Penn State opened up the floodgates late in Saturday's win over Eastern Michigan, dropping 21 points on the Eagles in the final 13 minutes. John Butler's defense did not surrender a point and the Nittany Lion offense finished with 574 yards after sleep-walking through its first three possessions. We look back at a beautiful day in Beaver Stadium.
For the second straight week, no one had an answer for Jones (91).
What went right: Penn State's defense effectively pitched a shutout, not allowing the Eagles to advance past their own 48-yard line and allowing only 44 total yards in the second half. Even without linebackers Mike Hull and Ben Kline, the Nittany Lions were stout against the run and made Eagles quarterback Tyler Benz settle for quick tosses to the perimeter or intermediate throws on rollouts. Penn State's vertical passing game again clicked, with Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson hooking up for a pair of 40-yard completions, and the running backs did whatever they wanted during a 193-yard second half.
What went wrong: The defense came out a bit flat, allowing four first downs in the opening quarter, while Hackenberg was too jacked up, throwing too long on his first few attempts and losing a fumble that the Eagles returned for their only points of the game, and his throw into tight coverage -- though catchable -- wound up being his third pick of the season. For all the gaudy yardage totals, Penn State's offensive line was beaten too often early in the game by a subpar Eastern Michigan front seven. The Nittany Lions were 1-of-10 on third down, though they neutralized some of that by converting both of their fourth-down tries.
Offensive impact: Starting tailback Zach Zwinak had a solid afternoon (seven carries, 43 yards, two touchdowns) but the stars were backups Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, who showed their one-cut ability and open-field speed. Robinson was again a beast and now has 262 yards and two touchdowns in just six quarters of play this season. Hackenberg overcame his jumpy start to complete 22 of his last 28 passes, spreading the ball around to 10 receivers, and receiver Brandon Felder (six catches, 56 yards) consistently got open and quietly had another solid game.
Defensive impact: Linebacker Glenn Carson was around the ball all afternoon, finishing with a game-high 10 tackles and adding half a sack, while defensive tackle DaQuan Jones continued his torrid start to 2013, racking up nine more tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. Nyeem Wartman looked good in coverage, nearly coming up with a couple of picks and adding six tackles and defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Kyle Baublitz helped collapse the pocket and keep Eagles running back Bronson Hill (13 carries, 38 yards) in check.
Clutch play: Hackenberg's 43-yard pass to a tightly covered Robinson late in the first quarter -- and Robinson's ability to hang onto the ball while going to the ground -- was a huge play for an offense that hadn't done much of anything up to that point. A great blitz pickup by the line and an accurate throw in the face of pressure by Hackenberg set the Nittany Lions up inside the Eastern Michigan 10-yard line, and two plays later Zwinak got the first Penn State points of the day.
Did you notice: Senior Pat Zerbe, one of three game captains, got some early playing time as the Nittany Lions utilized a fullback for the first time this season. … Two true freshmen -- linebacker Brandon Bell and wide receiver Gregg Garrity, saw their first career action. Despite being listed on the official participation report, freshman defensive end Garrett Sickels did not play on Saturday… Defensive end Deion Barnes lined up as a linebacker, rushing the passer from a two-point stance, on one first-half play. … Backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson is now 3-of-3 on the season. … Sam Fickens 39-yard field goal was his 14th straight make, breaking the school record for consecutive field goals held by Craig Fayak.
Summary: The Nittany Lions got the lopsided margin of victory most expected and should have been acceptable given the talent disparity, but played enough mistake-ridden, mediocre football in the first half to create some concern. The offensive line has struggled to get early push in both of the first two games and Hackenberg, whose overall performance has been terrific, has made some costly errors. Penn State's defense hasn't left much to criticize but will face a much different test next week against quarterback Blake Bortles and a good Central Florida offense. Much as they did against Syracuse, the Nittany Lions showed more than a few flashes of the kind of team they could become but also showed that they're not that team yet.