UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was asked about year two in his offensive scheme this summer, he didn't list off preseason All-Americans or any number of returning or new individuals among a bevy of promising options. For Moorhead, like year one, year two would in many ways be dictated by what the opposing defense is showing.
Come Saturday's opener, Penn State's first offensive series didn't feature perhaps its most highly anticipated piece, record-setting running back Saquon Barkley of course.
"That's what the defense was giving us," quarterback Trace McSorley said postgame. "We were legitimately trying to get him the ball. Obviously, with a guy like him, you want to get him going early. I felt like with our reads, the defense was just taking them away and opening the holes for our offense in other areas."
All 101,684 individuals inside Beaver Stadium were quickly treated to a flash of one of Penn State's "other areas," though, as wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins fielded an Akron punt at the 39-yard line, quickly escaping a near tackle before cutting outside to do something Nittany Lion fans haven't seen in nearly 10 years.
Thompkins raced 61 yards for the first punt return for a touchdown since Derrick Williams went 63 yards in punt return touchdown in 2008 at Wisconsin.
"We've spent a lot of time, investing in time, investing in resources on special teams so to see us have success there in the return game, which we really haven't had since we've been here - DeAndre Thompkins, so happy for him," Penn State head coach James Franklin said.
Thompkins was only the catalyst, as Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton connected on a 29-yard pass from McSorley, which eventually led to an 18-yard touchdown grab from preseason All-American tight end Mike Gesicki.
Akron's defense soon proved no match for Barkley on the next Penn State drive as he zipped through a gaping hole for an 80-yard run, the second-longest of his career that led to a 4-yard McSorley touchdown run.
Barkley was hardly finished, adding a pair of touchdowns on the next two consecutive Penn State drives, including a 30-yard rushing score in the final two minutes of the opening half to send the Nittany Lions into the locker room leading 35-0.
Even without Barkley's powerful first-half performance, Penn State's "other areas," proved only a peek at what type of explosive and exciting execution the Nittany Lions could achieve in 2017.
"You look at Saquon Barkley's stats, and obviously he had a great game, he was very, very productive, but I love the fact that we got quarterbacks that can beat you," Franklin said. "We've got tight ends that can beat you. And we've got receivers that can beat you. And when you're one dimensional in any phase then you can be stopped and when you can have so many different people and so many different phases that can be explosive and make plays, then you're going to be difficult for people to game plan against."
Penn State's defense also matched the level of execution from the offense, limiting Akron to just 69 total yards in the opening half, out gaining the Zips 569-159 on the day.
The reloaded Nittany Lion defensive line wreaked havoc with new faces and fresh bodies rotating in to keep the Zips from crossing midfield in the first half. Penn State's secondary also showcased its depth, with cornerback Amani Oruwariye capitalizing on an early interception.
Having made the move from safety to linebacker, Jarvis Miller led the way as one of seven Nittany Lions with at least four tackles, leading the team with five stops, one sack and one TFL.
"I think stopping run, that's our standard," Miller said. "That's what we preach every day at practice. Stopping the run, getting them to third down and making them pass. We trust our DBs against anybody, just go up and make a play, like Amani (Oruwariye) did."
As the sounds of the victory bell faded and Franklin entered the media room though, it was Penn State's ability to play its most complete game since he and the staff arrived that was at the forefront of his postgame comments.
"I made the comment last week that I felt like we had our most consistent camp and I think our most consistent camp equated to our most complete game," Franklin said.
A key piece of that consistency Franklin mentioned last week though, comes in the form of being a four-quarter team, something Gesicki noted has been on the team's PowerPoint presentations all offseason.
For Gesicki, Penn State's dominating season opening victory proved to be the first step toward what's to come."It wasn't, alright guys, we're going to sit around this first half and wait for the second half - we put up 35 in the first half," Gesicki said. "We were explosive and it was exciting. Coach Franklin has been talking about it all offseason, fast starts, we're not a second half team, we're a four-quarter team."