UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – The Akron Zips gave the Penn State Nittany Lions all they could handle Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium. However, the Zips inability to score points on the first series of the game -- along with allowing big plays on a crucial drive in the third quarter -- proved crucial in a 21-3 loss.
“We played as hard as we could.” Zips head coach Terry Bowden said after the game. “I am disappointed for our players, especially that we could not make something happen.”
Penn State (2-0) was playing in the first home game of new head man James Franklin, who gave a tip of the cap to UA.
“It feels good walking away with a win.” Franklin said afterward. “We will enjoy wins around here, but make no mistake, Akron is a very good team.”
Akron moved the ball crisply and effectively as sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl used a short passing game, adding two big plays -- a 19-yard completion to junior WR Zach D’ Orazio and a 23-yarder to L.T. Smith -- as the Zips reached Penn State’s seven.
From there, the drive stalled as Pohl was sacked on consecutive plays, moving the ball back to the PSU 13. Freshman PK Tom O’ Leary then missed a 31-yard field goal. It was his second consecutive miss after an errant 25-yarder last week in the home win over Howard.
After an exchange of punts, sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg found senior RB Bill Belton, who was all alone in the left flat. He walked into the end zone to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
There would be no further scoring for the remainder of the half as both teams moved the football between the 20-yard lines.
Penn State was driving in the second period when UA’s defense came up with the first of three turnovers. Senior CB Martell Durant made a leaping interception of a Hackenberg pass at the Zips two yard line.”
“Our defense kept us in the football game.” Bowden said.
Statistically, the both teams played on even terms over the first 30 minutes, with PSU totaling 156 yards while UA had 157. The Hackenberg-to-Belton score remained the key margin of difference.
At the start of the third quarter, the Zips defense came up with its second turnover when Belton fumbled and junior DE Alphonso Horner made the recovery at the PSU 41.
The Zips would covert the turnover into points as Pohl had two big completions on the drive -- a 10-yarder to sophomore Mykel Traylor-Williams and 13-yards to sophomore Franshon Bickley to reach the Lions 11 before their defense stiffened.
Bickley, along with D’Orazio, led the Zips receiving corps with five catches each (Bickley had 45 yards and D’ Orazio 61) as 10 different receivers caught at least one pass.
In need of points, Bowden turned to junior PK Robert Stein, who did most of the place kicking in 2013. He connected from 28 yards to make the score 7-3.
After an exchange of punts, the Nittany Lions extended their lead as Hackenberg, who completed 22-of-36 passes for 319 yards, engineered a 10-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with his second touchdown pass of the game a 13-yarder to junior TE Jesse James.
The Zips defense again came up with a big play at the start of the final period. Senior Rover DB Bre Ford intercepted Hackenberg and returned the ball 51 yards to the PSU 40.
One of the things Bowden has preached in this early part of the season is his team winning the turnover margin. Thus far, UA has been on the plus side. The Zips were a plus-3 at PSU and plus-1 in the season opener against Howard.
Despite Ford’s interception, Akron failed to capitalize. On fourth down from the PSU 38, Pohl gve the ball to junior RB Conor Hundley out of the shotgun formation. Hundley was dropped for a two-yard loss to end the possession.
Penn State then used just two plays to score a third touchdown as Hackenberg found James wide open down the left sideline. His 44-yard score put the hosts up 21-3 with 8:52 remaining.
Now down by18, the Zips offense ditched the run and passed on every play on the drive after the touchdown. Pohl moved the ball from his own 20 to the Penn State 13 completing seven passes along the way. However, the Nittany Lion defense stiffened and Akron’s drive ended on four straight incomplete passes in the end zone. PSU took over on downs and ran out the clock.
UA has a week off and will not return to action until Saturday September 20 when the Marshall Thundering Herd comes to InfoCision Stadium.