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Take Aways From Penn State’s 45-7 Shellacking Of Eastern Michigan

Penn State improved to 2-0 after downing the Eastern Michigan Eagles 45-7 in the home opener at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The offense had a slow start in the game but eventually exploded to put up six touchdowns, including five on the ground. The defense was even better, refusing to surrender a single point to the Eagles offense, as the team’s lone touchdown came off a defensive fumble recovery.

Let’s take a look at what the victory tells us about this Penn State team:

DaQuan Jones just might be the real deal.

Last season, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones had 22 tackles including just two for a loss. In two games this season, he has 18 tackles including five for a loss. He was dominant yet again this Saturday, totaling nine tackles, a sack, and two tackles for a loss against Eastern Michigan. As we mentioned in a profile of Jones earlier in the week, he lost 15 pounds this offseason and is playing better because of it.

“I’m just trying to be more active in between the tackles, just trying to work my moves,” Jones said. “What it really comes down to though is watching film. You have to watch film and see what teams are doing and once you do that you put yourself in great position to make plays. I’m really trying to know my opponent well. I feel good out there. I feel light, quick, explosive. I’m just ready for the next one.”

“DaQuan Jones is a great player,” defensive coordinator John Butler said. “He was just kind of in the shadow of Jordan Hill for a long time. He has taken his game to the next level, has played very physically. As long as he continues to do, I think it’s going to be challenging for people to run the ball on us.”

Jones is a smart football player who understands the game. He seems to find himself on top of or near the ball-carrier on just about every run play. The Penn State front seven is very strong, but the run defense all centers around Jones and he has played stellar football through the first eight quarters of the season. Only time will tell, but it looks like Jones might be the next up on a long list of great Penn State defensive tackles in the recent past.

The run game does exist.

After some first game struggles when the run game never quite got off the ground, there were minor concerns about that facet of the offense. Some blamed it on the run-blocking. Others said that the backs weren’t finding the holes. Whatever it was, there was essentially no run game against Syracuse last Saturday.

Against Eastern Michigan, the exact opposite turned out to be the case. Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch combined for 259 yards and five touchdowns on just 29 carries. That’s 8.9 yards per carry for the running back trio.

Lynch was the surprise of the three, seeing extensive play time later in the game once the win was in hand. He ran for 108 yards on 13 carries incluing a 27-yard touchdown run. Belton had 108 yards of his own and two touchdowns, including one 51-yard score. Zach Zwinak added 43 yards and two touchdowns.

The blocks were there all game. The backs were crisp and making great cuts. Their field vision was impeccable as they seemingly hit every open hole. They were speedy and, most importantly, they were fresh because the three of them were rotating all game long.

“We definitely feel fresher,” Lynch said. “We’re all itching to get in there. We’re competitors. But we all want each other to do well. So when we get in there we feel like we gotta go this series because you have two more series before you’re sitting out. It’s great to have two older guys in front of me. I can learn from them. They’re great teachers.”

Christian Hackenberg will have struggles.

Don’t get me wrong, Christian Hackenberg is extremely talented and has the most potential of any Penn State quarterback in years. But he’s a true freshman just months removed from his senior prom, something that Bill O’Brien likes to remind the media of often.

He was very clearly nervous during the first few offensive possessions and it showed as he overthrow a couple receivers and put too much zip on a couple passes. The worst mistake he made was a fumbled snap in the shotgun that led to an easy Eastern Michigan touchdown in a game that was scoreless at the time.

“This was his first game in Beaver Stadium,” Bill O’Brien said. “You can take 5,000 recruiting trips here, but it isn’t like playing here. He was amped up. I thought he settled down pretty well. I think it’s pretty easy to see that he’s a hard-working kid. He has talent. It’s one day at a time.”

But that isn’t to take away from the great game that Hackenberg had. Despite his early struggles, Hackenberg finished the game with an impressive stat line of 22-for-31 with 311 yards, a Penn State single-game freshman record, one touchdown, and one interception. The highlight for Hackenberg was a perfectly executed play-action pass to Allen Robinson for 45 yards that led to a touchdown soon after. The pass hit Robinson in stride after a crisp play-action fake.

“The offense executed well but I feel like I missed a couple of throws here or there that could have led to bigger plays,” Hackenberg said. “Coach O’Brien and I will work together to continue to build our relationship and to fix those mistakes.”

Matt Lehman’s absence might not hurt all that much.

It is very unfortunate that a player as good as Matt Lehman is out for the season with a knee injury. But if Saturday was any indication, his absence might not be felt all that strongly on offense. Hackenberg completed passes to 10 different players in the game. He had three receivers with 46 or more yards, one of those being tight end Jesse James who will see the field more often with Lehman out.

Allen Robinson will be the primary target on offense all season long. He had seven receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown in the game. Hackenberg seems to be finding some chemistry with Brandon Moseby-Felder too. The two connected six times for 56 yards and Hackenberg was targeting him from start to finish. Of course, it hurts to lose Lehman to injury for the year, but this offense didn’t skip a beat Saturday without him, albeit against a mediocre defense.

Other Notes:

  • The Penn State defense held Eastern Michigan to just 183 yards of total offense in the game. It surrendered 61 yards on the ground and 122 in the air.
  • Penn State struggled again on third-down conversions, going just 1-for-10 in the game. It did face quite a few third-and-longs, but the offense will need to improve there before the conference schedule rolls around. On the other hand, it converted each of two fourth down attempts.
  • Penn State’s offense racked up 574 yards in the game, an average of 7.8 yards per play.
  • Sam Ficken continued his impressive streak on Saturday, hitting a 39-yard field goal, his 14th consecutive make. That’s a Penn State record.
  • Christian Hackenberg’s 323 yards in the game were 31 more than the previous freshman single-game record.
  • Linebackers Ben Kline and Mike Hull sat the game out, but O’Brien said that they’re both “fine” after the game.

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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