-7.

Future Big Ten members Maryland and Rutgers did thus:  The Terps beat Florida International Airport 43-10 while Buttgers lost a wild one 52-51 against Fresno State.

SHEDDING TEARS:

1.  For Texas A and M–what a disgrace.  Johnny Football mocked signing an autograph–which was not flagged, but than was later penalized for taunting in the only half of football he played.  The Aggies won big, but at what price?

2.  For Elon–blasted 70-0 by the Rambling Wreck of Georgia Tech.

3.  For K-state–shocked in Manhattan by North Dakota State.

4.  For the Beavers–Oregon State lost to Eastern Washington 49-46, the first time a FCS school beat a ranked FBS school since James Madison took out Va Tech in 2010.

5.  For Georgia–lost a close battle to Clemson in a match-up of Top Ten teams.

6.  For Frank Beamer–did anyone get the license plate of that Elephant?

LOOKING AHEAD:

Penn State opens the season at home against Eastern Michigan next Saturday at high noon.

EMU won its first game against Howard (the duck?) 34-24.  Penn state won their last meeting 34-6 in 2011 . . . Joes were the days, boys.

I look to see both quarterbacks getting playing time again, with Hack starting.  We will probably try tuning up the running game some more, but I think O’Brien is still a pass first kind of guy so we’ll see some more ARob highlights.

GO STATE!  BEAT EMU!

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Filed under analysis, Big Ten, football, Penn State, recap

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