Jordan Lucas had to think for a second for about the last time Penn State lost to a team from the Mid-American Conference.
Lucas was a freshman then in 2012. And while Lucas admitted that memory of losing to Ohio in Bill O’Brien’s opener isn’t fresh in his mind, the possibility that the Nittany Lions’ upcoming opponents — the Akron Zips — could pose a realistic challenge is as real as ever to he and his teammates.
“I tend not to think about things like that because anybody can be beaten,” Lucas said. “That’s proven week in and week out in college football. No team is invincible.”
And with the college football season just two weeks old, Penn State (1-0) and Akron (1-0) are just starting to answer questions. They’ll continue their quests at noon at Beaver Stadium.
The Zips, picked by MAC coaches to finish second in the conference’s preseason poll, haven’t played at Beaver Stadium since 2009. Penn State leads the series 4-0. They’ll try to add one more win to their column against a coach with whom Penn State coach James Franklin has some familiarity.
Franklin met Akron’s Terry Bowden when he spoke at a Kansas State clinic where Franklin coached from 2006-07.
“You look at all the success that he’s had, his time at Auburn and all the different places that he’s been, obviously a very, very tenured coach, and I would say that about their staff,” Franklin said. “They have got a really veteran staff.”
Meanwhile, the Zips return 15 of 22 starters and may get a boost on the offensive line. Tackle Tommy Brown was ruled eligible to play Friday by the NCAA, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. Brown transferred from Ohio State before preseason camp and sought immediate eligibility on a hardship waiver the NCAA finally granted.
Brown’s presence could help the Zips on the ground. Akron managed just 113 rushing yards, with 48 of them coming from quarterback Kyle Pohl — who also threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
“Akron has a very good quarterback,” Penn State defensive end Brad Bars said. “He had a great game last week, and from everything I’ve seen and heard he’s a great playmaker. It’s definitely apparent that he can run or throw the ball, so that’s going to be a really tough challenge this week, having to deal with a guy that’s so talented and can threaten you in multiple ways.”
Pohl — who hit 10 different receivers in a 41-0 win over Howard last week — has a handful of big targets to throw to. Starting wide receivers L.T. Smith, Zach D’Orazio and Andrew Pratt are all over 6-feet tall and 200 pounds.
“They’re a good team,” Lucas said. “They have a very good quarterback who can make plays with his feet and with his arm. We know exactly what we have to do when it comes to facing Akron.”
Defensively, the Zips are led by all-MAC first-team selection Jatavis Brown at linebacker and defensive end Nordly Capi, who drew the interest of Franklin earlier this week.
“Chuck Amato, their defensive coordinator, he was the coach at N.C. State and (we’re) expecting big things from them,” Franklin said. “Six returning starters, which we talked about. The guy that jumps out to us is their defensive end, No. 11, Nordly Capi, their speed guy off the edge.”
The Zips will need pressure from Capi in order to help a young secondary.
While Akron’s secondary had little trouble against Howard, a unit with just one returning starter will have to find a way to slow Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and a passing attack that rolled up 454 passing yards against UCF.
“They beat a Top 10 team,” Bowden said of Penn State’s win over Central Florida. “Most people that don’t know football don’t know the athletes they have at Central Florida. It’s a Top 10-type team. So for Penn State to go out there and have three turnovers and win the game like they did, they beat a very, very good football team.
“(Penn State is) very physical on defense and the quarterback is very explosive.”