Here we are at 2-1 and entering Week 4 with a renewed momentum. Maybe even a chip on the shoulder. We are almost halfway through a 5-game home stand and Penn State Football is just about right where most of us predicted. Minus the loss, of course and with the addition of some new names and faces no one would have expected only a few weeks ago. The irony of it all is, without that loss we may not have seen those young playmakers this year. As crazy as it seemed when James Franklin mentioned that 16 redshirt and true freshmen played against Buffalo, we actually one-upped that and played 18 in the Stripe Out. It truly is a new era here in Happy Valley. For the good and for the bad, the growing pains of today will lead to a run For The Glory down the road.
The season continues with a home game versus the San Diego State Aztecs of the Mountain West Conference, tomorrow at 3:30. This is the first meeting ever between these two programs. Led by Head Coach Rocky Long, the Aztecs head into the contest nursing a 1-2 record including last week’s overtime loss to South Alabama. Much like their counterparts in Blue and White, SDSU headed into 2015 with high offensive expectations but have yet to live up to the preseason hype. Led by RB Donnel Pumphrey and an O-Line that returned 4 starters from 2014, the traditionally powerful running game of SDSU (Marshall Faulk brought them to prominence) has been unable to get on track so far. Staring them in the eye is a Nittany Lion defense that now ranks #12 nationally against the run. They are getting better every week. The prospects do not bode well that they can break out of their funk in Happy Valley.
Meanwhile, on defense, SDSU runs an unconventional 3-3-5 scheme, referred to by Franklin earlier this week as "Chaos". Linebacker Calvin Munson leads the charge (3INT's, 2 returned for TD's) as well as a loaded group in the secondary, led by NFL prospects JJ Whitaker and Damontae Kazee. It is a defense known for exotic blitzes and quarterback pressure. As much as this defense is built around the blitz, after three games, the Aztecs have only recorded 3 sacks and rank 72nd against the run.
This is the wrong place and the wrong time to challenge an offense and a running game that is just beginning to hit its stride. Penn State has been trying for over a year now to establish the run. Since it has finally come around don't expect it to go away any time soon. The real question remains if and when Christian Hackenberg and the passing game can show any signs of life, now that the O-Line has established itself and has something to grow on.
Expect a heavy dose of Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley again this week while that hand is hot. The longer the run game can remain a lethal weapon, the better chance that "Hack Attack" will be able to unleash itself down the road once we get into the thick of Big Ten play. I predict the cross-country flight and the ferociousness of the Nittany Lion D to be too much to overcome for the Aztecs. Penn State 38 SDSU 10. And that, my friends, is just what the doctor ordered!