We are back with a great Friday afternoon Penn State blogosphere tradition, the Blue-White Roundtable. Adam from Black Shoe Diaries again sent some questions our way, and Eric and I did our best to not totally embarrass ourselves trying to answer them. Make sure you check in with our friends at JoePa’s Doghouse, Nittany Lions Den, and The 50 Yard Lion as well.
What are your thoughts on Christian Hackenberg after two weeks as our starting quarterback? What do you think of “poise” and “moxie?”
Matt: I’m not sure what excites me more about Hackenberg after two weeks. How good he is already, and how much trust O’Brien already has in him, or how much better he’s going to get over the next few weeks, let alone years. He has all the physical tools we’ve read about, but his poise and demeanor on the field makes you forget he’s a freshman at times. I’m not sure if I’d call in moxie, but the kid is good, and he knows it.
Eric: For a true freshman, Christian Hackenberg has definitely been impressive after two weeks. Considering the complexity of Bill O’Brien’s offense and the fact that he was not an early enrollee makes him even more impressive. He was able to air it out a little more against Eastern Michigan as opposed to his first start against Syracuse, and he looked very good when he got into a rhythm. Hopefully we see more and more of that as the season goes on. His poise has been pretty good and it seems like he doesn’t let his mistakes get to him. He doesn’t have the “moxie” that McGloin had, but that’s just because these guys have very different personalities. But it will be interesting to see if Hackenberg develops some kind of persona during his time in Happy Valley.
The offense started a bit slow last week against Eastern Michigan. How do you feel the offense has progressed since August camp? Has the running game gotten on track?
Matt: Along the same lines as question one, the offense is going to grow as Hackenberg grows, and gets more comfortable with the playbook. In the Eastern Michigan game, Hack was noticeably amped up, and that seemed to contribute to the slow start. Once he settled in, the offense really got into a rhythm.
Eric: Since camp in August, I feel the offense has progressed fairly well. Again, since Hackenberg is a true freshman who didn’t enroll early it will take a little more time for him to grasp everything. But he was an elite recruit, so maybe it’ll come faster to him than it would to another quarterback. I’m very confident in O’Brien’s ability to determine how Hackenberg is progressing and gage his overall understanding of the offense. I’m pretty sure that many Penn State fans thought the running game would get on track during the Eastern Michigan game, and it did. Now it’s just a matter of consistency. Not only for the three running backs, but for the offensive line. And the deeper Penn State gets into its schedule, the tougher it’ll be to run the ball against some of the more formidable Big Ten defenses.
UCF will probably be the strongest test Penn State will see in the non-conference schedule. What do you expect to see out of George O’Leary’s squad?
Matt: I hope people aren’t under estimating UCF. This is a game that has made me nervous since I dug into them over the summer. They have a ton of talent, and experience on the offensive side of the ball, especially at the skill positions. PSU will need a big game from the entire defense on Saturday. I feel like the offense can move the ball on the Knights D, but they can’t afford a slow start.
Eric: I expect UCF’s offense to be their strength. In their first two games, the Knights outscored their foes, 76-7. Even though the opponents were Akron and FIU, that’s still pretty impressive. Blake Bortles is arguably the second best quarterback in the AAC behind Teddy Bridgewater. He has a great running back in Storm Johnson and some solid receivers in Rannell Hall, Breshad Perriman and J.J. Worton. On defense, Terrance Plummer and Troy Gray form a sturdy linebacker duo and I expect the UCF defense to bring a lot of pressure to try to force Hackenberg to make mistakes.
Matt: I don’t think this is going to be a low scoring type of game (and for what it’s worth, I like the over of 50.5). Both offense have the talent to move the ball and put up points, but I think Jones and Barnes will lead a strong effort by the defensive line that slows down the UCF offense just enough for PSU to get a good win, 31-28.
Eric: I think Penn State will edge UCF by a score of 31-28. Both offenses will come out strong and both defenses will give up a few big plays. But the student whiteout and the Beaver Stadium night atmosphere should give the Nittany Lions a little push at the end to pull this one out. John Butler’s defense will force a turnover late in the fourth quarter to seal the game and keep Penn State undefeated.