Preview: Penn State vs. Eastern Michigan

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Football is back in State College!

Penn State kicks off its home slate with some #MACtion. Eastern Michigan rolls into State College for its second game in Happy Valley for the past three years.

Penn State (1-0) vs Eastern Michigan (1-0)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Line: PSU -24

TV: Big Ten Network Scott Graham (p-by-p), Chuck Long (analyst)

Weather: 76 degrees, partly cloudy with a 10% chance of rain.

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:

PENN STATE RECORD: 9-4, 2nd year

OVERALL RECORD: 9-4

VS. EASTERN MICHIGAN: First Meeting

Ron English:

EASTERN MICHIGAN: 10-38. 5th year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

...NOW THE FUN PART

EASTERN MICHIGAN OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE

Eastern Michigan will bring a balanced attack on Saturday. QB Tyler Benz returns after a solid 2012 campaign, so don't be surprised to see Penn State try to attack him to force the Eagles to move the ball on the ground. Benz is efficient and can dink and dunk his way down the field. If the Nittany Lion defense can manage pressure with a four-man front, they may go vanilla and save the more complicated schemes for next week. Benz also likes to spread the ball out, so Penn State will not be keying on one standout receiver. The inexperienced cornerbacks may be tested more this week, so it will be interesting to see if they can match their outstanding performance against Syracuse.

All eyes will be on LB Mike Hull as the clock approaches noon. Hull is listed as probable, but the coaches may decide to sit him as a precaution. My best guess is that he'll sit out in full uniform, and come into the game only if needed (i.e.- Eastern Michigan makes a ballgame out of it).

EASTERN MICHIGAN DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

Penn State will likely open things up to give Christian Hackenberg more opportunity to become acclimated with the offense, as well as the speed of the college game. Expect some deep balls to Allen Robinson on the first couple of drives to test out the Eagles secondary, similar to what we saw in the beginning of the 2012 Navy game. It's very likely opposing defenses will continue to stack the box to make Hackenberg beat them through the air. EMU Head Coach Ron English is no dummy when it comes to defense, and he will throw everything he can at Hackenberg to try to make the freshman quarterback uncomfortable and make mistakes.

Even with a focus on stopping the run, Penn State will need to find a way to improve on its rushing attack from the Syracuse game. The absence of Akeel Lynch on Saturday was somewhat of a surprise to many Nittany Lions fans. O'Brien was non-committal in his weekly press conference regarding Lynch playing this week, so keep an eye out for number 22. Bill Belton still needs to work on being a patient runner and making the proper cuts. He can be a very dangerous complement to Zach Zwinak with some improvement in these areas. Eastern Michigan gave up 202 yards on the ground to Howard, so Saturday should be an excellent opportunity to work out some of these kinks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The knock against Sam Ficken coming into the season was that although he had found consistency, he was not able to hit a deep field goal. He fixed that against Syracuse by hitting a 46-yarder that may have been good from 56 on his way to a Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week performance. This game shouldn't come down to a field goal, but maybe the opportunity to hit a 50+ yard field goal to continue to bolster his confidence.

There's not much to say about Alex Butterworth that hasn't already been said. The senior punter had a solid game against Syracuse, but nothing spectacular. Butterworth can be streaky- shanking a 17-yard punt off the side of his foot and then turning around and booming a 60-yarder.

Eastern Michigan had a very ho-hum performance on special teams in week one. They didn't do anything particularly impressive, but avoided any costly mistakes outside of a blocked PAT early in the game.

PREDICTION

PENN STATE 34, EASTERN MICHIGAN 13

The offense shows improvement, but still somewhat vanilla as Hackenberg continues to adjust to the college game. Allen Robinson gets an early touchdown as BO'B tests the waters to see if EMU has anyone able to cover him on a deep route. They won't. The defense will have a lights out game, but EMU scores off a turnover deep in enemy territory and in garbage time to prevent any hope of a shutout. It won't be as much of a dominating victory as many are hoping for, but a solid win where the starters get a much needed break for the final quarter.


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