Penn State has good reason to be wary of Akron's Zips

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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
The last time Penn State played Akron in September 2004, Austin Scott and the Nittany Lions smothered the Zips, 48-10.
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The past two times Penn State played host to Akron, Beaver Stadium doubled as the Roman Coliseum and the Zips masqueraded as Christians.

Talk about being thrown to the Lions. Akron's football team was served up in 1999 and 2004 and devoured like filet mignon at training table.

Penn State whipped the Zips, 70-24, and 48-10. So there is a general feeling of confidence among Penn State fans today before the Lions and Zips kick off at Beaver Stadium. And why not?

Anytime a team is outscored by an average of six touchdowns, there is no reason for anything but optimism.

But could this Akron team be like many Mid-American Conference teams before and upset a team from the Big Ten? MAC teams have a history of slaying Goliath in these early season cross-conference tilts. Penn State knows that all too well.

In 2000, Toledo waltzed into Beaver Stadium and strutted out with a 24-6 victory. In '03, Bowling Green beat No. 16 Purdue. Teams from other major conferences have fallen as well. Also in '03, Northern Illinois beat No. 15 Maryland, Marshall beat No. 6 Kansas State, Northern Illinois beat No. 21 Alabama and Toledo beat No. 9 Pitt.

There are plenty of reasons why this could be a trap game for the Lions. Not only do previous Akron games resonate, but No. 2 Notre Dame looms on the schedule next week.

"There is always that possibility, but I hope we are not stupid," Paterno said of looking past Akron. "We will get licked if we have a lot of guys thinking that way. We have a tough football game against Akron.

"Akron is picked to win the MAC championship. The last time we played a team as good as this one from the MAC, we got licked. Toledo kicked our ears in.

"Sure, we have some tough teams coming down the road, but the first one we have is [today]. I think our guys are pretty well zeroed in on that."

Paterno doesn't have to go over the top to convince his team that the Zips are more than formidable. Akron won the MAC championship last season and returns most of its starters on offense and defense. Quarterback Luke Getsy threw for 3,455 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and the defense was tops in the MAC.

"We all realize that this is definitely a different Akron team," said linebacker Paul Posluszny, who played against Akron in 2004. "They're really talented on offense. We're going to have our hands full. They have a great coaching staff that's going to have a special game plan in store to beat us. They create a lot of problems for us."

"A lot of people don't know about them because they're from the MAC, but they're a real good team," Penn State receiver Deon Butler said. "They're a team that can easily beat us if we have first-game jitters. It's going to be a tough game, a lot tougher than people expect."

Penn State players were vehement this week with any mention of Notre Dame. It is clear the coaches have warned them about the perils of looking ahead.

"We're not looking past Akron," defensive lineman Jay Alford insisted. "We haven't watched any tape on Notre Dame yet. People say the Notre Dame game is a big game, but it's just another game. We're looking at Akron."

Brookhart said he does not believe Penn State will be looking ahead, but he is banking on a better showing than two years ago. He will be coaching a more experienced team this time, one that will be more comfortable as well.

Penn State was the first game for Brookhart in his inaugural season, and it was a disaster. The Nittany Lions led, 41-3, at halftime. Brookhart was playing with someone else's players, and it was their first game in a new offensive and defensive system.

"The biggest thing is, we're two years into the system now," Brookhart said. "There was a lot of thinking and not a lot of playing in that first game. I hope we're a different football team. We've been in that environment before."

SCOUTING REPORT

Matchup: No. 19 Penn State (0-0) vs. Akron (0-0); 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa. Penn State is favored by 171/2.

TV/radio: ESPN2, WEAE-AM and the Penn State sports network.

Penn State: Coming off an 11-1 season and a victory against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. ... Joe Paterno is entering his 41st season as head coach. He is 354-117-3. ... QB Anthony Morelli (Penn Hills) will make his first start for the Nittany Lions. ... All-American LB Paul Posluszny (Hopewell) leads the Penn State defense that finished last season No. 10 in the nation in scoring defense (17.0 ppg). ... 2-0 all time against Akron. Won the first two meetings by an aggregate score of 118-34.

Akron: Had the most successful season in school history last year. ... Won the Mid-American Conference and advanced to a bowl game for the first time. ... J.D. Brookhart is entering his third season as head coach. He is 13-11. ... Senior QB Luke Getsy threw for 3,455 yards and a school-record 23 touchdowns last season. He is one of eight returning starters on offense. ... Returns eight starters on a defense that ranked 32nd last season in the nation in total yards (329.8). ... Has lost 11 of its past 12 openers.

Hidden stat: Akron is 1-14 all time against opponents from the Big Ten. The only victory came in 1894 against Ohio State, when Akron was known as Buchtel College. That victory is the only triumph in school history over a team that is now in a Bowl Championship Series conference.

 

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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