Giger: Lots to hate and like about PSU’s loss to Central Florida
There was a lot to hate but also a lot to like if you’re a Penn State fan after Saturday’s 34-31 loss to Central Florida. Here’s a rundown:
Hate it: The Nittany Lions’ defense was awful, giving up 507 yards, including 219 on the ground.
Hate it: The tackling was downright pathetic. Bill O’Brien was in a fairly good mood after the game, repeatedly saying he would need to watch the film before evaluating what went wrong. He’s seen the film by now, and he has to hate the fact that he didn’t see anything close to a typical Penn State defense. There were at least 20 missed tackles by my count after re-watching just the first 2 1/2 quarters as UCF took a 28-10 lead.
Like it: Ummm, it doesn’t really apply to the defense. It’s a stretch to find anything good that the unit did, although the stand on third-and-goal at the 1 late in the third quarter was at least something.
Hate it: We don’t get to see many teams on PSU’s schedule that have a very good passing quarterback like UCF’s Blake Bortles. Football is just more fun to watch when the quarterback is an actual threat.
Like it: Penn State has to like that it doesn’t face many teams with proficient passing attacks. When the Lions have faced them in recent years, they’ve been torched (USC with Mark Sanchez, Wisconsin with Russell Wilson, Houston with Case Keenum). That Penn State frequently has finished high in the national defensive rankings typically has been misleading because, let’s face it, it’s largely a result of playing against Big Ten offenses.
Like it: PSU’s offense scored 31 points and showed a lot of resiliency in rallying late.
Hate it: The offense managed only 10 points in the first half. That’s not going to cut it in a shootout, and O’Brien knows it. The Lions should find themselves in more high-scoring games this year — perhaps against the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State — and as several members of the offense pointed out Saturday, they’ve got to do much better putting up points in the first half.
Hate it: Penn State is now 4-for-34 on third down this season after going 2-for-8 Saturday. That’s embarrassing for a supposedly good offense.
Like it: Zach Zwinak looked great running the ball, more like his old self last year. He had 128 yards and three TDs on 21 carries.
Hate it: Zwinak’s fumble inside the UCF 30 down 34-24 in the fourth quarter didn’t lose the game. But had the Lions scored a touchdown there, the momentum and crowd might have propelled the defense to the big stop it needed to get the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final minutes.
Like it: Speaking of the crowd, it was excellent in trying to serve as the 12th man to help PSU’s late rally.
Hate it: The crowd will not be very big — relatively speaking at Beaver Stadium — for this week’s game against a bad Kent State team. The STEP program has outpriced many fans, those who only held on to see the end of Joe Paterno’s career have given up their tickets and the scandal obviously had an impact. Financially, the STEP program is a success, and that can’t be argued. But when we see 30,000 empty seats this weekend, it will be a reminder to Penn State that many fans aren’t interested in seeing lousy opponents on the non-conference schedule.
Like it: Christian Hackenberg continues to impress, completing 21-of-28 passes for 262 yards and one TD. It’s incredible he’s this good this early.
Like it: PSU’s offense had 455 yards, 193 on the ground, and 24 first downs.
LOVE IT: Allen Robinson has been, in a word, awesome. He had nine catches for 143 yards and a score, giving him 23 catches for 405 yards and three TDs in three games. He’s an All-American and, when the junior leaves school after this year, he should hear his name early in the NFL draft.
Hate it: The other receivers on the team combined to catch only three passes (Richy Anderson two, Brandon Felder one).
Like it: The tight ends were more involved, catching eight passes, four by freshman Adam Breneman.
Like it: O’Brien’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 45 on PSU’s first series of the day was gutsy (there are better, more colorful adjectives, but this is a family newspaper).
Hate it: Why don’t more coaches grow a backbone and go for it in those kind of situations?
Like it: Twitter allows everyone to be an armchair quarterback in real time, and former PSU linebacker Kyle Lucas had a great tweet during the game after watching young cornerbacks Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas frequently get beaten by UCF receivers. He wrote: “I get the depth issue at linebacker but why move last years starting S(Beng) to backup LB & best corner to S when you have no experience.” Lucas was talking about Adrian Amos, who is now a safety, and obviously referring to the coaches’ decision to tinker with a position change for one of the best players on the team.
Hate it: Lucas is right. Amos, a terrific talent, hasn’t been much of a factor so far this season, so you have to question the position switch by O’Brien and defensive coordinator John Butler. They obviously thought highly of Williams and Lucas, but their faith, based on Saturday’s struggles, appears to have been presumptuous. The coaches did eventually move Amos to corner in the fourth quarter, but that adjustment should have been made much earlier.
Like it: Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones was tremendous the first two games.
Hate it: Jones and the rest of the defensive linemen were blown off the ball by a Central Florida team that was missing two starting offensive linemen.
Hate it: Has anyone heard from defensive end Deion Barnes this season?
Hate it: The nagging knee injury to Mike Hull is a major problem for the defense. The Lions need a healthy Hull, and he clearly wasn’t Saturday during his limited snaps.
The bottom line: We actually knew very little about the Lions through two weeks because, despite being 2-0, their competition was either weak (Syracuse) or simply lousy (Eastern Michigan). Now that they’ve faced a good team — and UCF is good, but by no means great — we have more of a true indication about this year’s team.
There’s plenty of good and bad on both sides of the ball, and the best thing the team has going for it right now is that there’s a creampuff opponent this week that the Lions will blow out and regain some confidence.
Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.