Blue/White Roundtable - Penn State vs. Eastern Michigan

Ed Collyer

Adam Collyer chats with the Penn State blogosphere about last week's performance against Syracuse and this week's match-up with the Eagles (emus?) of Eastern Michigan University!

Blog mob...ASSEMBLE!

Welcome back to the Blue/White Roundtable! This week, the Nittany Lions polka back to Pennsylvania, where they'll take on the Eagles (emus?) of Eastern Michigan University, LIVE! from Beaver Stadium!

A refresher on how this works - every week, yours truly will pose a variety of questions to Penn State bloggers from every corner of the Nittany Lion internet. We'll post the greatest hits here each week, but make sure to check out our blogging brethren for their full responses every week!

Our panelists this week are the names and faces of the Penn State blogosphere that you know and love - BSD editor emeritus (and my former podcast partner) Jeff Junstrom, our own Cari Greene, Matt De Bear and Eric Sion from Victory Bell Rings, Michael Canzoneri, Ali Soho, Matthew Pencek, Bill Engel, Zach Fegely, Tim Johnson, and LB from PennLive's 50-Yard Lion Blog, and all of the D-O-double-G's from JoePa's Doghouse!

MetLife Stadium played host to last Saturday's game against the Syracuse Orange. Were you surprised at how pro-Penn State the crowd was? Do you think it played any factor in the outcome?

The Underdogs: No. No.

Eric: I was expecting there to be more Penn State fans than Syracuse fans, but not by as much as it was. It wasn't too surprising anyway considering how well Penn Staters travel. And even though there was much more noise when Syracuse was on offense as opposed to when Penn State was on offense, I don't think it actually played that much of a factor. Both quarterbacks were new and I think that lack of experience was more important than the crowd in determining the outcome.

Jeff: New York City doesn't have a major college football following (sorry, Rutgers and/or anyone else that claims a major homebase in the Big Apple), but it does have a sizeable Penn State alumni faction, so it was not surprising to see a wealth of support for the Blue and White. I'm not sure it played a factor in the outcome (I think the heat and overall talent played more of a factor), but it didn't hurt to not have a stadium full of people throwing uneducated insults at the players and staff.

Pencek: Penn State has a larger fan base and for those that live in the eastern half of the Commonwealth (Philadelphia, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and the Lehigh Valley cities) a trip to the outskirts of New York is easier than a trip to the Happy Valley. That it was a pro Penn State crowd did not surprise me. What was somewhat unexpected were the number of fans. Earlier in the week, there were reports that only 40,000 tickets had been sold for the game, instead there were 61,202 in attendance. The noise Nittany Nation made was impressive, it may have given the Blue and White a boost of adrenaline but since the game was close I do not think it hindered Syracuse.

Rowlff Dogg: I wasn't surprised by the mass turnout of Penn State fans. Every time a potential out-of-conference match-up comes up on a message board, it's only a matter of time before the "we should play them at (fill in the NFL stadium)" crowd. I just don't get the infatuation with neutral site games in college football. I guess too many Penn Staters are Eagles fans and don't get to see their team win in an NFL stadium very often.

I don't think the rooting interest of the crowd factored in to the outcome. I do however think that playing away from home probably helped calm Christian Hackenberg a tad. I've got to imagine players get overly pumped up the first time they run through the tunnel in Beaver Stadium. That kind of adrenaline can't be helpful for a quarterback.

Obviously, the biggest headline has been the play of Christian Hackenberg, but Penn State's offense provided plenty of other interesting topics - Allen Robinson's first half suspension, Matt Lehman's unfortunate injury, the running game's general struggles. What are your thoughts on the offense's performance against the Orange, and what do you expect Bill O'Brien to alter this week against Eastern Michigan?

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Jeff: I think you can split the offense into four "squads". First, the QBs and the RBs were essentially two-faced against Syracuse. Hackenberg was great, but had his moments of freshman-itude. He grossly underthrew Allen Robinson on the long touchdown pass, and the interceptions were, well, they've been covered (figurative, literally, n'at). Leading up to the game, a lot of hype was placed on the running backs, and they laid an egg. Granted, Syracuse gave up its first-born to stop the run. But with a relatively strong stable of backs, or so we were led to believe by "insiders", it seemed to be three yards and a cloud of Zwinak. The third squad, the receivers, in which I'm including tight ends, also had ups and downs. The wide receivers looked great (Eugene Lewis is going to be a BOSS for the next 3+ years), while the tight ends were non-existent. Maybe it was BOB's playcalling, or Hack's locking on to safety nets in Lewis, ARob, and Brandon Moseby-Felder (and lock on he did, at times). Either way, the tight ends only caught four passes, a far cry from the tight end heavy attack we saw in 2012. The offensive line would be the fourth squad. I profess to know little about the technique and mechanics required of a good OL, so I'll abstain from comment.

