- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every Sunday around this time, we’ll recap five lessons from the week that was Penn State football.
And away we go:
1. This running game means business. Last season Penn State struggled to find one featured tailback -- and now, this year, it boasts three. Bill Belton didn't seem ready for the workload last season after transitioning from wideout, but he's been a pleasant surprise so far and has rushed for 63 yards a game. Zach Zwinak remains the lead ball-carrier, but Akeel Lynch and Belton have been giving him quite a bit of rest. This rushing attack is about as balanced as a three-pronged running attack can get. Each member of the trio has rushed for between 250 and 300 yards. They've combined for 813 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. And they're not showing any signs of slowing down.
2. Bill O'Brien isn't infallible. He's a great coach, no doubt, but fans surely questioned why -- at one point during the game -- the second-year head coach called three straight passing plays when PSU was controlling the game by running the ball. Those three straight passes led to a punt. Said O'Brien: "I should've been booed on that." He wasn't ... fans actually chanted "Bill O-Bri-en" after the game. But it's something that'll likely stick with him going forward.
3. Allen Robinson is paramount to the passing game -- and can be stopped. He's had his way with defenses up until lowly Kent State, so it was surprising to see him go catchless for the final three quarters. Flashes coach Paul Haynes said "there was nothing that we did special," but Robinson finished with just three catches for 43 yards. Without Robinson stepping up, PSU struggled. Christian Hackenberg started out 7-of-10, with Robinson catching three of those completions. Afterward? 6-of-25 with an interception. Between this and the first half of Week 1 without Robinson, it's safe to say the passing game is grounded without No. 8.
4. Sam Ficken has a strong, accurate leg. After four weeks like this, it's clearly no coincidence or mirage. Ficken narrowly missed a 57-yard field goal a week ago but nailed a 54-yard field goal this week that could've cleared another yard or two. His range last season didn't extend beyond 40 yards. This season, anything within 55 yards seems within reach -- and O'Brien isn't shy anymore about going for kicks a bit longer. He's gone from being a liability on this team to a strength. That doesn't happen too often.
5. This defense isn't as bad as it appeared last week. Granted, it's also not as good as it appeared against Kent State either. UCF and the Flashes are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to talent, but PSU's performance also fell on opposite ends of the spectrum. Players couldn't really pinpoint what changed, but Stephen Obeng-Agyapong felt the team had an off day last week. Missed tackles weren't a concern Saturday, and PSU executed better. PSU might not shut out its next opponent in Indiana, but it showed that it might not surrender 500 yards to the Hoosiers either.
14dMitch Sherman and Brian Bennett