Game Day Observations: Eastern Michigan
It was a beautiful afternoon for football Saturday in Happy Valley topped off by an even more beautiful result as Penn State trounced Eastern Michigan 45-7. Last Saturday in New Jersey was a great time, but there’s no place like home in Beaver Stadium. The home opener is always an interesting experience, because we get to see all the programming changes for the year ahead. And there were certainly plenty of those.
Here are my observations:
- The new order for the team entrance is incredible. Instead of just a random burst of applause in the middle of Blue Band’s “Rock and Roll” as the team runs out — or worse, an awkward silence after “Rock and Roll” — the team runs out following an amazing video to Zombie Nation. I haven’t found the video online yet but you didn’t have a pulse if your hair wasn’t standing up after watching it. Zombie Nation gets the team fired up and is a lot more intimidating than the P-S-U version of “Rock and Roll.” The pregame entrance has remained almost exactly the same for my 15 years attending games, so this was a pleasant surprise.
- For all the alumni that have complained for years about students not showing up to the game on time…well…the tides have turned. The student section was about 80 percent full by kickoff and got up to 95 percent full by mid-first quarter, which is almost unheard of for noon games against weak opponents. On the other hand, the upperdeck in the North end was almost completely empty for the entire game. Paid attendance came in at 92,863 — around 4,000 less than last year’s home opener — which is not devastating, but certainly a bad sign for the rest of the season.
- Bill Belton’s athleticism in his touchdown to begin the second quarter was incredible. It was only a 5-yard run, but he got knocked off his feet yards from the end zone and basically shimmied in off balance. Of course, the 51-yard run in the fourth quarter wasn’t so shabby either.
- I’m having a hard time tapering my excitement for Christian Hackenberg. Despite a few obvious miscues, I’ve never seen a Penn State quarterback come out and play like Hackenberg has in the first two games. He’s already miles better than Rob Bolden ever was or ever will be, even in Bolden’s fourth collegiate season. Many of us believed that Bolden would go down as one of the best Penn State quarterbacks ever with four years of 4-star goodness after Paterno named him starter. I’m having similar visions with Hackenberg, and despite all the variables and unknowns, it’s hard not to be excited about that.
- The Rod Stewart concert announcement was incredibly awkward. It seems to me that the purpose of announcing a concert during a break in the football game is to make sure students become aware immediately of an artist they’re interested in seeing (like Jay Z the day before). Last year’s in-game concert announcement was Lady Gaga, so expectations were high. When Rod Stewart came across the scoreboard, not one person within my earshot clapped or gave any sort of ostensive shit about the news. No knock on Rod Stewart — he is a legend, of course — but college students simply don’t care about him.
- The piped in music selection was pretty good (breath easy @psuPJ) and the selections seemed to get decent crowd participation from start to finish. The chorus in Brown Eyed Girl (if Sha la la la la la is even a chorus) did really well in the third quarter. Maybe I was just glad to hear some piped in music for a change out of fear of what the Blue Band might be playing. Either way, good stuff here.
- Some thoughts from the 1973 team presentation during halftime: Former defensive lineman Greg Murphy had the best T-shirt, which read “Who da Murph man” on the front and “I da Murph man” on the back. Joe Paterno wasn’t mentioned during the presentation, which (rightfully) had some folks upset. Everyone was sort of groaning about how aggrandizing John Cappelletti’s introduction was, which included at least a minute of biographical information plus the jersey presentation midfield, until we found out it was all part of a number retirement ceremony (then it all made sense). Team reunions are always great and it always amazes me how many players are still able to come back, in this case 40 years later.
- Speaking of the jersey thing, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The old Penn State mantra was always about not recognizing individual players but maintaining that self-accomplishments were all part of the team dynamic. With names on the jerseys and the door open for retired numbers, that uniqueness is lost, for better or for worse. Until Penn State adopts helmet stickers, though, I’ll resist the outrage.
- There are few things in this world that I hate more than patronizing Penn State marketing gimmicks, like #OneTeam or #NextLevel. At one point, the 1973 team was announced as “One Team that took it to the Next Level.” I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to puke, and it wasn’t alcohol induced.
- Sam Ficken now retrieves his own tee after kickoffs. Last season, a manager would run out on the field to grab it. Who cares? No one, probably.
- Penn State’s running game finally got the spark it needed, with Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch each notching 108 yards. Add Zach Zwinak to the mix, and the trio had a 5 touchdown day. Lynch’s touchdown in the fourth quarter was particularly impressive, and he was all smiles after the game.
That’s it for this week. I’ll see you back next week after the UCF whiteout under the lights!