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Nittany Lions Look To Dominate Eastern Michigan In Home Opener

Penn State has played Eastern Michigan twice, and those two meetings paint a pretty clear picture of what to expect on Saturday in the home opener at Beaver Stadium. At their last meeting in 2011, Penn State had one of its biggest win of the season, defeating Eastern Michigan 34-6 behind a strong three touchdown performance from Matt McGloin.

I don’t want to say with certainty that Penn State is going to drop 50 or more points against the Eagles tomorrow, but it’s very possible. This is about as lopsided of a college football game as you’re going to get. The Eagles have a mediocre pass game, one great running back, and a pretty pedestrian defense.

Their only chance at winning this game is putting up points because the Nittany Lions offense will be doing plenty of that. Unfortunately for them, the matchup doesn’t bode well for the Eagles offense. Their run game will stall against a strong Penn State defensive line anchored by DaQuan Jones. Their pass game will fail when they have to try airing it out after falling behind early, and Penn State will cruise to a second win in the team’s home opener.

Let’s start by taking a look at some Eastern Michigan players to keep your eye on.

Tyler Benz #12 — EMU doesn’t pass a lot, but if the Penn State run defense is as good as it was against Syracuse, it will be on Benz to get the offense going. He threw just 14 touchdowns last season and five of those came in one game. Benz, a redshirt junior, completed 53% of his passes in 2012.

Bronson Hill #30 — The junior is the best player on the Eastern Michigan offense and probably the team. He averaged just over 100 yards rushing per game in 2012 and got off to a great start in their opener last Saturday against Howard, totaling 101 yards and finding the end zone twice. Hill might struggle as the Penn State defensive line should give the Eastern Michigan offensive line fits, but expect them to go to Hill early and often.

Sean Kurtz #40 — Kurtz started just two games last year, but is one of the team’s starting linebackers this season and got off to a very strong start last Saturday. Kurtz, a redshirt senior, tallied 13 tackles and an interception in EMU’s opener. Don’t expect him to have quite as good of a game on Saturday, but he’ll be involved in more than a few tackles.

Some things to watch for from the Nittany Lions:

The run game — After an unsuccessful performance in the opener against Syracuse, the run unit will be looking to bounce back strong tomorrow. Bill O’Brien blamed the lack of a run game on his play-calling, but the offensive line’s blocks weren’t perfect either. Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton will look to take advantage of a lackadaisical Eastern Michigan run defense that allowed 202 yards on the ground in the opener against Howard for 5.8 yards per carry.

The secondary — Penn State’s pass defense was less than stellar against Syracuse last week. They made some plays but got burned a few times too. Fortunately, Eastern Michigan has almost no pass attack. Benz is nothing special and they don’t have one noteworthy receiving option on the team. Look for the pass defense to make a statement Saturday and come up with a takeaway or two.

Hackenberg & Co. — If Bill O’Brien is going to really let Christian Hackenberg loose and allow him to gun the ball downfield, this is his best chance to do it during the non-conference schedule. With Allen Robinson playing a full game and Kyle Carter probable to make his first start, the pass game will be a full-go tomorrow.

You can look at this game from any direction and you’ll only come up with one reasonable conclusion: a blowout in favor of the Nittany Lions. The Penn State offensive and defense both strongly overmatch the respective units on Eastern Michigan.

By the Numbers: Eastern Michigan had 202 rushing yards in their opener compared to Penn State’s 71. Those numbers could be flipped tomorrow.

Blast from the Past: The teams first faced off in 1992 and the Nittany Lions trounced the Eagles 52-7. A duo of Nittany Lions running backs — Ki-Jana Carter and Richie Anderson — scored two touchdowns apiece in that game.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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