Penn State vs. Syracuse: Live Game Grades and Analysis for the Nittany Lions

David Fitzgerald II@@BuckeyeFitzyCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2013

Aug 31, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Ashton Broyld (1) runs with around the tackle attempt of Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Deion Barnes (18) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Final: Penn State 23, Syracuse 17

Penn State started 2013 with a much better result than last season, defeating Syracuse 23-17 in the New York's College Classic. The good times keep rolling for the Nittany Lions, so check out the final grades and analysis for the team below.

For the full box score, check out


Game Analysis for the Penn State Nittany Lions

Pass Offense

Once his top target, Allen Robinson, was available, true freshman Christian Hackenberg proved why he won the starting job by firing accurate passes to make big plays. Hackenberg’s stat line of 22-of-31 passing for 273 yards (two touchdowns, two interceptions) tells the difference in the game.

Syracuse did show a potential weakness by applying pressure to force multiple turnovers.


Run Offense

The Nittany Lions kept swinging away with Zach Zwinak right into the heart of the Syracuse defensive pressure, and it simply did not work.

Averaging 1.9 yards per carry is simply not acceptable for a team that hopes to compete in the Big Ten again this year.


Pass Defense

There were signs of life in the second half, as Penn State’s defensive backfield played tighter coverage, but big plays were available too often.

The defensive line saved the day by putting Syracuse QB Drew Allen under enough duress not to read the weak coverage.


Run Defense

Penn State went from solid against the run in the first half to completely suffocating, holding Syracuse to 66 yards total for the game.

The defensive line dominated this game and contained fast players like Jerome Smith from breaking out the the perimeter of the field.


Special Teams

Sam Ficken was brilliant in the kicking game, scoring 11 points in a perfect 3-of-3 day. There were not any really big plays in the return or coverage games, but that is a net positive in Week 1.

This unit looks like much more of a strength in 2013 compared to last season.



The conservative play-calling of the first half made sense in the end, seeing how much better the offense played with Allen Robinson in the lineup.

O’Brien kept a perfect balance most of the game between runs and passes, keeping Syracuse off guard. A much better start for year two of the O’Brien era.


1st-Half Analysis for the Penn State Nittany Lions

Pass Offense

Despite not having top receiver Allen Robinson, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg showed great form and poise in the pocket. Syracuse is blitzing a lot, and that led to two turnovers (one by backup Tyler Ferguson), but the play has been admirable in the face of the high pressure.


Run Offense

Zach Zwinak continues to carry the major load, although Bill Belton should get more touches thanks to his explosive playmaking ability. The offensive line finally started opening more holes for Zwinak but needs to continue driving to do better than 54 yards in the second half.


Pass Defense

The coverage by the defensive secondary has been fairly loose and has let Syracuse move the ball on third down on multiple occasions.

The defensive line needs to begin generating more pressure on Drew Allen to allow the backfield to make more game-changing plays in the second half.


Run Defense

The defensive line, especially on the ends, is dominating the Syracuse run blocking and forcing Syracuse to the air.

The forced fumble by safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was the biggest play of the first half, leading to half of Penn State’s six points.

More turnovers may be needed to win this game.


Special Teams

The key in first games is to avoid big negative plays, and Penn State has done that so far.

Bill Belton needs to stop taking the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, though, if he can’t reliably get it past the 20-yard line.

Sam Ficken starting 2-of-2 is great, especially in a defensive game like this.



The offensive play-calling was great for the first drive and then strangely went much too conservative for the remainder of the half. Penn State has to continue taking chances, even with Hackenberg at quarterback.

Great decision on defense to make new Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen beat them.