Last updated: September 13. 2013 1:55PM - 921 Views
By - dlevarse@civitasmedia.com

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It’s written on the wall in the weight room. It was repeated by Bill O’Brien and his staff throughout training camp.

It’s something Penn State has yet to do this season.

“Start fast.”

During the team’s first scrimmage of camp, O’Brien actually stopped the proceedings to admonish his offense when it wasn’t lined up properly on the first play.

Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, it’s something that carried over to the regular season. Penn State was flagged on its first offensive snap in both games as Matt Lehman was hit for a false start against Syracuse and fellow tight end Adam Breneman was caught for holding against Eastern Michigan.

The Lions gave up the first score each time but were able to recover from a rocky first quarter to win both games.

It’s not a formula Penn State wants to follow again on Saturday against 2-0 Central Florida.

“It’s still a work in progress,” O’Brien said. “We have to execute better, especially at the beginning of the game.”

“Execution” has been the buzzword around the team this week as the Lions try to avoid falling into an early hole against the Knights.

Getting rid of those early jitters and penalties would be a start.

“That’s mainly it,” tackle Donovan Smith said. “Coach O’Brien gave us the plays to run, and it’s just a matter of us executing — whether it’s me blocking better or the receivers running better routes or making better throws or stuff like that. It’s us as a team just executing.”

If it’s going to improve on Saturday, it’s going to be fueled by Smith and the offensive line.

O’Brien wasn’t enamored at how the offense took a quarter to get warmed up and establish a running game.

“We’ve got to do better,” O’Brien said. “We have to keep spending time on it and we need to adjust quicker to what they’re doing (on defense).”

While saying he didn’t want to single out the line specifically, O’Brien did say that the unit as a whole needs to be more consistent despite some good individual performances.

The Lions believe that if the line stabilizes on first downs, it will help the team with its other major issue in the early going — third-down conversions.

Penn State ranks dead last in the country (123 out of 123 teams) on third downs, converting just 2-of-26 times (7.7 percent).

“We’ve got to get off to a better start on first down,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got too many (problems), whether it’s a penalty to put us back or a lost yardage play. So now you’re in second-and-long, and you’re already off schedule. It’s not a good thing.

“Then once we get to third down, we have to execute better. I thought (against Eastern Michigan) there were plays to be made there. Whether it was a protection breakdown or a poor throw, or whatever it was, we just didn’t make the play.”

Against the Eagles, Penn State had six third-down tries of 10 yards or more, failing to convert each time.

The Lions’ only conversion of the game came on a third-and-6 when Christian Hackenberg hit fellow true freshman Richy Anderson for a gain of 8.

“It will get better,” O’Brien said. “I can’t guarantee it. I’m not into guarantees, but I do believe we’re working on it, and it will definitely improve. It needs to.

“There’s no question about it. It has to improve.”

Carter on the mend

Kyle Carter suited up last week, but the Lions were sure to keep him out of harm’s way.

The tight end suffered what he called a hyperextended elbow against Syracuse but practiced over the next week and played against Eastern Michigan.

His snaps were limited, however, and Breneman started in his spot at F-tight end. That was by design.

“He was injured, so we did the best we could to hold him out of the Eastern Michigan game so he’d be ready for Central Florida,” O’Brien said Thursday on his weekly radio show.

Carter, who was the team’s second-leading receiver a year ago despite missing three full games and part of a fourth, has just two catches for 16 yards this season in large part because of the injury.

O’Brien said those numbers will increase, starting on Saturday.

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