Publish date:

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Army West Point Black Knights Preview and Prediction

Christian Hackenberg

Christian Hackenberg

It's Military Appreciation Day in Happy Valley this weekend when Penn State welcomes Armyto Beaver Stadium for the first time since 1979. The Nittany Lions look to keep the good vibes going after three straight wins following a season-opening loss to Temple. The rejuvenated running game of Penn State should once again be in for a productive afternoon against Army, and Christian Hackenberg may have some time to make things happen through the air for the final tune-up before re-entering Big Ten play for the remainder of the season.

Image placeholder title

Army West Point at Penn State

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Penn State -23

Three Things to Watch

1. How healthy is Penn State's running game?

The past couple of games have shown great strides from the Penn State running game behind improved offensive line play. Freshman Saquon Barkley has been electric and Akeel Lynch has had some good runs as well, but both were injured in last weekend's home win over San Diego State. Lynch's injury appeared to be the more serious of the two, but Penn State head coach James Franklin has been mum on the injury status of both top running backs this week, as he is prone to do.

Recommended Articles

If neither player is available this weekend, Penn State will have to put the ball in the hands of freshmen Brandon Polk and Mark Allen on a regular basis. Polk has already rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown this season, and Allen has seen some playing time as well.

2. Penn State's defense must be mentally and physically prepared

Anytime you go up against a service academy on the football field, you have to be prepared physically and mentally for a long afternoon grinding things out in the trenches. Penn State and just about every power conference program will tend to have a size advantage on the line, but programs like Army and Navy and Air Force will stick to the ground routinely and make those big guys up front earn a chance to catch a breath on the sideline. That will be the case this weekend with Army already rushing for 1,178 yards and 13 touchdowns in four games this season. Last week against Eastern Michigan the Black Knights rushed for 556 yards and seven touchdowns.

Army's passing game has put together just 370 yards and four touchdowns, with three interceptions this season. Army has completed just 47.2 percent of its pass attempts.

3. Will Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw be good to go?

Speaking of Army's passing game, quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw's status for the game is up in the air this week. Bradshaw left last weekend's game against Eastern Michigan with an undisclosed injury and was seen on the sideline wearing a boot in the second half. Army head coach Jeff Monken has not revealed much about his status for this weekend, but Bradshaw would be a big loss for Army's offense. Bradshaw is Army's leading rusher with 341 yards and four touchdowns. If Bradshaw is not available, the Black Knights will likely go with senior A.J. Schurr, who has appeared in three games this season. 

Final Analysis

Penn State may still be a work in progress with the offensive line, and the running game appears to be a legitimate concern entering this week with injuries to key players. Despite these concerns, Penn State should still be equipped well enough to take down Army at home this weekend. Army's offense is too one-dimensional to give Penn State a serious run, so look for Hackenberg to be the difference maker as Penn State's receivers and tight ends give Penn State an advantage this weekend. Penn State should be 4-1 as they prepare for Indiana next week.

Image placeholder title

Prediction: Penn State 37, Army 13

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.