UB Gameday: Five Things to Watch vs. Penn State
Kickoff: Noon at Beaver Stadium.
Radio: 1520 AM. TV: ESPN2.
1. Brian Borland’s Approach. How much will UB’s defensive coordinator decide to attack Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg? The offensive line is Penn State’s obvious weak link after last week’s 10-sack outing against Temple. But Temple did a good job of containing Penn State’s running game. It’s hard to imagine UB’s front holding Penn State under 5 yards a carry. Is Penn State’s offensive line so bad that even UB’s two-star caliber recruits can get pressure with a four-man rush? We shall see. Look for UB to continue to rotate defensive linemen. There’s not much separation between the starters and the backups.
Here were the defensive snap counts for the defensive linemen against Albany: Demone Harris 29, Brandon Crawford 27, Max Perisse 27, Solomon Jackson 25, Charles Harris 21, Justin Brandon 90, Chris Ford 16. Randy Anyanwu 26, Gusty Schwartzmeier 19, Myles Nicholas 9, Corey Henderson 4, Jake Khoury 4.
2. Big, Bad DT Combo. Penn State might have the best two defensive tackles in the nation in Anthony Zettel (No. 98) and Austin Johnson (99). Zettel, 6-4 and 284, is a preseason All-America. Johnson, 6-4, 323, is a giant space-eater. Their matchup against UB’s middle three – LG Dillon Guy, C James O’Hagan and RG Brandon Manosalvas – will be key. The best way to neutralize a pocket passer is with pressure right up the middle. Can UB keep those two out of Joe Licata’s face? It’s a tough challenge. In addition, can UB create any running room between the tackles for Anthone Taylor? That’s where Taylor runs best. Maybe UB will have to run more off tackle. But that plays to the strength of Penn State’s team speed. Penn State had a whopping 15 tackles for loss - 15! - against Temple last week.
3. Middle of the field. Maybe UB’s passing game can find success in the middle of the field. The season-ending injury to starting middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White was a big one. Yes, Penn State is Linebacker U. But there are question marks at the position after quality weak-side man Jason Cabinda (No. 40). UB’s tight ends caught nine passes last week. Slotman Collin Lisa is a Julian Edelman-type who can get open. Licata was 5 of 6 for 68 yards and two TDs against the blitz last week. But UB stayed out of bad down and distances.
4. WR separation? Penn State’s defensive backfield is outstanding. They are fast. They fly to the ball. And they bring the wood. (They are big hitters.) Can UB’s outside receivers get open?
“You look at their secondary and they’re not afraid to play aggressive and really challenge our receivers,” said UB offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. “It kind of all meshes together. They’re good enough in the back half to play man coverage and pressure in the front half. They’re pretty balanced in terms of mixing up man coverages and zone coverages and pressures.”
5. Weather the storm, limit assignment mistakes. Penn State will be fired up in its home opener. UB needs to take the Nittany Lions’ opening punches and not let the game get away in the first 10 minutes. If UB can make a big play or two early, the pressure ramps up on Penn State. UB must play turnover free early. Then there’s the question of assignment busts. UB is playing with five defensive starters who have barely ever played. It’s hard to imagine how they are going to avoid some mix-ups in coverage during this early part of the season. If UB can limit assignment busts and weather the storm, the game could get interesting. Maybe.