Next week, I think the offense regresses a little bit, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. EMU is going to get their asses handed to them, so there is no need for BOB and Hack to try anything fancy. Really, there is no need for them to try anything other than getting Hackenberg more comfortable in the pocket and working on the injuries that popped up in the first game.

Matt: Offensively, we played about how I expected. I was a little surprised to not see more success running the ball, but after watching the game a second time, it was pretty clear why. The Orange really stacked the box to stop the run, and force a rookie QB to beat them. As I wrote for VBR earlier this week, without Robinson, and with a first time starter at QB, the Lions weren't really in a position to make them pay until the second half.

Going into Eastern Michigan, and down the road, I think you'll see OB gradually open up the offense as Hackenberg settles in more. PSU will see those 8-9 man fronts all season, or at least until the offense shows the ability to make defenses pay, and 60 minutes of Allen Robinson on Saturday will go a long way to doing that.

Canzoneri: Coach better! He has already acknowledged that he needed to do a better job coaching that game. It may be time for him to hire an OC and focus on game management instead.

J Schnauzer: Well the third down conversion rate sure stands out. These are the new, razzle-dazzle passing days of Penn State football, but this is the Big Ten and the Nittany Lions will need to put together a decent run package as the season progresses. The big story was Allen Robinson--clearly he was (allegedly) devastated by the news that Tim Tebow had been cut by the Patriots, so it was wise for BOB to let him Manziel the first half. It's comforting that Hackenberg has developed a rapport with his receivers this early. I would like to see more reps for Ferguson in the EMU game if things get comfortable.

Engel: Hack was targeting Lehman early and often so the unfortunate injury combined with ARob's suspension definitely impacted the game plan that O'Brien installed for his young QB. The Syracuse punting team consistently put us in poor field position which also contributed to O'Brien's conservatism. I fully expect to see Hackenberg and Ferguson unleashed this weekend.

The Underdogs: EMU is bad. Like really bad. Like Rowlff's taste in movies or Schnauzer's taste in music. It'll be the a good chance to crank up the death metal and run the ball like it's the 80s. Hopefully, that can open up a more expansive passing game beyond, "hey this Robinson guy is pretty awesome. Lemme get the ball in his general direction."

Tim Johnson: I think Syracuse put forth a pretty strong and creative defensive effort (bet Hack won't throw the ball into a dropping-into-coverage D-Lineman's stomach again anytime soon, lesson learned) but I see things getting a bit easier for the offense from here on out. Having A-Rob for a full game helps, sure, but Syracuse blitzed on like 90% of plays and challenged Hack to deliver under pressure-which he did.

Looking ahead, the TE-heavy game plan we all expected kind of went out the window after Lehman got hurt (that really sucks, by the way) because James and Carter have probably been playing more receiving-oriented roles in practice. In the weeks ahead, I'd expect one of them (James) to move into Matt's block-first-catch-second job out of necessity. No big deal, but it might take him some time to adjust. Also, with Cuse's ridiculous overloading of the box behind us, ZZ should get a few more chances to plow through the line and drag would-be tacklers at the second level for extra yards.

What did you think of John Butler's first game as defensive coordinator? Do you expect more of the same against Eastern Michigan?

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Zach Fegely: I think it was great. Play calling and scheme did a great job of keeping an explosive Cuse offense in check. I really like the personnel decisions and the play of OBA who may play FB/TE this weekend on top of S/LB. Defense was a little soft on 3rd down early in the game but always got the big stop when they needed it. Taking out the pick by Hack returned to the one and the long bomb that lead to a score the defense would not have given up a touchdown and it is hard to complain about that.

LB: The defense managed to hold off a late rally by Syracuse, grabbing a key interception at the end of the fourth quarter that ended the Orange's hopes of a comeback victory. The Lions weren't without missteps, such as the long passes that the secondary wasn't able to stop, but the defense looked solid overall. I don't expect big changes between this week and next.

J Schnauzer: Phenomenal. We must, must look at this in the perspective of 65 schollies. What he's able to accomplish with limited depth is a treat to see. I have no problem with Butler, nor do I expect a fall-off against EMU. The tragic thing is that his accomplishments may be washed out in the scoreboard and stat sheet with a few debilitating injuries.

