Many of you know I have been covering Penn State football for the past few years for Examiner.com as well as this start-up website. Unfortunately, my coverage of Penn State football has been greatly reduced due to taking on a new position with College Football Talk on NBCSports.com and my new role with Crystal Ball Run. I have quickly discovered these new responsibilities will keep me from providing the same level of coverage I have over the past few years when it comes to the Nittany Lions and it is likely I have attended my last game in the press box at a Penn State game. As you may have seen by now, my content on this website has been sparse since the start of the season, and this is the reason why.
That said, I am still paying close attention to the Nittany Lions and will attempt to provide my thoughts whenever possible right here. I'm still always willing to talk about them with you as well on Twitter. I missed out on the Blue White Roundtable last week but I made it a point to make sure I shared my responses with you this week. Check out Black Shoe Diaries later for a full roundup from the Penn State blogosphere when it becomes available, but here are this week's questions with my thoughts.
What are your thoughts on Christian Hackenberg after two weeks as our starting quarterback? What do you think of "poise" and "moxie?"
I really do like what I have seen out of Hackenberg through the first two games. He has been far from perfect and has thrown a number of passes over his receivers, but I attribute that to being a freshman. He may be a very good freshman, but freshmen make mistakes as they get adjusted to the college game. There was one ill-advised throw that was intercepted by Syracuse that set up a score in week one and his fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Eastern Michigan were classic freshman mistakes, and Penn State got away with them. He has started slowly in both games, but you also have to keep in mind this kid fresh out of high school was making his college debut in a grand NFL stadium one week and his home debut in a 100,000-seat stadium the next. That has to come with some butterflies for any player in that situation, right?
The important thing we have seen from Hackenberg is his ability to find himself and not get too rattled. His poise has been remarkable in that respect and shows why Bill O'Brien handed him the offense and has stuck with him despite some rough starts to games. I hate the word moxie though, so I'm retiring the use of that word with Matt McGloin.
The offense started a bit slow last week against Eastern Michigan. How do you feel the offense has progressed since August camp? Has the running game gotten on track?
I think the offense will be in fine shape. The running game has options and the tight ends and Allen Robinson will be in good shape as targets. It's really just about getting Hackenberg situated and in a position to start a game confidently, which I believe will come. I still think the running game has potential to really carry this offense this season and help take some of the pressure off Hackenberg. Basically, if Bill O'Brien is calling the shots, I have faith that the offense will not be a big concern unless injuries come in to play.
UCF will probably be the strongest test Penn State will see in the non-conference schedule. What do you expect to see out of George O'Leary's squad?
This is a team Penn State absolutely has to watch out for because Central Florida is a balanced team playing with much confidence. I know Central Florida has not played anybody of note so far, but George O'Leary's Knights have outscored their opponents 76-7 in the first two weeks using a good mix of pass and run. Blake Bortles has been very effective throwing the football and will be a key to UCF's chances this weekend. The senior brings solid leadership to the field and has good vision. If Penn State's defense gives him a chance to make a play, he will do it by finding an open receiver. The Knights also have a solid running back in Storm Johnson, who has rushed for 188 yards and five touchdowns in his first two games. Keep in mind that Central Florida has started off well the first two weeks, building a combined halftime lead of 48-0. Can Penn State afford to get off to a slow start this weekend? Maybe, but digging a hole against this team is not the situation you want to put a freshman quarterback in. Not against this team at least.
Before the start of the season I made game-by-game picks for Penn State. I admit I had them losing to Syracuse and I was wrong about that one. I also had Penn State splitting the next two non-conference games between Central Florida and Kent State. At the time I expected Kent State to be a better team but that is clearly not playing out so far. I'm still leaning toward a split though and feel a loss this weekend should not be unexpected. Penn State's inability to convert on third downs could come back to haunt them this week and I think Central Florida will be able to put up a few points against the defense.
Central Florida 24, Penn State 23