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Virginia Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Head on the Road

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Virginia Week Gameday Central

Virginia Week Q&A with Running Backs Coach Charles London

VIDEO: Wednesday Practice Interviews

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions head on the road for the first time in the Bill O'Brien era on Saturday with a matchup at Virginia (Noon on ABC).

Penn State took a 14-3 halftime lead in front of an enthusiastic Beaver Stadium crowd last week against Ohio, but the Bobcats rallied in the second half for a 24-14 victory.  This week, Penn State is set to take on Virginia for the first time since 2002.  Additionally, Saturday's contest marks Penn State's first trip to Charlottesville since the 2001 season. 

The Nittany Lions moved the ball well during the season-opener last week, and Coach O'Brien talked throughout the week about the many positives the team took away from the Ohio game.  Read through a list of things to watch for in week two.


Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
1.  Close games often come down to execution during a few key plays.  Last week, the Nittany Lions came up short on a handful of opportunities.  And Ohio made big plays when it needed to, which proved to be the difference in the game.  Making plays on both sides of the ball has been a point of emphasis throughout the week on the practice field.  The Nittany Lions are expecting a battle with a very good Virginia team, and big plays could again decide the outcome on Saturday afternoon.

2.  Senior quarterback Matt McGloin set a career high with 27 completions in the season-opener against Ohio.  Sophomore wide out Allen Robinson also had a career day with nine catches for 97 yards.  But the first thing both players would say about the season-opener is that the offense needs to do a better job sustaining drives and converting on third down.  Penn State manufactured two drives of 10 or more plays in the season opener that did not result in points.  The Lions are looking to change that on Saturday afternoon by moving the ball and converting drives into points.  Look for senior running back Derek Day to play a big role on the offense against Virginia.

3.  Going hand-in-hand with making more big plays is the Penn State defense's ability to force turnovers.  The Nittany Lions did not force a turnover in the week one setback to Ohio.  Meanwhile, the Bobcats forced three Penn State miscues.  This week, the entire defense has spent a great deal of time creating turnovers on the practice field.  Virginia's offensive line is a superb unit with great size.  Keep an eye on the matchup between Penn State's front four and Virginia's offensive line, as well.  Getting off the field on third down is also crucial.

What to Watch For - Virginia
1.  Junior quarterback Michael Rocco is an efficient player with good arm strength and sound decision making ability.  The son of a former Nittany Lion quarterback, Frank Rocco Jr., Rocco tallied a 311-yard outing in Virginia's week one victory over Richmond.  Rocco has several weapons in the receiving corps, but keep an eye on his ability to complete short passes to move the chains on Saturday.

2.  Virginia fields a veteran front seven on defense, which includes four seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup.  The defensive line is a big, talented group that will be looking to stop the Penn State rushing attack.  The Cavaliers need a big afternoon from a young, inexperienced secondary, which features four sophomore starters.  Keep an eye on the matchup between the Cavalier defensive backs or linebackers and Penn State tight ends Kyle Carter and Matt Lehman.

3.  Coach O'Brien is no stranger to being an opposing coach at Virginia.  In his ACC coaching days, O'Brien competed at Scott Stadium on six different occasions.  Throughout the week, he has told the team and media that Scott Stadium is a very loud place to play.  The Lions have practiced with loud music at practice all week, but Virginia wants to use its home crowd as an advantage.  Head coach Mike London will have his team ready to play, and the Cavaliers will be fired up to play the Nittany Lions and will be looking for a quick start on offense.

Gameday Rundown
Kickoff: 12:01 p.m.
TV: ABC - Mike Patrick (PBP), Ed Cunningham (Analyst), George Smith (Sidelines)
Radio: Penn State Sports Network - Steve Jones (PBP), Jack Ham (Analyst), Loren Crispell (Sidelines)
Stadium: Scott Stadium (61,500) - Natural Grass
Coaches: Bill O'Brien - 0-1, 1st season
Mike London - 13-13 at Virginia (37-18 overall), 3rd season at Virginia
The Series: Eighth Meeting

The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions head to Virginia looking to build some confidence as the non-conference season reaches the halfway point on Saturday.  Without question, the senior leaders were disappointed with the week one outcome, but one game does not define a season.  Penn State enters week two with 11 more opportunities to get better.  The Lions had a good week of practice, but the trip to Virginia will be a stiff test.  A large portion of Penn State's roster has not played a lot of football on Saturdays, let alone on the road.  With that being said, focus level is going to be crucial for the Nittany Lions.  As it does every week, the game will come down to execution on both sides of the ball and on special teams.  Look for the Lion offense to have a few new wrinkles as it works to turn sustained drives into points.  The weather forecast is predicting a warm, humid afternoon with a chance of showers.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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