Penn State vs. Eastern Michigan: Gameday Grades
Freshman Christian Hackenberg was spectacular Saturday, playing his first game in front of the energetic fans at Beaver Stadium. Hackenberg went 23/33 on completions, racked up 311 throwing yards and added a touchdown. He did throw one interception, but that’s because it dropped out of his intended receiver’s hands, and into the defender’s. Hackenberg spread the ball out to ten different receivers. Hackenberg also set a Penn State record for most passing yards in a game by a freshman. Once the game was in hand, Tyler Ferguson came in and led a scoring drive of his own.
Running Back: A+
It’s hard to have a better day than the Penn State running backs had on Saturday. Starter Bill Belton had two touchdowns and 108 yards running. Belton alternated carries with Zach Zwinak, who added 43 yards rushing and two more touchdowns. Coming off the bench, Akeel Lynch surprised a lot of people in Beaver Stadium and around the country, when he added 108 yards of his own, as well as a touchdown. The highlight of the game was Belton’s dazzling 51- yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Wide Receiver: A-
Don’t let the “–“ in my grade influence you, the Penn State receiving corps had a solid game. However, the focus was simply on the running game today. The Nittany Lions receivers did step up when they were called on, splitting Christian Hackenberg’s 311 passing yards among ten different receivers. Per usual, Allen Robinson was the highlight of this group with seven receptions, 129 receiving yards, and the game’s only receiving touchdown. Robinson proved once again why he is quickly becoming one of the best receivers in the nation.
The only reason Sam Ficken is not getting an “A” is because he simply did not play enough to warrant such a high grade. He did make all seven of his attempts on Saturday; however, six of them were extra points. When Ficken made his one field goal of the game, a 39-yard kick, he set a new school record for most consecutive field goals made with 14. Quite the difference one year makes! (one year ago in Week Two, Ficken submitted the infamous 1-5 day against Virginia).
There isn’t enough praise I could give to the Penn State defense to give their performance justice. Without any of the flashy stats, like interceptions or fumbles, the defense held their opponents scoreless the entire game. The only Eastern Michigan touchdown came on a fumble recovery when Penn State was on offense. All you need to know is one stat: Eastern Michigan only had seven total yards in the third quarter. This statistic epitomizes the Penn State defense’s performance on Saturday.
Although it seemed like Bill O’Brien didn’t have to do much in Penn State’s route of Eastern Michigan, O’Brien made some key decisions that propelled his Lions’ to victory. First, he stuck with Hackenberg. On the first drive of the game, the freshman quarterback seemed intimidated by the crowd peering down on him, made some poor throws and fumbled, leading to East Michigan’s only touchdown of the game. Resisting the temptation to replace him with Ferguson, O’Brien stuck with Hackenberg, who threw for 311 yards and led the team to five of their six touchdowns. Next, he played Allen Robinson. After a coach’s decision in the season opener against Syracuse to sit him in the first half, O’Brien started Robinson and was rewarded with 129 yards and a touchdown. Finally, his decision a year ago to stick with kicker Ficken after a horrendous first two games has at last paid off as Ficken set a Nittany Lion record Saturday for most consecutive field goals made with 14.