Do Two Halves Make a Whole?

Do Two Halves Make a Whole?

Before anything is mentioned about the action on the field during Penn State’s 45-7 win over Eastern Michigan, the Chuck Long issue needs to be addressed. The Big Ten Network should be embarrassed for employing him. The minor miscues he committed during the broadcast can be overlooked; he’s obviously very green at this side of the game. No problem. But for those who either stopped paying attention late in the game or didn’t hear this gem, here’s a recap.

With just over two minutes remaining in the game, Long was praising Penn State’s play and mentioned that the Nittany Lions have a good chance to go undefeated in their non-conference schedule. He then went on to mention the remainder of the schedule and said, “Once can get to 4-0, it would only take two more wins to become bowl eligible.”

Seriously? Seriously. Chuck – buddy, dog, holmes, brah, chief. Seriously?

Oh to be a fly in his IFB earpiece during those ensuing 10 seconds to hear what the producers told him to say to try to cover it up like it never happened. Obviously and of course the two situations are completely different, but the impact of the news story is the basis of this parallel: what Long said would be akin to Person A telling Person B in September of 2002 (one year after those horrific events occurred), “I’ll meet you at that café with the great coffee in the lobby of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.”

The Big Ten Network hired Long to add analysis for its televised conference games. The fact that he forgot that Penn State is not eligible for bowl competition less than 15 months after the punishment was imparted is beyond ridiculous. It would be absurd to have that happen during a broadcast at any time during the sanctions period let alone this early in the process. Long and the BTN should be mortified. It’ll be interesting to see if the network deletes that sequence from the broadcast when it replays the game during the coming week.

Soapbox closed – time to move on to more important issues.

akeel lynchThe running game was better Saturday than the effort versus Syracuse but the struggles in the first half are still a reason for pause and need to be corrected. Let’s not get too crazy – it was a 38-point victory. The reason for this game was to see improvement and yes, the same was made. All three running backs contributed significantly, which was a great sign for Penn State fans. Akeel Lynch showed how explosive he is off the first step and Billy Belton showed why he was praised for his offseason commitment to improving his technique. But the offensive line needs to be better earlier in games as the competition gets tougher. That is imperative.

Christian Hackenberg continued to impress. His 45-yard scoring strike to Allen Robinson displayed his ability to realize a broken play, step up in the pocket and make a play. Making plays. That’s what this program has lacked on a consistent basis from the signal-caller spot for decades. Sure there were the sprinklings of Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark and even Zach Mills (when healthy), but in terms of consistency, that trio is overshadowed by the lack of play-making ability of duds Rashard Casey and Anthony Morelli. (Michael O’Conner – this is directed at you.)

The true freshman dazzled with his arm to the tune of 23 completions for 311 yards. But much more important than the stats against an inferior opponent is the visual. This kid is a pedigreed quarterback. Imagine what Hackenberg will bring to the table in 2015 when he’s had two full seasons under Bill O’Brien’s wing. If you “watch the game,” as former Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel loved to emphasize, it’s tough to argue that Hackenberg has the makings of a special player.

In the opening minute of the second quarter, Hackenberg pumped-faked a screen pass to the left and faked a handoff tohackenberg Belton before he connected with Jesse James for a 27-yard gain over the middle. There are maybe five quarterbacks in college football who have the ability to execute a play like that. That was an NFL-caliber pass. Watch the game. And watch his mistakes. For PSU fans, it’s actually a positive that he’s making mistakes this early in his career – that’s how young players learn.

Defensively, the seven points that Eastern Michigan scored were of course not accounted for while the Eagles were on offense, so essentially the shutout was pitched by John Butler. But Syracuse and EMU are hardly a gauge; much more will be known at this time next week following the Central Florida evening tilt. But a shutout is a shutout and Butler (read: Larry Johnson) should be pleased with the swarming play of the defensive line. DaQuan Jones was simply unblockable at times and both Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson excelled as well.

Equally as positive for Butler himself, who doubles as the secondary coach, was the continued strong play of cornerbacks Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas. The safety concerns weren’t addressed in this contest because the opponent didn’t force the issue, but when Mike Hull returns next week (he didn’t dress because the coaches knew he wouldn’t be needed), look for Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to play significant minutes alongside Adrian Amos in the secondary. Malcolm Willis again showed signs of shakiness and Ryan Keiser was dinged up while playing on special teams.

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