Penn State looking for offensive stability against Buffalo
Sep. 11, 2015
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Buffalo, New York, will always be a special place for Akeel Lynch.
In high school, the Penn State junior running back decided to move south from his family's home in Toronto to chase his dream of playing American football. That dream involved Lynch as a chain-moving back in a prolific offense, something he has yet to be at Penn State.
Lynch will get another chance to jumpstart the lame duck Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium against the Bulls, the team that offered him his first scholarship — a team Lynch believes will crowd the line of scrimmage as Temple did to limit running room on early downs.
"As running backs, you want to do as much as you can with any carry, especially on a first or second down," Lynch said.
Really, anything would help.
Penn State's offense managed just 3.3 yards per play on first and second downs in the season-opening loss to the Owls and quarterback Christian Hackenberg was sacked six times and intercepted once on first and second-down passes. As a result, nearly a quarter of the Nittany Lions' total plays were called facing third-and-long situations. They converted just one of them.
Lynch is capable of big plays. He had a 42-yard touchdown run on Penn State's second drive. Speedster Brandon Polk chipped in two big gains on sweeps. But chances for those big, early-down runs are rarer if the offense can't find a healthy rhythm that includes more than 11 completions, ideally some down the field, Franklin said.
"The more efficient we are on first down allows us to take more shots on second down and be aggressive," Franklin said. "What happens is, you get to a point where you want to stay out of a third-and-long so you don't take the shots, well, it becomes a vicious cycle."
One Lynch hopes to help end against his former adopted hometown's team.
After playing arguably the worst game in program history last week, Penn State's offensive line won't look the same against the Bulls.
If Franklin isn't willing to start struggling junior college transfer Paris Palmer at left tackle, he'll likely move right tackle Andrew Nelson to the left side with senior center Angelo Mangiro — who played every spot except left tackle last season — filling Nelson's spot. Wendy Laurent has practiced with the first team at center this week.
With Nyeem Wartman-White lost for the season, Penn State will turn to a handful of player to play in the middle of Bob Shoop's defense.
Junior Gary Wooten and sophomore Jason Cabinda could see the most time at the mike linebacker spot with Cabinda splitting duties on the weak side. True freshmen Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen will both likely play after burning their redshirts out of necessity last week. Expect Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata to work the middle of the field where the Nittany Lions are susceptible without their best coverage linebacker.
HOME SWEET HOME?
Penn State will play the next five games at Beaver Stadium and won't leave the Keystone State until its Oct. 17 game at Ohio State. But wins aren't as automatic as they once were at the massive stadium. Penn State hasn't won back-to-back games at Beaver Stadium since the final two weeks of the 2012 season and is 8-6 at home since.
Buffalo managed just one sack against FCS opponent Albany in Week 1 and although Penn State's offensive line is reeling, the Bulls' pass rush isn't on the level of Temple's. The Bulls will likely start underclassmen Solomon Jackson and Demone Harris at defensive end and they'd be foolish not to send help in the form of a linebacker. Senior Okezie Alozie is the best candidate and could be in for a big game if the Nittany Lions don't pick him up as they failed to do against Temple's Tyler Matakevich.
THE OTHER QB
Now in his second year in the program, Trace McSorley has had plenty of time to learn Penn State's offense and offers a different skillset than Hackenberg. A mobile quarterback adept at running offensive coordinator John Donovan's preferred scheme, McSorley could see his first action if Hackenberg continues to take hits or if the game gets out of hand.