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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following Nittany Lions' 21-3 Victory

by on September 07, 2014 8:00 AM

The Nittany Lions showed just about everything on Saturday, from flashes of greatness to miscues and mistakes. While Penn State's 21-3 victory improves the Nittany Lions to 2-0 on the season, it's hard to imagine that this game will list high on anyone's personal memory bank of great games played in Beaver Stadium. 

Even so, Christian Hackenberg played a strong game despite some mistakes and the Nittany Lion defense continued to improve despite a few errors of its own.

For Penn State the most important thing is the win. But for James Franklin and his staff the focus now turns to the areas in need of improvement and a crucial week three meeting against Rutgers. 

Offense: C

Hackenberg's final numbers of 22-of-36 for 319, 3 TDs and 2 INTs are generally impressive but the interceptions coupled with Penn State's 4-of-10 conversion rate on third down hurt the grade. Penn State didn't convert a single third down in the first half and struggled to get the running game going aside from the wildcat, which in every sense is far from a traditional running attack.

Penn State's tight ends got in on the action with two Jesse James touchdowns and Akeel Lynch did some good things in the wildcat with 7 carries for 45 yards. Overall though Penn State's offense just looked better than Akron's, but not really in a dominating fashion. Hackenberg got his numbers, but with a lot of shortened drives and few points it was almost unnecessary. Two turnovers in the redzone don't help matters either.

Maybe it was coming off of a big game in Dublin the week before, but Penn State's offense never looked nearly as impressive aside from the opening touchdown to Belton.

Standout: Hackenberg set the school record for passing yardage in a two-game stretch. Three TDs and 300+ yards doesn't hurt either.

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Defense: B+

Aside from the opening drive that Akron had, Penn State's defense was its usual bend but don't break self. Four sacks is a solid number in any game and five different players contributed with tackles for a loss. Take away the opening drive and Akron had 217 total yards of offense. The Zips also had six different drives last less than 10 yards and Akron's running backs averaged only 2.8 yards a carry.

Penn State hasn't forced the takeaways that it'll need to force in conference play, but just around 200 yards of total offense and only 3 points is a hard figure to argue with. The one knock though is that Akron averaged 8.7 yards a completion meaning nearly automatic first downs if the pass is caught. That kind of thing will hurt a lot more against the Michigans and Ohio States of the world.

Standout: Mike Hull had more tackles but Jordan Lucas continues to impress with his work all around the field. 6.5 tackles and a sack is a hard stat line to pass up as a corner and occasional DB.

Special Teams: A

Sam Ficken didn't have to save the day but Chris Gulla's 5 punts with an average distance of 48.8 yards did a lot to give Akron long fields to work with. Penn State's return unit didn't do much and one Ficken kickoff out of bounds didn't help. But overall when special teams had to perform it did. Von Walker continues to look like a return threat and Penn State never gave up a long return to hand out free momentum. It was an uneventful day for special teams, but Gulla's contribution with those extra-long punts was a massive plus.

Standout: Gulla got the job done in an area where Penn State hasn't performed well for the past few years. Two punts over 50 yards is the icing on the cake.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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