PSU moonwalks past Zips
UNIVERSITY PARK - The Blue Band performed "Thriller" as part of its Michael Jackson tribute show.
Penn State's 31-7 opening win over Akron Saturday at Beaver Stadium couldn't be classified as a thriller. As expected, the Nittany Lions made it look as easy as "ABC" at times against the Mid-American Conference Zips.
The Lions' new receiving corps moonwalked through the Akron secondary in the first half, allowing senior quarterback Daryll Clark to set a PSU record of 254 yards passing in the first half in putting this one away at halftime with a 31-0 lead.
PSU seemed to put it in cruise control in a lackluster second half, however, but by then many of the sun-drenched 104,968 fans had headed out to return to their Labor Day weekend plans.
At least Joe Paterno got to jog onto the field with the team prior to kickoff, something he wasn't able to do during much of last season due to a hip injury.
"I don't think I could beat that kid from Jamaica," said Paterno, referring to record-breaking sprinter Usain Bolt. "I just wanted to see if I could do it. I've been reluctant to do much running since it's been less than a year since they replaced the hip.
"The doctors have been really great. They've done a super job for us. I was glad I could come out, but I hope as the season goes on, I'll be a little better."
The same could be said for the Lions. Saturday's opening weekend saw some future Big Ten opponents (Ohio State against Navy, Iowa vs. Northern Iowa) struggle in what were supposed to be laughers. Syracuse, this week's PSU foe, gave Minnesota a tussle in the Carrier Dome before falling in overtime.
With Akron's 3-5 defense stacked to slow the PSU running game (Evan Royster finished with 61 yards on 14 carries) and force Clark to throw to an untested receiving crew, the new pass catchers showed they are capable of taking over for Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.
Clark finished at 29 of 40 for 353 yards and 3 TDs against one interception. His top targets were Chaz Powell (7-65), Derek Moye (6-138) and Graham Zug (5-62), with each hauling in a scoring pass.
"People don't realize how sophisticated the timing is," said Paterno regaring the passing attack. "If a quarterback gets a good feel for the wideout, he can just about throw it at any time. He knows he can get rid of the football 'right now.' I think they did a good job today on the timing. I thought we were pretty good, better than I thought we would be."
"I thought those guys came out and made plays for us and proved to some people they can play," said Clark.
The Lions were also breaking in a new secondary, but the defensive front, led by tackle Jared Odrick, harrassed Zips QB Chris Jacquemain all game, sacking him three times and limiting the running game to 28 net yards. PSU outgained the Zips 344-8 in the first half and held them without a first down,
Sean Lee returned at linebacker after missing last season to injury and made six stops, but Navorro Bowman, last year's top tackler, left the game on the second series when he reaggravated a groin injury.
Nathan Stupar stepped in from Bowman and had almost as many hits as the late King of Pop, recording a team high 10 tackles and a sack.
While the outcome wasn't in doubt, the flat second half served as a reminder that the Lions have plenty of work to do.
"We had a terrible second half.," groused Paterno. "We got soft; we thought the game was over. We weren't very sharp. There are a lot of young kids and they thought the thing was over at halftime. We just did not have any consistency."
The offensive line is one area that will need some time, especially with three new faces. Paterno said he felt his line played "ordinary" and didn't dominate, although he admitted the Zips' defensive alignment was something they hadn't worked against much in practice.
Blue Mountain graduate Matt Stankiewitch made his first start at guard and suggested the Lions' offensive front will get better.
"Every play I get more comfortable," said Stankiewitch. "You start gelling as a group and everything. As the game goes on you gel more."
So the Lions showed glimpses of their "Bad" selves for a half, but they better not stop until they get enough, if they want to make it to the top of the pops, aka the BCS Standings.