There’s a lot to take away from Penn State’s big 52-0 win against Akron. So we decided to turn to our resident experts and ask them what one of their main takeaways from the game was.
What did our staff writers learn from the season opener? Here’s what they had to say:
John McGonigal: Defensive line isn’t a weakness
After the loss of starting pass-rushers Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, there was a lot of concern entering the 2017 season that this year’s front-four would be an Achilles heel. Well, that wasn’t the case on Saturday. Yes, it’s Akron — and the Zips’ offensive line isn’t anything close to what Penn State will face in Big Ten play. But the Nittany Lions’ defensive line put on a show. The front-four recorded nine of Penn State’s 14 tackles for loss. Ryan Buchholz had a day with 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble despite not starting. Starting defensive tackles Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren harassed Akron quarterback Tommy Woodson all afternoon, while their backups — Tyrell Chavis and Robert Windsor — added five and four tackles, respectively. True freshman Yetur Gross-Matos even got some run and proved to be a handful to block.
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The only concern is defensive end Shareef Miller. The redshirt sophomore, who made his first career start, exited the game early and did not return. Aside from any injury concerns, though, the Penn State defensive line held up. Again, it’ll be harder against the offensive lines of Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa — but Penn State’s front-four proved it won’t be a weakness of this team. If anything, it could develop into a strength.
Josh Moyer: Special teams is worth watching this season — even without college football’s hardest-hitting kicker
Joey Julius put fans on the edge of their seats last season, as everyone wondered when his next big hit would come. Well, he’s gone now due to personal reasons. But there’s still some magic on these Penn State special teams, especially in the return game. And that’s not something we’ve been able to say in at least five years. Last year, Penn State ranked No. 94 in average yards per punt return and No. 87 in average yards per kick return. The Nittany Lions haven’t cracked the top 40 in either category since 2011, when they ranked No. 38 nationally in kick returns. You can probably see where I’m going with this. On Saturday, DeAndre Thompkins put those recent numbers on their head when he sprinted for a 61-yard punt return touchdown. There’s a lot of speed returning kicks for Penn State this season, and it’s no bold prediction to say that won’t be the last big return for PSU. With Heisman contender Saquon Barkley as an option and true freshman Journey Brown — who will likely redshirt but will be one of the Big Ten’s fastest players when he’s on the field — the future is bright here. And it’s worth keeping two eyes on how these return units fare.
Ryne Gery: Penn State’s offense will be even better in 2017
From the start, the Nittany Lions moved the ball with ease Saturday against Akron. While running back Saquon Barkley showed why he’s a Heisman candidate, quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 280 yards in the team’s blowout win. Barkley and McSorley both excelled during last year’s run to the Big Ten title — Penn State averaged 40.1 points per game in nine straight wins — and they showed the potential to put up more points this season. The Nittany Lions offense accounted for four touchdowns in the first half and piled up 569 yards for the game. Barkley made a handful of memorable plays on his way to 172 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Though there were a few drops and an early interception, McSorley clicked with Mike Gesicki, Juwan Johnson, DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins in the passing game.