Five things to look for as Penn State tries to build some momentum and pick up its first win of the season against Navy.
No. 1: Get early lead
Few teams in the country have a tougher time coming back from deficits than Navy, which relies heavily on its running attack, shortening the game and going on long, sustained drives.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn?State running back Bill Belton (1) and wide receiver Allen Robinson celebrate Belton’s touchdown against Ohio. One of the keys to today’s game against Navy will be to get out to an early lead.
Penn State's offense can nullify a lot of what the Midshipmen want to do by jumping out to an early lead and forcing them to throw the ball more. The Nittany Lions need to set the tone in the first quarter and finish scoring drives, meaning touchdowns, not field goals.
Bill O'Brien said he plans to simplify things in the red zone and put the offense in better position from a playcalling standpoint. He also is expected to stay aggressive on fourth downs, a good move given all the struggles in the kicking game.
The Lions are thin at running back with Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (questionable), but they still should be able to run on Navy, which gave up 293 yards rushing in its opener.
Sam Ficken has the leg strength to make field goals, just not the confidence.
If he can make one early, look for his confidence to rise. But if he misses one or two more today, you have to wonder if he will ever recover mentally, and if O'Brien will just decide to go for it most of the time.
No. 2: Triple attack
Navy's triple-option offense is fascinating to watch. Few teams employ this offense, so defenses don't get to see it or prepare for it much.
The first option in the offense is almost always the fullback. The quarterback will act like he's handing the ball off to the fullback on most plays, and whether he does or not depends on what the quarterback sees from the defense.
There will be two other running back options in the backfield, so if the quarterback doesn't hand off to the fullback, he can pitch it to a back or keep it himself.
Penn State's defensive players have to stay on their assignments and be disciplined at all times, instead of overplaying the fullback, quarterback or pitch man. The defensive ends and linebackers are especially vital as they have to keep containment and not get faked out by the keep or the pitch.
The Lions have an impressive sophomore end in Deion Barnes, who will get a great test today. Outside linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti are outstanding players who should be able to figure out Navy's scheme, although it might take a quarter or so.
Blitzing can be dangerous against this offense because, if the defender misses and is taken out of the play, it opens up a running lane and can lead to big gains.
Notre Dame crushed Navy, 50-10, two weeks ago, so it would be easy to think this game could be a blowout, too. But keep this in mind: The Irish play Navy every year, so they know what to expect from the triple-option offense. Penn State doesn't.
SUBHD: No. 3: Get off the field
Penn State's defense - with the secondary primarily to blame - can't keep giving up big third-down plays that let opponents sustain drives. That problem must be corrected today.
Navy doesn't have the kind of passing game that allows it to convert a lot of third-and-longs. The difference in the game could be if Navy runs the ball well enough to get itself in third-and-short situations, which will be tough for the Lions' defense to stop.
SUBHD: No. 4: Win No. 1
If O'Brien can't get the first victory of his coaching career today, then don't count on PSU posting more than two or three wins all season.
SUBHD: No. 5: Player to watch
Navy quarterback Trey Miller has a tremendous amount of responsibility running the triple option. He has to make the right reads and determine what to do with the ball, so the entire operation depends on him.
Miller carried 20 times but for only 16 yards against the Irish. He also completed 14-of-19 passes for 192 yards as Navy fell behind big, so he is capable of putting the ball in the air effectively. The Lions need to be prepared for some surprise plays up top.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Navy 13
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.