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Penn State defeats Syracuse despite poor ground game

Written by: on Saturday, September 12th, 2009. Follow Josh Funk on Twitter.


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – If there was a fitting analogy to describe Penn State’s game against Syracuse Saturday afternoon, it might have been like that of a burning out light bulb.

A bright flash, then nothing, then another bright flash, and then, nothing.

Seventh-ranked Penn State (2-0) did manage 318 yards of offense (240 passing) and did defeat Syracuse (0-2) 28-7, but there were a lot of red flags from the Nittany Lions’ performance.

First and foremost, the Nittany Lions’ offense went belly-up in the second quarter. The blue and white managed a mere 49 yards of offense in the period, and went into halftime leading 14-0 after Syracuse narrowly missed a field goal to the left.

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was asked by a sideline reporter what the team had to do to be consistent in the second half. In short, Paterno didn’t really answer the question.

“Of course you want to be consistent,” the veteran coach told the reporter.

That was an obvious statement, of course, but, at times, execution was flat out not obvious to the Nittany Lions.

Penn State took its opening drive of the game into the end zone, going 79 yards in just 7 plays, which was capped with Evan Royster’s 49-yard touchdown reception, a career long. Less than four minutes into the game, Penn State was up 7-0.

After forcing Syracuse to go three-and-out, Penn State took over at its 4 yards line and embarked on a 95-yard drive that lasted into the second quarter. But inside the Orange 5 yard line, four Nittany Lion cracks at six points ended with a Daryll Clark fumble, and Syracuse dodged a bullet.

After Syracuse was forced to ultimately punt again, Penn State embarked on a short touchdown drive, this a 35-yard trek which culminated with a Royster 12-yard touchdown run. Penn State led, 14-0, but managed just 14 additional yards of offense in the quarter.

By comparison, the Nittany Lions rolled for 164 yards of offense in the first quarter, and dominated the Orange in time of possession. Yet the margin was still fairly tight.

Graham Zug, a Manheim Central graduate and former All-state wide receiver, helped widen Penn State’s lead to 20-0 when he hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Clark on the Nittany Lions’ opening drive of the third quarter. That march covered 76 yards, took 9 nine plays, and ate just over 5 minutes off of the clock.

But then Penn State’s offense went into hibernation the rest of the way. Sure, tight end Mickey Shuler hauled in a short touchdown reception from Clark for Penn State’s 28th point of the game, but the writing was already on the wall:

Penn State’s inconsistency could come back and hurt it down the road.

Syracuse’s lone touchdown came on a 16-yard pass from former Duke star Greg Paulus to Donte Davis with :07 left in the game.

Clark threw for a game-high 240 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 20-of-31 passes. In just two games, Clark has thrown for 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Royster finished with 41 rushing yards and 61 receiving yards, scoring two touchdowns. Zug posted career highs in receptions (6) and receiving yards (79), giving him 11 catches for 141 yards and two scores this season.

Royster’s 41 rushing yards, though, accounted for nearly 60 percent of Penn State’s rushing output, which came to a measley 78 yards on 35 carries. That average, a mere 2.22 yards per carry, makes the Nittany Lions’ 4-point-something average per carry against Akron look very impressive.

Penn State returns to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium next Saturday afternoon for a 12:00 tilt with cross-state foe Temple. Last season, Penn State crushed the Owls 45-3.

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