Penn State safety Ryan Keiser, left, cuts in front of Kent State receiver Chris Humphrey for an interception in the Nittany Lions' 34-0 rout of Kent State Saturday in University Park, Pa.
John Beale/Associated Press
Running back Bill Belton led Penn State's rushing attack with 90 yards Saturday in a shut out of Kent State.
John Beale/Associated Press
Zach Zwinak runs over Kent State lineman Roosevelt Nix, part of his big game in Penn State's win.
By Mark Dent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Sometimes you succeed in the muck, win on a day when every fiber of your body and mind would command you to seek the comfort of the sofa and television at home.
If you can do it in shutout fashion while your kicker makes a career-best 54-yard field goal and despite an inefficient performance from your otherwise efficient quarterback, all the better.
That's what Penn State did Saturday in its 34-0 victory against Kent State (1-3) in front of 92,371 at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions (3-1) routed an overmatched opponent and finished with some pleasing statistics, though nothing seemed overly pretty.
If you checked the weather radar about an hour before the 3:30 p.m. game, a crushing tide of green covered the screen from essentially Chicago all the way to a few miles west of University Park. A dark cloud descended and a downpour ensued. The conditions would be rainy, and they would be wet.
Penn State found this out quickly.
Kick returner Von Walker dropped the opening kickoff before recovering it. Though the downpour stopped, steady rain fell throughout the game. In the elements, it felt a bit like what Hippolytus de Marsiliis had in mind when he invented water torture -- not a massive flash-flood of water, but a slow, monotonous drizzle that destroys the mind with repetition.
Whether Penn State's offense would admit it or not, something appeared to not be right with their heads. After throwing for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in the first half, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed 2 of 14 passes in the second.
At one point when Penn State was still ahead, just 14-0, coach Bill O'Brien gathered his offensive players and spoke to them about the standards they need to hold.
"You go out and play a Division I football game, you have to be focused, alert," O'Brien said. "You have to be in the game every single snap of the game. And I think that's the point I was trying to drive across to the offense."
Eventually, the offense did come alive, largely behind running backs Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Zach Zwinak.
Belton had 93 rushing yards and a touchdown reception, Zwinak had three touchdowns and Lynch had 123 yards and nearly scored on a breakaway run before he was caught.
Lynch blamed his inability to score on the play partially on his pants, which he said are too big and started slipping while he ran.
Lynch's pants have been the same all season, but he hadn't realized they were too big until Saturday. Blame the rain.
"They weren't a problem until they started getting wet and started getting baggy," Lynch said.
The 34 points Penn State scored, highlighted by Sam Ficken's late 54-yard field goal, were more than enough for a defense that was roughed up last week.
Kent State is not Central Florida, but the Nittany Lions defense gave arguably its most complete performance of the season.
Penn State had seven tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception. Defensive end Deion Barnes, who came into the game with five tackles and no sacks this season, finished with six tackles, one tackle for loss and half a sack.
Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said the defense committed itself to more intensity this week at practice. When they hit each other this week, they hit harder. When they talked about the upcoming game, they reminded themselves the road wasn't supposed to be easy.
"I thought the defense played a hell of a football game," O'Brien said. "They pitched a shutout."
O'Brien brought up that point after the game on his own, without being asked. He also joked around about his controversial "fighters" quote from last year -- "Do I look like the type of guy who swears? You're kidding me," O'Brien said.
That's right, he was having fun in a news conference.
By the time O'Brien left for the locker room and the players started filing out, the rain had ceased or at least become tolerable and mostly invisible in the night sky. The Nittany Lions walked away into an open week with a 3-1 record.
As O'Brien said, 3-1 is not as good as 4-0. But it is 3-1, and winning soundly in tough conditions is something he wanted his team to do.