Christian Hackenberg and Colin Reardon are both in their first years as starting quarterbacks, but Hackenberg doesn’t play like a true freshman. He’s completing nearly 72 percent of his passes and has already shown the ability to recharge after a slow start and bounce back with a big play after a mistake. Reardon hasn’t been bad for the Golden Flashes, but his completion percentage (65 percent) is less than Hackenberg’s. He hasn’t been able to carry the Kent State offense with star running back Dri Archer out either. He’s thrown for just 548 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Advantage: Penn State
No Archer means one less option in the running game for the Golden Flashes. Tayion Durham will start. Without Archer’s threatening open-field running ability, the Golden Flashes lose a dynamic dimension. On the other side, Penn State backs Akeel Lynch, Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak have all rushed for 100-plus yards over the past two weeks. Advantage: Penn State.
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Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
So far the Golden Flashes have called Tyshon Goode’s and Chris Humphrey’s numbers the most, as the duo has combined for 27 catches for 306 yards. Penn State’s Allen Robinson on his own has 23 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Humphrey leads Kent State with two touchdowns while two of tight end Casey Pierce’s five catches have been for scores. True freshmen Adam Breneman and Richy Anderson are two of the latest players to get involved. Advantage: Penn State
Three 100-plus-yard rushers over the past two games can thank Penn State’s front five, who have improved after a lousy outing in the season opener. Adam Gress earned his first start of the season at right tackle last week while Garry Gilliam will still be heavily involved. Kent State is young up front with left guard Pat McShane and center Phil Huff the most experienced pieces. Right tackle Jason Bitsko is a sophomore and a bit undersized at 280 pounds. Advantage: Penn State
The Golden Flashes are hurting up front. They lost starting nose tackle Nate Terhune to a broken leg and their best pass rusher Roosevelt Nix has been limited with a back injury. Sophomore Chris Fairchild will start in Terhune’s spot while seniors Andrew Christopher and Mark Fackler, who has the most tackles among KSU defensive linemen with 12, are also in the mix. After failing to generate much pressure last week, Penn State’s front four of DaQuan Jones, Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan and Kyle Baublitz will be looking to pressure early and often. Expect Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel to see heavy snap counts. Advantage: Penn State
Mike Hull and Ben Kline haven’t been able to help much and may not be available vs. Kent State. So Penn State will roll with a lineup that will include Glenn Carson, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Nyeem Wartman as the starting three. Kent State’s DeVante’ Strickland has 18 tackles from the Mike spot while Matt Dellinger has 22 as an outside backer. Kent State’s linebackers are very blockable and haven’t been able to keep opposing offenses under five yards per carry yet this season. Advantage: Penn State
Despite its combined experience with two senior captains in Darius Polk and Luke Wollet and another senior in Malcolm Pannell, Kent State’s secondary has given up nearly 18 yards per catch so far and the Golden Flashes have surrendered a gaudy 810 passing yards this season. Penn State’s secondary “emptied the playbook” according to defensive coordinator John Butler and will look to regroup after last week’s debacle against UCF. Advantage: Penn State.
Bill O’Brien called Sam Ficken the “most improved player on the team” and he’s not kidding. Although Ficken’s record of 15-straight kicks ended when he missed a 57-yarder last week, a little wind and he would’ve had it. Eugene Lewis bolted for a season-long 44-yard kickoff return last week and is averaging 72 yards per game in the return game. Kent State kicker Anthony Melchiori is 3-for-4 on the season with his only miss coming from 48-yards out. He also handles punting duties for the Golden Flashes and is averaging 43 yards per punt, four yards more than Penn State’s Alex Butterworth. Kent State has returned four punts for four yards and is averaging 21 yards per kickoff return. Advantage: Penn State
Paul Haynes is in his first year and needs to find a way to get production out of other players with injuries mounting. Penn State needs to tune up with a bye week ahead before beginning the Big Ten slate on the road vs. Indiana, statistically the conference’s best offense. O’Brien-coached teams are 3-1 in games following losses and have outscored their opponents by an average of almost 20 points in those games. Advantage: Penn State