FACTS & STATS: Site: Beaver Stadium (107,282) — University Park,
Pennsylvania. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: UMass 0-2, PSU 1-0.
Away Record: UMass 0-1, PSU 1-0. Neutral Record: UMass 0-0, PSU 1-0.
Conference Record: UMass 0-0, PSU 1-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: While they may not have scored many style points for their three
victories, the unbeaten Penn State Nittany Lions now turn their attention to
the Massachusetts Minutemen for a non-conference clash on Saturday afternoon
at Beaver Stadium.
UMass is winless through three games, although not for lack of effort. The
Minutemen are coming off back-to-back three-point losses to Colorado (41-38)
of the Pac-12, and SEC school Vanderbilt (34-31).
Meanwhile, Penn State is off to a 3-0 start with one victory each at home, on
the road and on a neutral field in Ireland. Even though the Nittany Lions are
the last remaining unbeaten squad in the Big Ten’s East Division, none of
their three victories have been particularly inspiring. The team escaped New
Jersey last weekend with a 13-10 road win over new league foe Rutgers despite
leading the contest for all of 73 seconds.
This matchup marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
UMass held a 31-20 lead over Vandy entering the fourth quarter of last
weekend’s contest. After the Commodores rallied for two fourth-quarter
touchdowns to take their first lead at 34-31 with 1:08 to play, the Minutemen
quickly drove down to the Vandy 5-yard line with two seconds remaining.
However, Blake Lucas missed a 22-yard field goal as the game ended in
heartbreaking fashion for UMass. Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel had a chance to
win it on the previous play from the 5, but his throw to Marken Michel was off
The offense enters the week ranked 111th nationally in total yards (306.3) and
88th in scoring (25.3 ppg). Should the Minutemen drive into PSU territory,
they must find a way to reach the end zone rather than leave another outcome
riding on the kicking game.
For the most part, the UMass defense held its own against Vandy, considering
two of the Commodores’ touchdowns came on a fumble recovery and a blocked punt
return. The Minutemen allowed only 150 yards through the air in 23 attempts,
and they limited the Commodores to 160 yards on the ground at an average of
Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox led the way with a game-high 15 tackles, while
safety Joe Colton finished with 12 stops, including 2.5 tackles for loss and a
sack. Santos-Knox and Colton are the team’s No. 1 and 2 tacklers on the season
with 42 and 34, respectively. Randall Jette has a team-best two interceptions
and four passes defended.
As quarterback Christian Hackenberg goes, so too does the PSU offense. And
that has been a good thing to this point, considering the sophomore gunslinger
is sixth in the nation (and first in the Big Ten) in passing yards (1,082)
with an average of 360.7 per game. Hackenberg also ranks 12th nationally in
completions per game (26.33).
Despite losing former all-conference wideout Allen Robinson to the NFL Draft
in the offseason, he has developed a nice rapport with Geno Lewis and DaeSean
Hamilton. Lewis tops the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally with 380 receiving
yards (126.7 per game). Hamilton is close behind with 337 receiving yards, and
his average of 8.7 receptions per game leads the conference. Hamilton and
Lewis have both eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the same game twice already
this season, becoming the first PSU duo to accomplish that feat since Bobby
Engram and Freddie Scott back in 1994.
On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lions rank seventh nationally in
rushing defense (68.3 ypg), 11th in scoring defense (12.3 ppg) and 13th in
total defense (275.7 ypg). And after notching an incredible five interceptions
in the win over Rutgers, they also rank sixth in the country in that
department. The last time a PSU team had at least four picks in a game was at
Michigan State in 2005. The Nittany Lions are the only team in the FBS to have
picked off five passes in a game this season.
Junior cornerback Trevor Williams had two of those interceptions to earn Big
Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Overall, the defense held Rutgers to
just three first downs and 95 yards during a scoreless second half. Anthony
Zettel, playing in his first season at defensive tackle after two years at
defensive end, has been another standout performer. Zettel leads the Big Ten
and is fourth in the nation with 2.3 tackles for loss per game.
The last time Penn State played two of its first three games on the road and
started 3-0 was 1978. It has not exactly been pretty to watch, but these
Nittany Lions know how to win. Playing on their home field, could this be the
week the offense finally gets firing on all cylinders?
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 45, Massachusetts 20