Preparation paid off for Penn State in opener

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. (Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports)
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. (Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: September 05, 2014

Considering Penn State's second coaching change in three years and the resulting alterations in schemes, signals, and philosophies, the Nittany Lions appeared rather smooth and confident with their execution Saturday in their first game under James Franklin.

Sure, the Lions had just enough hiccups - minus-2 on turnovers, nine penalties - to make their game against Central Florida a little closer than they would have liked. But no one in Happy Valley was complaining after a 26-24 victory Saturday in the Croke Park Classic in Ireland.

Penn State's 511-246 advantage in total yards reflected well on the coordinators - Bob Shoop on defense and John Donovan on offense - even after they faced early adversity. Both men had to race out of the coaches' box and down to the sideline in the first quarter after the power went out and the coaches' headsets were not functioning.

"I think Coach Shoop and all the defensive coaches did a really good job," said middle linebacker Mike Hull, who led the Lions with 11 tackles. "They did a great job in the offseason stressing communication, so when we went out there it was just like practice. I'm not surprised that it went as well as it did because of how much emphasis they put on the little details the whole offseason."

Penn State also was sparked defensively by Anthony Zettel, moving over from end for his first game at tackle. Zettel had three tackles for loss, including a sack, and recovered a fumble.

Offensively, the preparation and the communication were good, for the most part. Both aspects contributed to the clutch drive in the final 68 seconds in which the Nittany Lions, trailing by one, drove from their own 26 to the UCF 19, and Sam Ficken kicked the winning field goal on the final play.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for the last of his school-record 454 yards conducting the two-minute drill.

"I think it's big," Hackenberg said. "The coaching staff does a great job with game management. . . . It goes back to the practice field, the two-minute drills and executing those. It's something that we're all getting better at."

The Nittany Lions have a checklist of things they would like to do better in their home opener - and Franklin's Beaver Stadium debut - on Saturday against Akron.

Franklin wants to establish a running game, force more turnovers and commit fewer, cut down on penalties, score touchdowns in the red zone instead of settling for field goals, and give up fewer big plays on defense.

But the big thing is, the Lions are 1-0, and for Hackenberg, that means all the hard work has paid off.

"We needed to come out and play very well to win that game," he said. "To see all of it come together and give us that type of momentum heading into Week 2, I think it's huge."

Army coming to town

Penn State announced it had completed its 2015 schedule by adding Army. The Black Knights will visit Beaver Stadium on Oct. 3 for the teams' first meeting since 1979, a 24-3 home win for the Lions.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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