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September 20, 2013

Penn State is refreshed, refocused for Kent State

STATE COLLEGE — Bill O’Brien started 0-2 at Penn State before he turned the Nittany Lions into one of the surprises of 2012.

Penn State won five straight games after the winless start and never lost consecutive games again. The Nittany Lions hadn’t even lost since Nov. 10, 2012, at Nebraska until it was upset last week against Central Florida.

Today, the Nittany Lions (2-1) try to bounce back vs. Kent State (1-2).

O’Brien gave his team a few hours to stew over the loss. But then it was on to the Golden Flashes. The Nittany Lions weren’t taking any time off to sulk. They skipped Sunday’s day off and came to the practice facility on their own to watch film, get treatment and hit the playbook.

That’s the kind of attitude O’Brien believes will pay off in the long run, especially with Big Ten play on the horizon.

“In order for us to beat that team last week we had to play a lot better,” he said. “We understand both from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint what we need to do better. Those are good things. You can really see where you need to improve.

“Hopefully, that’s what we do.”

He also hopes freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to improve on a fantastic start. He has completed 66 of 92 passes for 851 yards and four touchdowns in his first three starts. Three of his four scores have been 45 yards or longer.

“If you’re taking five classes on campus, this is your sixth class, especially playing quarterback,” O’Brien said. “At this point, I’d give him a B.”

He has one more nonconference tuneup before Indiana starts conference play for Penn State.   

Here are five things to watch when Kent State visits Happy Valley:    

Third and long: Kent State has a great shot at the upset if it can keep putting Penn State in third down situations. The Nittany Lions were just 2 of 8 against UCF, which was a bit of an upgrade from the first two games. Penn State has converted only 4 for 34 third downs this season. Even more surprising, the Nittany Lions actually have more fourth-down conversions (5). “We’ve studied it a lot over the last few days,” O’Brien said. “Part of it is, we have to call better plays.”

Slumping Barnes: Deion Barnes made a huge impact in his first season at Penn State. Barnes, a defensive end, was named the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and also named to the Freshman All-American team. He led the Nittany Lions with six sacks and was determined to improve his play in his second season. But Barnes has yet to become a disruptive presence in Year 2, and has no sacks or even a tackle for a loss. O’Brien said that was because offenses have adjusted to run away from Barnes. “I think that people are giving the (offensive) tackles help in protection with him,” he said. “I would, too. We’ve got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will.”   

Big Ten: Make it the wrong kind of Big Ten for Kent State. The Golden Flashes are0-10 against six different Big Ten teams in history, including a 2010 loss at Beaver Stadium. The Golden Flashes will visit Ohio State next season for the third time in program history. Penn State is 3-0 vs. Kent State.

Hold on: Kent State has only two turnovers in three games, including no interceptions. Freshman QB Colin Reardon averages 182 yards passing with four touchdowns. He’s also second on the team with 106 yards rushing. He’s an efficient game manager and his knack of protecting the ball could be huge.

Go Blue: Student organizers are hoping Beaver Stadium will be awash in blue. Fans attending the “Blue Out” are being encouraged to show solidarity with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. The first one occurred in 2011. “That means a lot to our football program, to our university,” O’Brien said. “We encourage everybody to wear blue on that day because, like I’ve said from Day 1, one of our commitments here as a football program is to help put an end to that horrible thing called child abuse. We’re doing our part (today) with that.”


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