Who: Penn State vs. Akron
Where: Beaver Stadium – State College, PA
When: September 2, 2017 12:00 pm
Four Things to Look for: Penn State vs Akron
1. Saquon Barkley starting where he left off
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley took the college football world by storm the last two seasons. Barkley is coming off of a 1,496 yard rushing season and got stronger and faster in the off-season, running a 4.3 40-yard dash and completing a 405-pound power clean.
He will compete against an Akron defense that lost six decisive players going into the 2017 season. Although the Zips have lost many, linebacker Ulysees Gilbert is returning. Gilbert had 122 tackles in 2016. Even with his return, Barkley will not have a problem taking advantage of a defense that was ranked 107th against the run last season.
2. Christian Campbell stepping up in the absence of John Reid
Christian Campbell is taking on a bigger role after the injury to 2016 breakout cornerback John Reid. Without Reid, Campbell needs to build off of a junior season that showed steady growth. Campbell started two games last season and played in ten. Furthermore, his season culminated with a career-high six tackles in the Rose Bowl against USC.
Quarterback Thomas Woodson and former Ohio State running back Warren Ball are both returning from injury for the Zips. If Woodson is not ready to go for Akron, transfer Nick Johns will most likely get the nod. Johns is a 6’4″ JUCO transfer with a strong arm. In addition to the possibility of a new signal caller, Akron lost two wide receivers from the 2016 season to graduation. The Zips moved former backup quarterback Tra’von Chapman to wide receiver to combat this loss. This is a good game for Campbell to get his feet wet as a full-time starter as the quarterback and receiver positions for the Zips are in question.
3. Juwan Johnson filling the Chris Godwin void
Trace McSorley will have to find another big target to throw to after the loss of Chris Godwin to the NFL. Redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson has been a breakout player in spring and summer practice. Based on this, against a lackluster Akron defense that lost much of its talent going into the 2017 season, Johnson is one to look at. Johnson is 6’4″ and weighs 227 pounds. Johnson’s height and speed give him an advantage against an Akron defense that was ranked 102nd against the pass last season.
4. Trace McSorley behind a veteran offensive line
McSorley is going into his second season as a starter under the leadership of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Last season, McSorley led all FBS quarterbacks in yards per completion with 16.13. In addition, he also led the Big Ten in total passing yards with 3,614. All of this production was behind an offensive line that was riddled with injuries.
The 2017 season has many healthy veterans on the O-line for the first time in a while. Under center will be Connor McGovern, moving from guard last season. McSorley stated in an interview with pennlive.com at practice on August 25th that McGovern is “extremely confident” at the center position. He went on to state that McGovern “has done a tremendous job and he’s made really the whole offense as a whole run a little smoother.” Coming from a signal caller that broke many records last season, this is a positive for the Nittany Lions. Especially against a Zips defensive front that lost many key players to graduation.
These are the four things to look for in the Nittany Lions first game against a Zips team that is young and full of moving pieces. However, this cannot be taken lightly. There are several players that can make a big impact against Penn State question marks. In the end, those bright spots for Akron will not be enough to stop a Penn State football team that is eager to prove themselves. The Nittany Lions will start the season off with a win at home.