Record-Courier staff report
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A scrappy effort by Kent State's banged-up defense kept it close for awhile, but Big Ten power Penn State was able to wear down the Golden Flashes in the second half and pull away for a 34-0 victory before 92,371 soggy fans on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
"This was another tough loss," said KSU first-year head coach Paul Haynes. "Our guys fought hard and kind of got worn out at the end. We started to get banged up. That's tough when you go against a physical team like Penn State."
The Nittany Lions (3-1) recorded their first shutout since blanking Kent State 24-0 in 2010. They held the Flashes (1-3) -- minus star speedster Dri Archer (ankle) and starting left guard Pat McShane (knee) -- to nine first downs and 190 total yards, including just 56 rushing yards on 24 attempts, while rolling up 463 total yards of their own.
Penn State wound up with 287 yards rushing on 53 carries. Akeel Lynch led the way with 123 yards on 14 carries, while Bill Belton rushed 13 times for 90 yards and a score and Zach Zwinak chimed in with 15 carries for 65 yards with three short touchdown runs.
While the Flashes struggled to defend the run, they held reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson to just three catches for 43 yards. He entered the contest with 23 catches for 405 yards and three TDs. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who had completed over 71 percent of his passes in the first three games, went just 13-of-35 for 175 yards with one TD and one interception as the Kent State defense forced its first turnover in five games.
Senior Darius Polk (8 tackles, 1 pass break up) and junior Dylan Farrington (8 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, 1 interception) led a staunch effort by the KSU defensive backfield.
The Flashes had a chance to make a statement out of the gate, but it slipped away. After Penn State was forced to punt on the opening possession of the game following a pair of penetration plays by star senior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, Kent State took over at the Nittany Lions 36-yard line. The Flashes marched to the 14 before the drive stalled, and Anthony Melchiori (Aurora) then missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
A 15-yard touchdown catch by Belton from Hackenberg on a third-and-goal play gave Penn State a 7-0 lead, then Zwinak scored on a 2-yard run to push the lead to 14-0 at halftime.
The deficit was still 14-0 after the Nittany Lions stalled on five straight drives spanning the second and third quarters before they suddenly stopped trying to throw the football on early downs with a struggling freshman quarterback and turned to their physical running attack. That move was very logical, considering the Flashes were down to their third-string nose tackle and had no defensive lineman on the field that weighed over 270 pounds.
After losing sophomore Nate Terhune to a broken leg last Saturday at LSU, sophomore backup nose tackle Chris Fairchild left Saturday's game for good in the second quarter with a leg injury. Former Kent Roosevelt High School star Marcus Wright saw extensive time at nose tackle against PSU.
Penn State took full advantage of the KSU's beaten-up front, as Zwinak scored on a 1-yard run to make it 21-0 after three quarters.
Zwinak added another 1-yard run, and Penn State tacked on a pair of field goals to blow it open in the fourth quarter.
Kent State redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon struggled through his first sub-par performance as a collegian, completing just 12-of-28 passes for 100 yards with a long pass of only 18 yards. He also threw his first interception as a collegian in the third quarter.
Melchiori made up for his missed field goal with a stellar performance at punter, averaging 46.5 yards on 10 boots with four downed inside the PSU 20-yard line.
Still the Flashes fell to 0-10 against Big Ten opponents after suffering their third consecutive lopsided loss during a brutal stretch of games that also featured last week's visit to No. 8 LSU. They were outscored 120-35 in those three contests.
The good news for Kent State is, it's over. The defending Mid-American Conference East Division champs return to league play next week, visiting a winless Western Michigan squad (0-4) that fell 59-3 to Iowa on Saturday.
"I'm proud of a lot of the things we did today," said Haynes. "You know, this is where our season really starts, right now with the MAC. Our guys will go back to work and concentrate on Western Michigan."