Penn State Overcomes Slow Start to Rout Eastern Michigan
It wasn’t the start freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions envisioned. But after falling behind 7-0 early in the first quarter, Penn State (2-0) ran off 45 unanswered points to defeat the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-1) 45-7 in the team’s home opener at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions began the first half with two straight three and outs and Hackenberg misfired on his first three pass attempts. Following a botched snap on a 45-yard field goal attempt for the Eagles, Penn State’s offense stepped on to the field with the ball at their own 20.
From under center, Hackenberg dropped back and lost control of the football. Eastern Michigan’s Hunter Matt corralled the loose ball and walked into the end zone for the Eagles’ only score of the game.
It would be all Penn State from that point forward.
Late in the first quarter, Hackenberg connected with junior wide receiver Allen Robinson for a 43-yard gain down the right sideline, which prompted the first of Zach Zwinak’s two rushing touchdowns.
Later, Bill Belton capped off a 65-yard drive, which timed just over a minute, with a seven-yard touchdown run to give the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game. Sam Ficken would then knock home a Penn State record 14th consecutive field goal extending the lead to 17-7 entering the half.
For all the talk surrounding the offense, in the second consecutive week, it was the defense that stole the show. Effectively pitching a shutout, the Nittany Lions’ defense held the Eagles to under 200 yards of total offense.
Senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones put together another monster game recording nine tackles and two sacks. And with both Ben Kline and Mike Hull sidelined with injuries, senior linebacker Glenn Carson once again paced the defense with 10 tackles.
“Those guys (front seven) are playing really well right now,” head coach Bill O’Brien said after the game. “There’s some veteran guys out there that have played a lot of football for us. I’m obviously very pleased with the defense.”
Hackenberg bounced back, to set a new Penn State freshman passing record with 311 yards, while completing 23 of 33 attempts. He hooked up with Robinson early in the fourth quarter for a 41-yard touchdown, effectively putting the game out of reach.
After struggling to get much going on the ground last week against Syracuse, the Nittany Lions rebounded today with 251 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Belton rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time since last year against Iowa and freshman Akeel Lynch cracked the century mark in his first appearance as a Nittany Lion.
“It took a little while to get going,” O’Brien said. “It was a bit of a slow start, but it was nice to see them get going.”
Nine different receivers caught passes in the game, once again highlighted by Robinson. The reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year is on track for another stellar season and was virtually unstoppable throughout the course of the game. He hauled in seven catches, many of which coming from the bubble screen variety, for a team-high 129 yards.
The home opener was highlighted with an introduction of the 1973 undefeated Penn State team at halftime. John Cappelletti, the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner, emerged in front of a roaring crowd of more than 90,000. At that time it was announced that his number 22 would be retired in Penn State football history. Lynch, who currently wears number 22, tweeted after the game that Cappelletti has given him permission to wear the number for the duration of his career.
“John Cappelletti just came and spoke to the team in the locker room,” O’Brien said. “That was really cool, I got to meet him and it was just a great experience.”
The Nittany Lions return to Beaver Stadium next Saturday when they host the University of Central Florida Golden Knights at 6 p.m. ComRadio’s coverage begins at 3 p.m. with the Tailgate Show live from the All Sports Museum.
Matt Lawrence is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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