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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a season-opening 23-17 victory against Syracuse, the Nittany Lions welcome Eastern Michigan to Beaver Stadium for the 2013 home opener on Saturday (Noon on BTN).
Thanks to strong outing from the Nittany Lion defense, Penn State shut down the Orange to open the season with a victory inside MetLife Stadium last week. Seniors DaQuan Jones, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Glenn Carson were instrumental in helping limit Syracuse to just 260 offensive yards.
Offensively, Christian Hackenberg became just the third true freshman since 1910 to start at quarterback for the Nittany Lions. The Big Ten Freshman of the Week finished 22-for-31 for 278 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week Sam Ficken went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, including a career-long 46-yard kick.
With one week in the books, Penn State shifts focus towards Eastern Michigan. The Eagles opened their season with a 34-24 victory over Howard. Eastern Michigan rallied from 24-13 down late in the third quarter to win its season-opener.
More than 50 members of the undefeated (1973) team will be honored at halftime of Saturday's game. The list of returnees includes running back John Cappelletti, the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner and member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Off to a 1-0 start, the Nittany Lions are excited to be back home in Beaver Stadium. The long wait for a football Saturday in Happy Valley is over. Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the home opener against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. With an 18-year-old quarterback at the helm of the offense, a couple injuries and 104-degree heat on the field without the depth of an 85-man scholarship roster, head coach Bill O'Brien could not have been prouder of the way Penn State opened 2013 last week. Now, the Lions are focused on week two. O'Brien indicated to the media earlier in the week that teams often make their biggest jump from week one to week two in college football. Penn State did a number of positive things in the season-opening win against Syracuse, but the Lions entered the practice week with the mindset that they had plenty of room for improvement. At the top of the list, Penn State wants to limit the number of turnovers it commits each week. The Lions had four miscues against Syracuse. Keeping that number to a minimum against Eastern Michigan and every opponent after is a big key for the Lions. Following a good week of practice, keep an eye on how the Nittany Lions improve on both sides of the ball following the 23-17 win last week, and the turnover margin is a big part of the step forward.
2. Offensively, the Nittany Lions made big plays when they needed to against Syracuse, namely the 51-yard scoring strike from Hackenberg to junior wide out Allen Robinson and the 54-yard touchdown connection between Hackenberg and redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis. However, the offense will look for more consistency on third down against Eastern Michigan. Penn State finished 1-for-16 on third down last week. Coach O'Brien said that success on third down boils down to a number of factors - play calling, play design and execution on the field. Look for the Nittany Lions to build on their third-down success on not only offense, but on defense, as well.
3. Senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones played a superb football game for the Nittany Lions in the trenches against Syracuse. Finishing with nine tackles, three tackles for loss, and one sack, Jones was dominant and relentless against the Orange. Penn State's defensive success starts with strong play from the rotation up front. Coach O'Brien stressed before the season that stopping the run is essential for Penn State to become a good defense. After allowing just 71 yards on the ground against Syracuse, Jones and company will again be looking for a strong afternoon in the trenches.
What to Watch For - Eastern Michigan
1. Eastern Michigan yielded 202 rushing yards (5.8 ypc) in its season-opening victory over Howard. The Eagles enter Saturday's contest with the Nittany Lions looking to slow down a Penn State rushing attack primed for an improved afternoon. Eastern Michigan's ability to find success on the defensive side of the ball hinges on slowing down Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, which starts with sound play from the defensive line in the trenches.
2. Last week, Eastern Michigan tallied seven plays of 20 yards or more, six of which were 25 yards or more. Of those seven plays, four came at the hands of the Eagle offense. Junior quarterback Tyler Benz, who tossed two touchdowns in last week's win, connected with junior wide out Demarius Reed for a 33-yard score against Howard. Big plays from Benz and running back Bronson Hill are a must against the Nittany Lions.
3. The Eagles turned the ball over just once in their opener last week, while the Nittany Lions committed four turnovers. Like the big plays on offense, the turnover battle is another key spot for Eastern Michigan against Penn State. The Eagles can ill afford to give the Lions' offense a short field as a byproduct from a turnover. On the other side of the ball, a forced turnover could swing momentum. Turnovers and the battle in the tranches will both play a big role in the outcome of the game.
The Final Word:
Ask any player on the roster or any member of the coaching staff and they will all say the same thing. Walking out of the South Tunnel on gameday in Beaver Stadium is a feeling unlike any other. Coach O'Brien said on the Gameday Preview interview that it gives him chills just thinking about the moment when the team charges out of the tunnel to take the field for a game. Penn State feeds off of the fan support in Beaver Stadium. From the students willing on the team from their feet on every play to the Blue Band and the general fans in every corner, the gameday atmosphere on a football Saturday is special. The team has waited 279 days to see the fans at home for a regular season game. Football is back in Beaver Stadium.
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Eastern Michigan Gameday Preview - Home Opener
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