Keeping PSU team healthy and using reserves key

By Cory Giger

For The Sun-Gazette

Five things to look for as No. 6 Penn State opens what it hopes will be another magical season against a vastly overmatched opponent in Akron.

Start fast

This is the opener, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Nittany Lions are a little sluggish in the first quarter. And even if they are, they’ll still blow out the Zips.

But one thing this year’s team needs to do better than last season is find a good offensive rhythm early and really take it to teams in the first quarter. That’s important because the PSU defense is going to have some issues stopping people down the road, and it will help if the Lions are playing from ahead much earlier.

Penn State was a second-half team last year. There’s a lot of positive in that because it showed the coaches and players did an excellent job of making adjustments at the half and implementing them on the field.

However, there’s a bit of a negative connotation in being a second-half team because it means you’re not necessarily playing a great first half. It would be good for PSU to get in the habit of jumping out to big leads instead of allowing teams to hang around and gain confidence.

And today, in particular, it would be good to have the game in hand as early as possible so that some backups and young players can get some experience.

No. 2: O-line cohesion

PSU’s offensive line should be a strength this season, and it can start things off on a high note with a dominating game today.

Akron has a bad defense, so the Lions should be able to control the trenches. The Zips likely will try to load up and stop Saquon Barkley, which will make them susceptible to play action and some throws deep down the field.

As the game moves along, and Akron’s defense gets confused, look for the PSU line to open up some big holes for Barkley or whichever running back is in the game.

No. 3: Force turnovers

Again, this is the kind of game that can help set the tone for the season. One thing the Lions didn’t do well last year was force turnovers, finishing the season just +1 in takeaways.

All defenses work on taking the ball away in practice, and PSU has made that a point of emphasis. As good as the Lions are on offense, if the defense can win the turnover battle handily — especially in big games — it would be hard for anyone to beat them.

No. 4: Stay healthy

This one’s simple. Get out of today with no major injuries.

Aside from turnovers, injuries are about the only thing that could derail this season.

No. 5: Players to watch

PSU: RB Saquon Barkley will be the easy choice for every game. So to avoid the obvious, we’ll try to pick someone else (or some unit) for this spot. Since I’ve already mentioned the offensive line, let’s go with WR Juwan Johnson. We’ve heard about him all spring and summer, so keep your eyes on him, especially on some deep throws.

Akron: QB Thomas Woodson will try to test PSU’s secondary. He completed 60 percent with 18 TDs and only six INTs last year, plus he had a 400-yard game and four 300-yard games.

Prediction: Penn State 42, Akron 13.