Sunday, September 8, 2013
What we learned: Week 2
By Josh Moyer
Every Sunday around this time, we'll recap five lessons from the week that was Penn State football.
And away we go:
1. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is the No. 4 linebacker and will step up as the starter in case of injury. Sure, he's still listed as a safety on the Nittany Lions' roster and started at that position the entire 2012 season. But forget all that. He proved his worth last week at LB and, this week, he started at linebacker in place of an injured Mike Hull. PSU utilized Obeng-Agyapong on a lot on blitzes vs. Syracuse, but he was more balanced against Eastern Michigan and dropped back in coverage quite a bit. He'll only get better as the season progresses, and defensive coordinator John Butler must love having that versatile weapon up his sleeve.
2. Third downs remain an issue for this offense. Here's a stat you never want to see: PSU is just 2-of-26 on third downs so far this season, including 1-for-10 Saturday. It's not as simple as play-calling. Coach Bill O'Brien played it conservative in Week 1 and mostly ran it. He changed it up this week and passed on eight straight third-down attempts. Interestingly enough, Christian Hackenberg went 5-of-8 on those attempts -- but all but one was too short. (And another short pass helped set up a field goal.) The problem this week was all of those third-down attempts were five yards or longer. Half of them were third-and-16 or longer. Big plays really helped this offense out Saturday, but it needs to consistently move the ball a few yards at a time so those third downs aren't so daunting.
3. Hackenberg may be a true freshman, but he's evolving quickly. O'Brien joked after the first week of preseason camp that Hackenberg must be staying up late and studying because he picked up quickly on the offense. And that quick learning seems to have continued. Hackenberg still made some mistakes Saturday, but he checked down to other receivers more often this week. He also showed that he can bounce back from a slow start and that O'Brien is able to loosen the leash a bit. This offense might stay a bit conservative against UCF, but Hackenberg showed he can move down the field just fine once he settles in.
4. This defense is still really good. Yes, the scoreboard ended with a "7" next to Eastern Michigan's name -- but that was no fault of the Penn State defense. (The EMU touchdown came off a Hackenberg fumble.) And, yes, it was just EMU, which doesn't exactly have the most high-powered offense. But, for two weeks now, this defense has hung tough and tightened up whenever the opposing offense crossed over into PSU territory. The defensive interior might've been a question mark before the season, but it certainly appears to be a strength this season. DaQuan Jones is the best DT in the Big Ten right now. The linebackers have played well. And the secondary hasn't let up the big play like it did at this point last year.
5. Good kicker or not, O'Brien still loves to go for it on fourth down. There were times last season when you could chalk up O'Brien's penchant to go for it on fourth downs with a kicker who struggled with longer field goals. That dynamic's changed now with the complete turnaround of Sam Ficken, but O'Brien's go-for-it philosophy has remained steady. In the second quarter, up by a touchdown, PSU faced 4th-and-2 from the EMU 29 ... but went for it. In the third quarter, facing just a 29-yard FG, O'Brien went for it again -- and converted. PSU scored a touchdown on that drive, thanks to Zach Zwinak rumbling ahead to put the score at 24-7.