Penn State Dominates Eastern Michigan 45-7 In Home Opener
After a slow start, the Penn State offense eventually came alive in Saturday afternoon’s home opener at Beaver Stadium as the Nittany Lions defeated the Eastern Michigan Eagles 45-7.
Christian Hackenberg struggled on the first few drives as it looked like the nerves of his first game in Happy Valley were getting to him. Late in the first quarter, Hackenberg fumbled a snap near the Penn State end zone allowing an easy Eastern Michigan touchdown that put them ahead 7-0.
Penn State answered on its next drive. A Hackenberg pass to Allen Robinson gave the Nittany Lions their first first down of the game. He followed that with a bomb to Robinson two plays later on a perfectly executed play-action pass. The 43-yard pass put Penn State eight yards shy of the end zone and Zack Zwinak ran it in a few plays later to tie up the game.
The Nittany Lions saw more success on their next drive. Hackenberg opened the second quarter with a 17-yard strike to Matt Zanellatto to move just past midfield. A completion to tight end Jesse James, who saw more playing time today in the absence of Matt Lehman, brought the offense another 27 yards downfield. Two Bill Belton runs took them the next 20 yards to the end zone to go ahead 14-7.
The defense responded with a big stop of their own, holding the Eagles on third down to force a long field goal attempt that kicker Dylan Mulder missed wide right from 42 yards out. The next Penn State drive got to the Eastern Michigan 25-yard line before Hackenberg threw to Brandon Moseby-Felder in double coverage. The catchable pass was intercepted. The defense again came up clutch, stopping Eastern Michigan and giving the offense the ball back late in the second quarter.
With just 2:12 remaining in the first half, Hackenberg led a drive that ended in a 39-yard Sam Ficken to put Penn State ahead 17-7 at halftime. The field goal was his 14th consecutive make, setting a new school record for consecutive field goals converted.
The Penn State offense, after struggling in the much of the first half, came out firing on all cylinders late in the third quarter. On a drive that started at the Eastern Michigan 33-yard line, the offense easily moved into position for a seven-yard Zach Zwinak touchdown run to make it 24-7 Penn State.
On the first offensive possession of the fourth quarter, three Akeel Lynch runs quickly moved the team 27 yards. Three plays later, Christian Hackenberg hit Allen Robinson with a 45-yard bomb to pull ahead 31-7.
The next drive saw more of the same as Belton followed a 19-yard completion to Jesse James with a 51-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. Penn State led 38-7 early in the fourth quarter, and Bill O’Brien replaced Hackenberg with Tyler Ferguson on the next drive.
Akeel Lynch added an 18-yard touchdown run of his own on that drive to make it 45-7. Lynch was the leading rusher in the game, totaling 108 yards on 13 carries after seeing a lot of action once the game was in hand.
The Penn State running game came alive on Saturday after a disappointing performance in the opener against Syracuse last week. The team totaled over 240 yards rushing and the run game accounted for five touchdowns. Belton and Zwinak each had two while Lynch added one.
Hackenberg finished 22-for-33 in the game with 311 yards, a single-game record for a Penn State freshman quarterback, one interception, and one touchdown.The defense was extremely strong as well, holding Eastern Michigan to just 183 yards of offense without letting up a point.