Army Black Knights at Penn State Nittany Lions (no line available)
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who was pegged as a potential no. 1-overall NFL draft pick in the preseason, finally put in a performance worthy of that stature, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-21 win over San Diego State last weekend. Hackenberg has a good chance to boost his numbers even higher this weekend as his Nittany Lions (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) host the overmatched Army Black Knights (1-3, 1-1 Road) at Beaver Stadium on Saturday (12:00 PM Eastern).
The ground game, which ran rampant the last two weeks, was noticeably absent on Saturday, posting just 72 yards on 34 carries (2.1 YPC). But Hackenberg’s big day was enough to lead the team to its third straight win. The lopsided score also saw the Nittanies cover a double-digit point spread for the second straight week. (Two weeks ago, they covered as ten-point faves in a 28-3 rout of Rutgers.)
Wide out Saeed Blacknall emerged as Hackenberg’s favorite target outside the numbers, gaining 101 receiving yards on just four catches. But the QB did a nice job of spreading the ball around, hitting three different receivers for touchdowns.
“We have the guys who can press the defense and challenge the secondary with speed. We’re getting guys down there, and we’re going to continue to work that,” Hackenberg told the Associated Press after the game.
The Penn State defense, meanwhile, was close to dominant, holding San Diego State to just 141 yards through the air and another 101 on the ground. They also forced the Aztecs, who scored one of their three TDs on a kick return, into three turnovers.
Up next for the Penn State D is a visit from Army and its run-heavy offense. The Black Knights picked up their first win of the year last weekend in a 58-36 shootout with Eastern Michigan 58-36. They started the season with narrow losses to Fordham (37-35), UConn (22-17), and Wake Forest (17-14).
The Black Knights ran for a staggering 556 yards on 71 attempts against Eastern Michigan. They only passed the ball nine times for 98 yards.
Army’s entire offensive attack is built around the option run-game, which could be a huge problem come Saturday. Penn State has been excellent against the run all season, holding teams to just 90.5 yards per game on average, 14th-best in the nation.
The Nittanies also have a habit of playing down to their competition, though, and letting teams stay closer than they should; they are just 1-3-1 ATS in their last five against teams with a losing record. The Black Knights, meanwhile, have been keeping games tight, going 5-1 ATS in their last six overall. The line for Saturday’s game isn’t out yet, but Army should be a 20+-point underdog. If they can find any success on the ground, that will shorten the game and keep the score closer than most are predicting. Army plus a 21 to 24-point cushion should be the better value.
(Photo credit: Ben Stanfield (user name acaben) of flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)