-Franklin has done a consistently good job of scripting the opening plays of each game to get his offense in a rhythm. Not sure why he never goes back to these plays later when the offense is struggling. Hackenberg works well out of the play action with short receiver routes, because he has a chance to get the ball out before his line collapses.
-Akeel Lynch busts a 16 yard run to the endzone, but is ruled out of bounds at the 8 yard line. Belton runs it in three plays later, but a holding penalty by Mangiro cancels out the TD. After Hackenberg somehow fails to see his receiver jumping up and down in the corner of the endzone, Ficken kicks the field goal for a 3-0 lead.
-After Temple goes three and out, Bill Belton loses the football on a run. Even though the video seems to clearly show Belton being down before the football comes loose, the ruling on the field is a fumble and the officials allow the ruling to stand after review.
-I really don’t like ESPN’s announcers. Like, ever.
-Austin Johnson makes back-to-back plays, tackling the ball-carrier and batting down a pass on the very next play.
-Both backs are running well for Penn State right now. Belton is usually referred to as the speed back, with Lynch being the well-rounded back who fits between Belton and the bruising Zwinak. However, Belton has bulked up a bit over his career, and I think both he and Lynch run with a nice blend of speed, vision, and power. Belton may have a bit more of a second gear, and Lynch may be the more decisive one-cut runner.
-Penn State’s defense is taking care of business, as usual. However, so is Temple’s. Hackenberg throws a pass behind Mike Gesicki, which is deflected to Tavon Young, who returns it 25 yards to the Penn State 40 yard line. Hackenberg now has 13 interceptions to just 7 touchdowns this season.
-Penn State holds Temple, with Zettel getting an impressive sack on third down. Zettel has to be the fastest defensive lineman Penn State has had in a while, and he absolutely tracked down PJ Walker and brought him down for a 2 yard loss.
-Hackenberg has got to learn how to ditch a football. He has Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach back on the offensive line, so he should be a little more confident back there. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a ticking clock on each play.
-Mike Hull is so fun to watch play. That guy has such a nose for the ball and his tackling should be used as defensive coaching film in the NFL.
-PJ Walker has some nice athleticism, as he avoids tackles and escapes the pocket to deliver a strike to the left side of the field. Unfortunately, his receiver can’t make the catch. Good play-making ability flashed by the quarterback on that play, though.
-Franklin sprints downfield to argue with a ref about a pass interference no-call, but the next play is more exciting; Hackenberg completes a laser to Godwin, who shows some strong hands to take possession with a defensive back all over him.
-After a penalty against Temple for unsportsmanlike conduct, Hackenberg sails a pass way over the head of his receiver along the sideline. However, he makes up for that with an 8 yard completion followed by a 12 yard QB scamper on the next play.
-Just with 00:07 left in the half, Penn State runs another play before putting Sam Ficken on the field. Before the ball was snapped, I said to my wife, “I bet Hackenberg holds the ball too long and Ficken never gets a shot.” This was almost true, as Hackenberg held the ball, then threw a short pass in the middle of the field. Penn State managed to get the timeout called with 00:01 left in the half, and Ficken nails a 50 yarder to make it 6-3, Penn State.
-During the halftime interview, James Franklin places the blame for Hackenberg’s interception squarely on the receiver. “We can’t run wrong routes that cause interceptions,” he stated.
-Temple receives the ball to start the second half, and they are starting on a solid note. PJ walker puts together some completions to complement Gilmore’s runs, and Temple is slowly but surely moving down the field.
-The problem with a short pass, tempo offense is that your passes only gain you four or 5 yards per completion. If you whiff on a throw or get stuffed on a run, all of a sudden you find yourself in 3rd and long. That’s where Temple is at right now. A stuffed run followed by an incompletion sets up the Temple field goal attempt, which Austin Jones misses from 42 yards.
-Penn State’s next drive is short-lived, as Christian Hackenberg coughs up the ball, and Temple takes over at the Penn State 16 yard line.
-PJ walker tries running the ball twice, and gains yardage both times. He is stopped short of the goal line, though, and Gilmore can’t put it in either. Austin Jones puts this one in from 25 yards. The score is now 6-6.
-Bill Belton tears out a 37 yard run for Penn State, and Lynch (not to be outdone) follows up with a 38 yard dash for the touchdown. Ficken’s extra point is good, making it 13-6 Penn State.
-Adrian Amos has a great interception and 33 yard run to put Penn State within the Temple 10 yard line. Bill Belton runs the ball in on the next play to make it 20-6, Penn State.
-Sam Ficken’s kickoff is a touchback, giving the Penn State defense a good position to defend. PJ Walker isn’t about to back down, though, and he finds Fitzpatrick for a 75 yard passing touchdown on the first play of the possession. 20-13, Penn State. We have a game.
-Penn State goes three and out, and is forced to punt.
-PJ Walker shows off that athleticism again, running for 20 yards and a first down.
-After two incomplete passes, Walker is intercepted by freshman Christian Campbell.
-After Penn State fails to put together another drive, Temple goes on offense. And by Temple, I mean Penn State’s defense, as Grant Haley intercepts Walker for a pick six. 27-13, Penn State.
