To get a better feeling of the Penn State side of things, we reached out to our sister Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries. Devon Andrews, a senior writer over there, was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
Hustle Belt: What were the positives and negatives coming out of the UCF game? A win is a win, but it felt like the game shouldn't have come down to a game-winning field goal on the final drive.
Black Shoe Diaries: I'd generally agree with the premise, but UCF is a quality team coming off a BCS Bowl win, and the Vegas spread had us getting two points. Even in a tight win, we exceeded expectations. For a team riddled with question marks, the positive is that some of them have been answered. We know the receiving corps can weather the loss of Allen Robinson--DaeSean Hamilton and Eugene Lewis combined for 19 catches and 320 yards last week, which was more than the two had previously combined for in their careers. Hackenberg took the step forward in his development that he needed to, and the defensive front 7 was terrific.
Unfortunately, the offensive line is still a work in progress, and the second cornerback spot, across from Jordan Lucas, remains a vulnerability. It boils down to this: Penn State didn't do a good enough job capitalizing on opportunities to put the game out of reach when they had a chance, and they'll need to do that against the meat of the Big Ten...but they have enough talent and coaching to get away with it against a whole big chunk of the country.
HB: Do you think the travel issues will play any part in this game? With Akron playing on Thursday and getting more time to rest (on top of coming out of a blowout win), they'll likely be the fresher team. This doesn't totally make up for the talent disparity but it could have some effect on the outcome.
BSD: I'd be more receptive to the extra-rest argument if it were later in the season, when both teams are banged up. Penn State emerged from the opener relatively unscathed, and although the flight home wasn't a short one, I'm pretty sure it was a fun trip.
I'm more worried that this is a trap game: with the excitement of the first game of the season, overseas, against a team coming off a 12-1 season (that included a win at Beaver Stadium) behind Penn State, and with next week's Big Ten opener against Rutgers, this doesn't seem to have as much riding on it. It is the home opener, and the first home game of the James Franklin era, but weird things happen in sleepy noon kickoffs against lesser opponents.
HB: What does Penn State need to do well in order to win on Saturday? Obviously they are better than Akron but anything can happen (just ask Michigan).
BSD: Maybe I'm overlooking Akron, but as long as Penn State doesn't sleepwalk through this one, they should be fine. Unfortunately, Akron's offense isn't one they're particularly well-suited to defend: the strength of this team is in the front seven, and they'll struggle when a team spreads them out and throws to multiple receivers.
Still, I think Penn State will bring enough pressure and stall enough drives to let Christian Hackenberg do his thing, and if this does boil down to a shootout, well, we have the bigger gun. But the offensive line is still a patchwork group, so Penn State can't get so one-dimensional that the Akron front is able to pin its ears back and bring pressure. I'm curious to see where the books will set the over/under.
HB: What is your opinion on the Big Ten-MAC match-ups? Do you like them? Or would you rather see a non-conference schedule with all Power 5 conference schools?
BSD: I'm a fan of having one or two warm-up games before the meat of the Big Ten schedule, so I'm more of a fan of the MACrifice than some of my fellow Big Ten bloggers. College football's so weird, in that there's no real preseason, so I'm a big proponent of easing into the schedule rather than just playing LSU week one (godspeed, Wisconsin).
But that said, I am glad we're seeing the power conference schools move away from scheduling FCS teams; there's just nothing to be gained from those matchups. As a Penn State fan, my ideal out-of-conference schedule would be a middle-of-the-pack MAC team (Miami and the directional Michigans have been functionally no different from Youngstown State the last few years), a low-level BCS program in a fun place to visit (a Colorado or Vanderbilt or Boston College), and a marquee matchup with a top-tier power program.
HB: For any Akron fans heading to State College, do you have any must-hit restaurants or bars?
BSD: The best bars in State College, from a former student's perspective, are Zeno's and Cafe. Zeno's is one of the best beer bars you'll ever go to, and there's good live music every night; Cafe is more of your standard college town bar and grill, but there's a nice patio, which is one of the few places to drink outdoors in State College.
As far as food, it doesn't get better than a gameday breakfast at the Waffle Shop, and while there are some nicer upscale restaurants like Zola's, I'll recommend Herwig's (Australian; tons of bacon) and Spats (Cajun), which are both in the heart of downtown. You also can't visit State College without hitting up the on-campus Creamery, for the best ice cream of your life.
HB: Finally, give me a score prediction.
BSD: I think Penn State wins, but I don't think it's all that pretty. 34-20 seems like a good number, with Akron hanging in until early in the fourth quarter before Hackenberg puts the final nail in the coffin.
Big thanks to Devon Edwards over at Black Shoe Diaries. Pop over and say hello, they're good people.