Penn State beats Eastern Michigan, 45-7
STATE COLLEGE -- Christian Hackenberg needed something to settle him down. The true freshman already had a costly fumble and four of his first five passes fell incomplete.
But, late in the first quarter, he found his favorite target down the field. It was Hackenberg's deep breath.
Allen Robinson made a diving, 43-yard reception which turned a corner for Hackenberg and Penn State's offense. After the sluggish start, the Nittany Lions (2-0) totaled 574 on offense and comfortably handed Eastern Michigan, 45-7, in their home opener.
In his Beaver Stadium debut, Hackenberg completed 23 of his 33 throws for 311 yards to go along with a touchdown and an interception.
"I was reminded by one of the assistant coaches that this is his first game at Beaver Stadium," coach Bill O'Brien said. "You can take 5,000 recruiting trips but it ain’t like playing here. So this was his first game, he was amped up, and I thought he settled down obviously pretty well and I think it’s pretty easy to see he’s a hardworking kid who’s got talent."
The first touchdown Hackenberg was involved with at his new home is not going on his highlight tape. The quarterback fumbled the football as he started his throwing motion deep in his own territory, and it was scooped up and taken to the endzone.
Four plays later, however, he hit Robinson on a diving catch which was part of a six-play, 67-yard drive that tied the contest.
"It just calmed me down," Hackenberg said of the play. "Downfield type play, it gave me a lot of confidence just to stand back there and watch."
Robinson finished with 129 yards on a team-best seven grabs -- the last of which was a 45-yard touchdown strike that put the Lions up by three scores early in the fourth quarter.
Hackenberg built on a 287-yard performance from last week against Syracuse, and while his numbers improved a bit, those of Penn State's running game saw dramatic increases.
The three-pronged approach of running backs Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch combined for 259 yards on 29 carries (8.9 yards per attempt) and scored a total of five touchdowns.
Zwinak, the starter, toted the ball just seven times, but found pay dirt on two of those carries. Meanwhile, Belton and Lynch both gained 108 yards. Belton, a Sicklerville, N.J. product scored twice, and in his first collegiate game, Lynch forced his way into the endzone in the fourth quarter.
Penn State had just 57 rushing yards in its opener against Syrcause, and Lynch noted this week was "how we all envisioned ourselves."
It was the first time Belton, a junior, scored since Oct. 20 last season against Iowa. His 108 yards on the ground were a career-high and he also caught a screen pass which went for 21 yards.
"Coach O'Brien does a good job with his plays," Belton said. "Today was a day where everyone got their touches, everyone got a piece. I was definitely happy to do different things today."
On the other side of the ball, Penn State's defense shutout the Eastern Michigan offense and held its opponent to 183 yards.
Eastern Michigan had four first downs in the first quarter, but Penn State's defense kept the Eagles off the scoreboard, and limited them to 111 yards (2.7 yards per play) in the final three quarters.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones nine tackles, two were for a loss, including a sack. Philadelphia native Nyeem Wartman had six tackles and broke up three passes, and Glenn Carson led the Lions with 10 takedowns.
Penn State's defense has allowed just 443 yards in its first two games. And once the defense began getting more quick stops against Eastern Michigan, the offense picked up.
"Once we started getting those three-and-outs and started putting the ball back in the offense's hands for longer periods of time, they started getting the job done," Carson said.
NOTES: Penn State honored its 12-0 1973 team at halftime, and had a special tribute for Upper Darby product John Cappelletti. The school's only Heisman Trophy winner, Cappelletti had his No. 22 retired by the Penn State program. Cappelletti ran for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Lions 40 years ago. Sam Ficken kicked a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter to extend his made field goal streak to 14, a school record. Safety Ryan Keiser was banged up on a kickoff in the first half and did not return to the playing field. Linebacker Mike Hull (knee) did not dress for the contest and tight end Kyle Carter (elbow) saw limited action.