At 3-0, still room to improve for Penn State Gritty Lions

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Penn State pulled one out of a magic hat Saturday night. When you have a quarterback as talented and composed as Christian Hackenberg, good things and good plays eventually happen even on a night like Saturday night. Penn State’s offensive line was once again a near-complete wreck. The running game for the Nittany Lions was virtually non-existent. Hackenberg once again had too many moments when he had to force plays that just were not there. Rutgers was in Hackenberg’s face all night, knocking him off-balanced at times and forcing him to move. In the end though, Hackenberg showed great poise and leadership in leading Penn State to a late rally and victory.

Because the NCAA has lifted the remaining two seasons of a postseason ban on the football program, Penn State is now eligible to participate in the bowl season, the College Football Playoff and Big Ten Championship Game, as long as they qualify for any of those three. As a result of last night’s victory, Penn State is now out in front of the Big Ten championship race, sitting in first place with a 1-0 conference record before any other Big Ten teams (besides Rutgers) play a conference game. It is a good situation, and the schedule is as favorable as it can possibly be with a bye week before heading to Michigan, followed by a bye week before hosting Ohio State. Penn State also gets Michigan State at home in the final week of the regular season. While Saturday night’s come-from-behind thrill in New Jersey is plenty reason to celebrate, it is clear there is much that needs to improve in State College for Penn State to truly become a legitimate Big Ten contender.

It starts up front with the offensive line. Hackenberg needs protection and the running game cannot get going until the offensive line starts to improve. Depth on the line is a problem and a result of the sanctions the past couple of years, so just how much can improve between now and the next game or month may be limited. That does not mean Penn State and the coaching staff will not try. Perhaps what should be more of a breather next Saturday at home against UMass will be a good week to show some progress.

Once the offensive line does improve, the running game should follow. Mixing things up between Zach Zwinak for power running situations, spreading things out with Bill Belton and adding in Akeel Lynch to the mix still has potential for a good running game to help take some pressure off Hackenberg. Hackenberg has not had the cleanest first three games of the year despite some terrific passing numbers, and the thought he can actually get better is pretty remarkable. Receivers holding on to more passes would help as well. Penn State has shown potential to have receivers ready to step up after Allen Robinson moved to the NFL, but there have been a number of dropped passes the first few weeks as well.

Can Penn State realistically contend for a Big Ten championship? Given the way the Big Ten has been playing thus far, sure, why not. But before Penn State fans start making plans for Indianapolis, there is still a long uphill battle for the Nittany Lions. But for right now, they are in control of the Big Ten East, and that should feel pretty good.

Jerry Kill joins Virginia Tech support staff

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Jerry Kill stepped down as Minnesota’s head coach in the middle of the 2015 season, but he’s remained active as ever in “retirement.”

He spent 2016 as an assistant AD at Kansas State, returned to coaching as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Rutgers in 2017, but, after the same epileptic seizures that chased him out of coaching followed him to Piscataway, Kill stepped down after just one season. He was quickly scooped up as the athletics director at Southern Illinois, but now Kill is returning again to coaching — sort of.

Virginia Tech on Monday announced Kill as the new assistant to the head coach for Justin Fuente. In this newly-created role, Kill will use his experience to assist Fuente with “a myriad of duties.”

“Jerry Kill will serve as a tremendous resource for our football program,” Fuente said. “Coach Kill possesses over three decades of expertise and will be great addition to our staff. In addition to over 20 years of experience as collegiate and high school head coach, he’s served as a coordinator on both sides of the ball. He can dissect the game from virtually every angle and will be able to provide his unique perspective on everything from recruiting, to personnel and facilities. ”

“While it was a difficult decision to leave so many wonderful friends and colleagues at Southern Illinois, I am thrilled for the opportunity to join Coach Fuente and his staff at Virginia Tech,” Kill said. “I’ve long appreciated and admired Justin as a coach and teacher of the game. I respect his penchant for identifying talent and helping young men reach their potential. He has assembled a fabulous coaching staff and roster of talented players at Virginia Tech. I can’t wait to help the Hokies in any way I can.”

Kill will join the Virginia Tech staff effective immediately. He went 152-99 as a head coach at five different schools from 1994-2015.

 

Pac-12 admits refs botched Arizona State-Michigan State ending

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No. 24 Arizona State beat Michigan State 10-7 on Saturday, a win that was preserved by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty that wiped away a game-tying field goal for the Spartans. Matt Coghlin‘s second attempt, this one from 47 yards, sailed wide right, allowing the Sun Devils to hold on for the win.

But it turns out there should have been a second penalty called.

The Pac-12 has announced its officials missed a penalty on Arizona State on Coghlin’s second, missed attempt.

“An Arizona State defensive player took a running start and leapt over the kicking team’s line in an attempt to block the kick. In the process, he leapt into the frame of the body of an opponent. The penalty would have been 15 yards from the previous spot and an automatic first down.

In this case, it would have been administered as half the distance to the goal and Michigan State would have been provided one untimed down.”

That penalty would have moved the Spartans up to the Arizona State 14-yard line, giving Coghlin a third attempt from just 31 yards out.

The Pac-12 provided no word on what, if any, internal accountability the officiating crew that missed such a crucial penalty will face.

 

Chip Kelly won’t make QB change despite UCLA offensive woes

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Chip Kelly revolutionized college football back when he was at Oregon, becoming so successful that not one but three NFL teams tried or succeeded in hiring him.

Kelly’s return to the sidelines in the college game however… could be going better. UCLA was blown out of the water on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl by No. 5 Oklahoma and the Bruins offense is actually among the worst in all of FBS.

They’re dead last in yards per play, second to last in total offense and No. 127 in scoring offense. Oh and sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is No. 99 nationally in passer rating.

Despite those numbers, it appears Kelly isn’t contemplating a new face behind center as the team moves into Pac-12 play.

“We didn’t,” Kelly said when asked by the LA Times whether he thought of making a change at quarterback on Saturday. “…we felt confident in Dorian.”

To be fair, Thompson-Robinson did seem a little improved against the Sooners than he did in his first two starts of 2019 against Cincinnati and San Diego State. But those numbers speak for themselves with road trips to Washington State and Arizona coming up for the 0-3 side from Westwood.

Pony Up! SMU off to best start since 1984 at 3-0

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TCU may have moved into the top 25 of the AP Poll this week after dispatching Purdue on Saturday but upcoming opponent SMU is off to an equally hot start coming into Week 4 after topping Texas State.

In fact, it’s a historic one down in Dallas.

As the school noted recently, the 3-0 start to the 2019 campaign is the Mustangs’ best since… 1984. That’s just after the Pony Express days on the Hilltop and right before the program got hammered by the NCAA for major violations.

Sonny Dykes’ tenure got off to a rough start after going 5-7 last season but the team looks much improved thanks in part to the play of Texas transfer QB Shane Buechele.

We’ll see if the two can keep things rolling against the rival Horned Frogs but the AAC might just have another intriguing team in the mix after such a hot start by SMU.