UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State opened the 2009 season with an uneven performance in that it won the first half in decisive fashion, 31-0, and then was shutout in the second half before settling for a 31-7 victory over visiting Akron on a gorgeous Saturday at sun-splashed Beaver Stadium.
Joe Paterno didn't take long to sum it up.
"I thought we had a terrible second half," he said. "We thought the game was over."
That may be why he spent most of the second half trying to recapture the Nittany Lions' early precision.
Though Daryll Clark turned in impressive numbers - 29 of 40 for 353 yards and three touchdowns - 254 of those yards and all three scores came before halftime.
Clark was still throwing deep into the game and needed two series in the fourth quarter to pick up 53 more yards at a time most thought freshman backup Kevin Newsome could or should have been gaining valuable playing time.
Paterno, however, didn't think so.
"We were flopping around all over the place," he said. "The offensive line wasn't blocking well. I didn't want to put him in when he couldn't have success."
Pat Devlin's transfer to Delaware left the Lions with no experience behind Clark. And yet, Paterno said he entered the game with no preconceived plan of when he wanted to use Newsome.
"He got in. He got his nose wet," Paterno said. "When it's appropriate, he'll play more."
Paterno did admit if he had to second guess himself, he may have used Newsome "one series sooner."
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno agreed.
"We'd like to get him in earlier, but at 31-7, you don't want to take a chance," JayPa said.
Newsome finally entered on the Lions' final series, which began with 2:18 remaining. He completed 3 of 4 passes, mainly safe routes to the flat, for 26 yards. He also rushed twice for 12.
Of more pressing concern than his quarterback rotation was how the offensive line was unable to create much running room. Paterno and the players felt Akron crowded the box and sprung some formations which surprised the Lions.
"They threw a lot of looks at us we didn't expect," center Stefen Wisniewski said.
That led to a few animated moments on the sideline, featuring, as usual, JoePa squaring around and gesturing at Mike McQueary.
"I was arguing with the guys upstairs to throw a couple more passes," he said. "But the line coaches wanted to run it more."
To which he admitted, "we'll have to be a better running team than we were today."
Once he views the films, predictably, Paterno may see more of the positives.
The Lions did bolt, with poise, to an insurmountable 31-0 lead.
Their line did a nice job with its pass blocking. The young receiving corps, with Derek Moye starring and Chaz Powell and Graham Zug performing well, had a terrific debut.
The defense dominated the line of scrimmage, and the
secondary, with the exception of one breakdown in which safety Nick Sukay was torched for an Akron touchdown pass, kept the Zips, well, zipped.
The lone special teams' concern, and it is one, was a shaky opener for placekicker Collin Wagner, who missed field-goal attempts from 28 and 49.
"He's better than that," Paterno said.
So are his Nittany Lions, he believes, and yet, as he said once the second-half assessment subsided, "we still won the football game."
That, too, shouldn't get lost.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.