Sep. 14, 2018 2:40 PM EDT
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State practiced at a rapid clip this week to prepare for what could be the fastest offense the Lions defend against all season.
There’s plenty of evidence on tape about how Kent State will attack the No. 11 Nittany Lions (2-0) when they visit Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The Golden Flashes (1-1) are led by coach Sean Lewis, whose Syracuse offense ran 1,027 plays for fifth among FBS teams. The Orange used that fast-paced pressure to beat then-No. 2 Clemson.
Lewis didn’t hesitate to install his scheme with his new team.
The Golden Flashes ran 104 plays in just 45 minutes in their first training camp scrimmage and are averaging a play every 22 seconds as they look for their first win against a Big Ten team.
“This will be as fast of a tempo team that we have played,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “They want to wear us down, obviously.”
It could be a good approach against a defense that’s young up the middle and still trying to find its identity.
Penn State has alternated linebackers through its first two games, trying to find the right combination that can stuff the run.
Veterans Jan Johnson, Koa Farmer and Cam Brown are expected to start, but defensive coordinator Brent Pry hasn’t shied away from using youngsters. Micah Parsons led the team in tackles against Pittsburgh, while freshman Jesse Luketa also played after the Panthers ran for 113 of their 300 yards in the first quarter.
Johnson, a walk-on who hadn’t started before this season, said he only sees benefits in maintaining a rotation, especially against an up-tempo offense.
“Quickly, you start getting tired,” Johnson said. “You start not thinking about what you’re supposed to do on every play and that’s how they burn you real easily.”
GIVENS AND TAKE
Kevin Givens should help Penn State up front.
The defensive tackle was a force in his first game of the season last week. Givens, who was suspended for the season opener for an unspecified violation of team rules, helped shore up a defensive line with three new starters. He made seven tackles, two for losses and earned a QB hurry.
“We added one of the more explosive players that we have on our team, we added one of the more experienced defensive linemen we have,” Franklin said. “So obviously, the combination of those things is going to have a big presence.”
WR KJ Hamler leads Penn State with three touchdowns. His rise has overshadowed slumping veterans through two games.
Penn State’s most experienced receivers Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins have combined for just eight catches through two games despite being targeted 23 times. Johnson’s dropped four passes, while Thompkins has let three – including a touchdown at Pitt – slip through his fingers.
“I think both of those guys have higher standards and expectations of who they want to be,” Franklin said. “I got tremendous confidence that we’re going to look back at the end of the year and say, ‘Wow, what huge years these guys had.'”
With enough rain forecast to force Penn State’s athletic department to close most grass tailgating parking lots outside the stadium, both offenses likely will lean on their rushing attacks.
Penn State’s offensive line has helped generate more than 200 rushing yards in each of the last five games while the Golden Flashes rely on a host of talented backs, including Jo-El Shaw who scored three times and averaged nearly 9 yards per carry against Howard.
Quarterback Woody Barrett also adds a running dimension. He’s kept the ball 28 times for 135 yards.
“We’re very fortunate with Jo-El, Justin (Rankin) and Will (Matthews) to have three kids there that we feel really confident with,” Lewis said. “Whoever’s the hot hand and can help us move the ball and help us run the football so that it sets up everything that we want to do in our offense, we’re going to play that hot hand.”
IN OR OUT?
Penn State CB John Reid didn’t play last week and is questionable for this game. Penn State’s top cornerback missed last season with a knee injury.
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens, who Penn State likes to use in its “Lion Package,” has yet to play this year with an unspecified injury. He suited up last week after sitting out Week 1.
Kent State boasts one of the Mid-American Conference’s best punters in Derek Adams (hip), but might be without him for the third straight game.