Cari: Butler was fine. I would have liked to see a little bit more creativity and blitzing, but if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it...and our defense was, absent about two big plays, not the issue on Saturday--despite losing Mike Hull in the first half, and Jordan Lucas in the second. Our adjustments were spot on, and some of those guys had big games.

In terms of coaching, I'm more concerned with the fact that we allowed their second touchdown when we only had ten players on the field. That's something that shouldn't ever happen, though since they had 1st and goal from the one an eleventh guy might not have made much difference.

The Underdogs: Meh. Between the DLine doing some dominatin' in the interior and the injuries (so many injuries), I couldnt tell much from a schematic standpoint, aside from a few breakdowns in the secondary. However, I should add that I really like those two young corners, Lucas and Williams.

Matt: I didn't see much that seemed all that different from a year ago. The front 7 was very good against the run, and despite some notable conversions, they held the Orange to just 6/20 on 3rd down. The biggest issue was tackling, which would make sense given the lack of hitting in practice. Given EMU's lack of, uh, football prowess, I wouldn't expect them to do much different.

Predictions?

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Jeff: The line is fluctuating somewhere in the low-20s, and I can see this game getting out of hand early, due solely in part to EMU's youth and because they are EMU. But Penn State won't run up the score (roll up the score?) as they keep it relatively vanilla. Good guys win, 31-10.

Cari: The line seems slightly high to me. I think PSU wins easy, but not by 27 (or whatever) points. I think it'll be around 38-14.

Matt: Eastern Michigan is just not very good at football, and is probably just what the doctor ordered for the running game. I say Zwinak goes over 100, and maybe Belton too, while Hackenberg looks sharper with Robinson on the field all game. PSU 35-6.

Eric: I think the Nittany Lions will win against the Eastern Michigan Eagles by a score of 34-14. O'Brien will do what he does best and get the tight ends more involved and the ground game going. Hackenberg throws for two more touchdown passes and the defense gets a few turnovers. Against Syracuse, some Penn State players looked very tight when they were playing. Maybe it was first game jitters or simple nervousness, which is to be expected when playing the season opener in an NFL stadium. But playing in Beaver Stadium this weekend will loosen them up, get them more relaxed and hopefully it will result in another victory.

The Underdogs: Precious throws for three TDs, but it's the running game that cranks it up with 250+ between ZZ, Belton, and Lynch. 45-3.

Rowlff Dogg: My absence from Beaver Stadium will NOT make me cry. My absence from Pellagate will NOT make me sober. Eastern Michigan will NOT stand a chance. Penn State 50, Eastern Michigan 13

J Schnauzer: RowlffDogg misses his first PSU home game in decades and comforts himself with a keg of Bell's Octoberfest and a Costco box of Milkbones, Penn State converts on 50% of its third downs, and another surprising defender comes up big to squash the early efforts of the Eastern Michigan Eastern Emus. 45-7 good guys.

Michael Canzoneri: Penn State is already a 27 point favorite, so I am going to say that we see a heavy amount of Hackenberg working out the kinks and, hopefully, Akeel Lynch getting some 3rd and 4th quarter work. Penn State 42 - Eastern Michigan 16.

Ali Soho: Penn State 55, EMU 17. Penn State jumps on this team early and keeps their foot on the gas pedal all the way throughout. I wouldn't be surprise to have a special teams or defensive touchdown in this one either. Hack is done by the third quarter, the running game gets going, and its an all around fun day for Penn State in Happy Valley.

Pencek: Eastern Michigan struggled with Howard of the FCS, winning 34-24 and allowing 5.8 yards per carry on the ground. I see the Penn State running game having a big day. I also see a comfortable viewing experience as the Nittany Lions go to 2-0 on the season by a score of 40 - 13.

Bill Engel: This game along with Illinois and perhaps Purdue are the only gimmes this year. I really hope to see some Ferguson and Lynch get some quality reps in the second half. 37 - 13 is your final.

Zach Fegely: This game should be a blowout. Penn State should only continue to improve as Hack gets more comfortable and gets more game experience. Penn State runs away in this one 42-6

Tim Johnson: I'm pretty sure EMU's the worst of the directional Michigans, which is bad news considering CMU took a 50 point beatdown at the hands of Michigan last week. EMU, who isn't favored against many teams, was very much on upset alert last week, as they were down 14-3 to Howard before staging a second-half comeback. Since CMU > EMU, and more importantly, PSU > Michigan, we can use some simple math and make a pretty responsible estimate of the score this weekend. PSU 96, EMU 3...BUT, Hackenberg will be held under 10 TD's.

LB: Saturday's game started out slow, but the Lions won't have much trouble finding their rhythm against the Eagles. Penn State 38, Eastern Michigan 10


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