-Walker’s rough day continues as on third down of the following drive, a fumbled snap leads to Austin Johnson recovering the ball for Penn State.
-Akeel Lynch breaks a nice 15 yard run for the first down. Lynch has over 120 yards and 7 yards per carry on the day. This sets up a Penn State field goal, making it 30-13.
-The interceptions keep on coming, as Jesse Della Valle makes an incredible interception on the sideline, getting his hand and forearm down within bounds while suspended upside-down in the air.
-Hamilton nearly has a great touchdown off the play action fake, but can’t hang on to the ball while he is hit.
-Ficken’s 42 yard field goal attempt is blocked. It looks like a failure of the line, although sometimes Ficken doesn’t get a ton of loft on his kicks early, so he may bear some responsibility as well.
-PJ Walker is just playing for pride at this point. Temple drives down the field about 30 yards, but they can’t get any momentum against this Penn State defense. No offense to Temple, but despite Hackenberg’s continued struggles, Penn State completely outclasses this Owls squad.
-Time for the backups. Chiapialle is a guy we don’t often see carrying the ball, but he puts out runs of 8 and 7 yards before Penn State kneels to run out the clock. Penn State wins, 30-13.
Thoughts and observations:
Although this looked like a gimme game at the beginning of the season, this Nittany Lion offense has been so bad lately that there was no way of knowing how the game would turn out. Having Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith back together was a boon to the running game, as both Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch came away with big games today. Belton had a respectable 92 yards on 19 runs for a 4.8 yard average, while Lynch scampered for 130 yards on 18 touches for a stellar 7.2 yards per carry.
Although the running game showed some continued improvement, Hackenberg looks like he will take a bit longer to get his groove back after a season of being continually sacked in the backfield. Last year, our boy in blue (and white) passed for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. So far this year, he has 7 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Not good. After a hot start against UCF and Akron (773 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 65% completion rate), Hackenberg’s game has been in steep decline. The last two games, Hackenberg has completed 43.6% of his passes for 280 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. In most schools, that kind of decline would earn you a ride on the pine, but it is unlikely that Franklin will pull Hack’s signal-calling duties. Here’s why:
1. Hackenberg has shown that he has the kind of arm talent, poise, and intellect that makes for a rare quarterback, and not the kind that often plays at Happy Valley. He may be regressing, and may even benefit from a little timeout, but it’s hard to give up on that kind of skill set, and besides…
2. Trace McSorley, the backup to Christian Hackenberg, is taking a redshirt year, along with Michael O’Connor. Unless Franklin wants to burn a year of eligibility for the quarterback who flipped his Vanderbilt commitment to follow the coach, there’s no reason to put McSorley in just to “See what he’s got.”
3. Hackenberg is still the best quarterback Penn State has, and it isn’t all that close. He may not have been the type of quarterback Franklin’s offensive system was designed for, but there is no denying that he is a cut above McSorley, O’Connor, and walk-on DJ Crook.
Franklin describes his offense as a multiple look pro-style offense, but it is definitely a little more gimmicky than the blue collar Bill O’Brien offense that Hackenberg thrived in last year, which was predicated on a punishing running game (led by the now-injured Zwinak) and a vertical passing attack, which catered to Hackenberg’s strong arm and the fact that, given time, he can put the perfect touch and placement on his passes. Franklin did some great things down at Vanderbilt, but you have to wonder if he’s facing a little bit of a learning curve by stepping into the spotlight of one of America’s traditional football powerhouses. Granted, Franklin didn’t recruit many of the players on the roster. But with a sanction-depleted talent pool, you’ve got to find a way to play to your strengths. That means going back to the drawing board, rewatching some of last year’s film and the first two games of the season with your starting quarterback, and asking him what he’d like to do more of on the field. Look at what he’s been doing well at, and identify ways that he’s been taking a step back. Then formulate a plan for how you are going to make him feel comfortable until that confidence returns.
From a technical aspect, it’s easy to see that Hackenberg’s passes are erratic in part because of the beating he’s taken this year. Watch him in the pocket-he has no faith in his offensive line. Each snap is like a personal test of will instead of a chance to move the chains. At times, he seems frozen by indecision, which only leads to more sacks and hits (if you watch, he’s getting hit even more than his sack numbers would indicate because he waits so long to throw).
His rollouts are even worse, as he continually fails to square his shoulders toward his target, which makes the throwing motion a nervous, defensive one, rather than confident and offensive. Pardon the redneck-itude of this analogy, but it’s the same breakdown of form that you see in a shooter who is either not well taught or has anxiety over the shot. Proper form dictates leaning in toward the target in an offensive stance with the weight behind balanced forward and squared shoulders.
Penn State’s defense continues to be stellar, proving itself the cream of the Big Ten week in and week out. Sorry, Wisconsin, but we’ve got you by a sliver. Mike Hull is a monster, and is almost assuredly going to contribute at the next level. His fellow Senior Bowl invitee, Adrian Amos, also had a good game. Really, this was pretty much just a good game from a good defensive team against a much weaker Temple squad.