EasternPAFootball/WesternPAFootball Senior Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK — Whether or not Penn State head football coach James Franklin has some type of connection with Mother Nature, he wasn’t about to let it rain on his parade in his inaugural appearance at Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon.
With showers and possible thunderstorms forecasted throughout the day, most of the people were well on their way home when the moisture arrived.
As for the game, that also belonged to the Penn State as the Nittany Lions, although stumbling somewhat along the way, had plenty of firepower to down a gallant effort by the Akron Zips by the final of 21-3.
“I appreciate everyone being here,” began Franklin in his post-game press conference. “It feels good walking in here with a win and we are going to enjoy wins around here. I’m not going to become one of these coaches that the losses hurt more than the wins feel good. We’re going to enjoy it. That’s everybody. Everybody’s a part of this win: the coaches, the players, the doctors, the academic support, the fans, the local media, everybody is a part of this win today. We’re just going to enjoy it.”
So what about the defense coach?
“I thought we did some really nice things on defense,” said Franklin. “We weren’t able to get off the field like we were able to last week, with the three-and-outs and turnovers. That’s something we need to do a better job of, getting turnovers. I thought Akron was a good team. They’re well-coached. I think they have really good speed and athleticism. Their quarterback is a really good player. I think we held them to three points, so I thought that was a positive. Mike Hull, with over 11 tackles was nice. I’m going to wait to watch the film. One of the areas that I think we have to do a better job of is playing guys. We need to get more people in the games, that’s what my gut tells me so we’re going to go back and evaluate it. We have to play more guys, which I think will make us more effective in the fourth quarter and allow us to stay fresh throughout the year.”
The Nittany Lions limited the Zips to 69 rushing yards, holding consecutive foes below 70 rushing yards for the first time since 2009 (Eastern Illinois and Minnesota). Senior LB Hull made a game-high 11 tackles, with a sack, surpassing 10 tackles for the sixth time in his career. CB Jordan Lucas made 7 stops (6 solo) with a sack and LB Nyeem Wartman made 6 hits. DT Anthony Zettel recorded a sack for the second consecutive game.
“I think we played well,” said Hull. “I think we held them under 300 yards again. I think we just need to work on turnovers and taking the ball away to help our offense out. As for no big turnover plays so far, I don’t know. It’s just one of those things. You can’t force it. It just has to come and I think if we keep doing what we’ve been doing and communicating like we have it’s going to happen eventually.”
It is no big secret in Happy Valley that the Lion defense is playing solid football and one of the big reasons for that is the aggressive nature of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
“I love it,” said Zettle. “Our defensive line will come after you and fight off the ball. With aggressive play calling on defense, I feel like we all benefit off it. I couldn’t be happier playing with all the guys on the defense and Coach (Bob) Shoop making great calls and having confidence in him.”
While watching his defensive unit hold Akron to just three points, Franklin admitted that his offense has to pick it up.
“Offensively, we need to improve the running game, there’s no doubt about it,” Franklin said. “We need to get that going. We were able to make plays and put points on the board. On special teams, overall, we punted really well and you look at (Chris) Gulla averaging 48.8 yards. We were able to pin them deep. We need to find a way to make some more plays. Overall good things: [Christian Hackenberg] set a Penn State record for most passing yards in consecutive games with 773 yards. Jesse James, the first game of his career with two touchdown passes.”
Leading the Nittany Lion offense was sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg as he threw three touchdown passes, two to TE Jesse James. Hackenberg was 22 of 36 for 319 yards, tying Matt McGloin for the Penn State career record for 300-yard passing games with six (in 14 games for Hackenberg).
“We did whatever we had to do to win,” said Hackenberg. “That’s something this team is very good at. People stepped up and made plays but I feel like I need to step up and be more consistent. We need to be able to rely on that. I was proud of the guys as a team. We stepped up and made plays when we needed to.”
Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton made seven catches for 69 yards, Geno Lewis had six catches for 49 yards and Bill Belton had four catches for 49 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring. James made two catches, going for 13 and 44-yard scores.
“It was great,” said James about his multiple TD catches. “In the first half I missed some opportunities. Then, I came in in the second half and Christian (Hackenberg) found me and it ended up working out.”
“After I came off the route, I could see that it was coming toward the sideline,” said Lewis of his crucial catch. “I was just trying to get over there as fast as I could. I think that play really got us up and got us moving. At the end of the day, I thank the Lord for putting me in a position to make those catches. I get to make those plays to get the team up and put us in a good position.”
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