3 Keys to the Game: Kent State

By Nick Polak on September 15, 2018 at 11:45 am
Sep 1, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Juwan Johnson (84) signals a first down during the third quarter against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Appalachian State 45-38 in overtime.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports


1. Find a Rhythm in the Passing Game

In recent history, Kent State has had a solid-to-good defense. They were vulnerable against a bad Illinois team, but have plenty of upperclassmen leading the way on that side of the ball. They'll be a better team defensively than they were in week one, and they'll be a much better team defensively by the end of the season.

Don't get it twisted though- this is a team that Penn State should absolutely dominate. Step one to doing that, and also for setting the Lions up for the rest of the season, is getting things going in the passing game. That means the receivers eliminating the drops, especially for Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins. Penn State needs those two to step up, and this is a chance for them to get back on track.

As we saw in the aftermath of the Pitt game, McSorley's numbers to start the year aren't looking as great as we would have assumed, but if the drops start turning into catches, those numbers will shoot up into Heisman range very quickly.

2. The Defense Doing Whatever They Did in the Second Half AGainst Pitt

If Kent State has visions of pulling off a monumental upset, it will be one led by the ground game. Between quarterback Woody Barrett keeping it himself, or one of Justin Rankin and Jo-El Shaw taking the handoff, the Golden Flashes have some fire in their run game.

It took Brent Pry's defense about six quarters of football to figure out what was wrong with their run defense, but hopefully, their final two quarters in Pittsburgh were a sign of things to come and not just a brief aberration of dominance.

The staff also needs to use this week (and next week) to really zero in on which players allow the defense to function at its best. With Ohio State's trip to Happy Valley looming at the end of the month, the staff needs to figure out whether the defense is better off with experience and seniority (Jan Johnson, Koa Farmer) or youth and big-play capability (Micah Parsons, Jesse Luketa, maybe Ellis Brooks).

3. Share the Wealth

No disrespect to Kent State, but they're the worst team Penn State will face this year. That's not to say they have nothing to work with- I really like Barrett at quarterback- but they're just not equipped to handle a nearly-fully-stocked Nittany Lion roster in Happy Valley. The fans know that and the coaching staff knows that, even if they'll do everything they can to make sure the players treat it like any other game.

What this game does provide, however, is a chance to get a number of players large chunks of playing time. Receivers like Mac Hippenhammer and Jahan Dotson, defensive linemen like P.J. Mustipher, Jayson Oweh, and Nick Tarburton, and so many others will have their first real chance at significant snaps today. James Franklin and his staff have an opportunity to take advantage of the new redshirt rule to give some of his über-talented youngsters a real chance to experience in game situations and see what they've got.

No. 11 Penn State and Kent State are set to kick off from Beaver Stadium in Happy at noon on FS1. The Lions will look to move to 3-0 on the season, and extend their home winning streak to 16 games.