We must have done something right in last week’s season kickoff of the Black Shoe Diaries Blue-White Roundtable discussion. Not only did our good friend Adam Collyer invite VBR back to the table, he let us bring another guest. Starting this week, staff writer Eric Sion will be sharing his thoughts to the big questions. You can also check out what the folks at JoePa’s Doghouse, The Nittany Lions Den, and The 50 Yard Lion have to say as well.
MetLfe 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?
Matt: Not all that surprised it was a pro-PSU crowd. New York is home to a huge PSU alumni base, not to mention it’s proximity to a number of other huge alumni populations in places like Boston, D.C. and Philadelphia. While the crowd noise obviously favored the Lions, I didn’t really get the feeling it played much of a role in the game.
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.
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?
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.
Eric: There were good things and bad things to take away from the offense’s performance against the Orange. Hackenberg showed flashes of how good he can be and he also reminded us at times that he’s a true freshman. Penn State is going to have to live with those growing pains throughout the season. The offensive line seemed completely overmatched in the run game but they did provide solid pass protection. I was concerned about the tight ends, who combined for only four catches for 27 yards (Kyle Carter didn’t even catch one pass). But I’m confident that Bill O’Brien will figure that out for Eastern Michigan. I was also concerned about Penn State’s third down efficiency (1-16 the whole game). That needs to drastically improve. I think O’Brien will let Hackenberg air it out a little more against Eastern Michigan. Assuming Allen Robinson plays from the start, I expect Hackenberg to get comfortable early on and a have a good game. I also think the running game will fare much better this weekend and hopefully Akeel Lynch gets some touches.
What did you think of John Butler’s first game as defensive coordinator? Do you expect more of the same against Eastern Michigan?
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.
Eric: I thought John Butler did a solid job in his first game as defensive coordinator. Obviously losing Mike Hull to an early injury was a big blow, but other guys stepped up. I was very happy to see the Penn State defense get some pressure on Drew Allen in the second half because it seemed like there wasn’t much at all in the first half. Using Stephen Obeng-Agyapong at linebacker obviously paid off and Glenn Carson was all over the field. I think that Butler’s game plan will pretty much stay the same for Eastern Michigan. The defensive line needs to be more consistent with getting pressure on the quarterback and the defense as a whole can’t give up those long third down conversions.
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.