Penn State (3-0) returns to Beaver Stadium this Saturday for its second home game of the season where it will take on UMass (0-3) at 4 p.m. on BTN. This will be the first meeting between the Nittany Lions and the Minutemen.
The Lions enter the game with energy and momentum after a 13-10 win at Rutgers last Saturday in the Big Ten conference opener. Penn State notched the win in the final minutes with its second late fourth-quarter rally of the season. Senior and New Jersey native Bill Belton scored the game-winning touchdown on a five-yard rush with 1:13 left to play.
“Overall, I’d say it was a great team victory, and by that I mean that’s the offense, that’s the defense, that’s the special teams, that’s the coaches, that’s the trainers, doctors, that’s the administration;,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “That’s everybody that has a part, academic support, great team victory, really proud of the guys for that. Really pleased with how they persevered in a really difficult, hostile environment.”
Penn State’s defense had a stellar second-half. They allowed Rutgers just three first downs and 95 yards in the final two quarters. The Nittany Lions were also able to pick off Rutgers’ Gary Nova five times - once during the last 53 seconds of the game to seal the win. Junior cornerback Trevor Williams received Big Ten Defense Player of the Week for the first time in his career after ending the game with two interceptions and five tackles. Adrian Amos, Brandon Bell, and Ryan Keiser each had an interception of their own, as well.
Thanks to the five interceptions in last Saturday’s game, Penn State’s defense is currently among the nation’s best. They’re sixth in the nation in intercepted passes, seventh best in the in allowed yards per game (68.3) and 13th in total defense with 275.5 yards per game.
In a matter of 15 games, sophomore Christian Hackenberg became the tenth quarterback in Penn State history to throw for 4,000 career yards. He is sixth in the country in passing yards with 1,082 yards and seventh in the country in passing yards per game with 360.7 ypg.
The Nittany Lions have been struggling with their running attack this season despite having talented players, like Belton and fellow senior Zach Zwinak. The team is averaging only 75.57 yards per game, which ranks Penn State at No. 120 in the country in rushing offense.
“Obviously we’re going to have to improve in the running game and our protection,” Franklin said. “That’s going to be very, very important. I think it really comes down to our communication and coordination up front, making sure that all five or six guys, depending on the protection or the play, are all on the same page and working together and that has not been the case so far. So we’re going to make sure that’s happening.”
UMass is coming off a 34-31 lost at Vanderbilt last week; it’s the Minutemen’s second consecutive three-point loss after losing 41-38 to Colorado two weeks prior. The Minutemen have had second half leads in both games, but were unable to hold off their opponents to secure a win. They currently have one of the nation’s worst defenses. At No. 106 in rush defense after allowing 218 rushing yards a game, an average of 5.4 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush, the Penn State running game has a chance to get on track.
Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel has thrown for 619 yards this season on 46-of-94 passing. Five of them were touchdown passes and two were interceptions.
Junior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe added a 73-yard, eight reception game at Vanderbilt and is currently ranked 17th in UMass’ history for receiving yards. Sophomore running back Lorenzo Woodley ran for 43 yards last Saturday to finish with a total of 84 yards for the season. Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox leads the team and Division I FBS in tackles with 42.
This weekend, Penn State fans have planned a “Joe-out” to honor the late coach Joe Paterno who was fired in November 2011 following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Attendees are encouraged to come to the game wearing Joe Paterno-inspired clothing.
This will be Penn State’s last non-conference game until Nov. 15 when the Penn State will host Temple in Beaver Stadium.