Posted September 06, 2013 on
AP on Fox
Christian Hackenberg gets his first chance to show the home fans what they have in Penn State's quarterback of the future.
Hackenberg put up gaudy numbers and notched the win in the Nittany Lions' first game against Syracuse. Now, it's time to see if he can do more of the same in Happy Valley when Penn State plays its home opener Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who lost the home opener last year to Ohio, has stood by his philosophy that he's a one-quarterback coach. He meant it when he picked Hackenberg over junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson.
Hackenberg, a five-star recruit rated the top pocket passer in the nation, made his coach look like a genius with a fantastic opener en route to a 23-17 win at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Hackenberg was Penn State's second true freshman quarterback to start a season opener since 1910. He was 22 of 31 for 278 yards, with a pair of 50-yard touchdown passes in the second half, and he led the Nittany Lions on five scoring drives.
His yards passing total was the third highest by a freshman in school history.
''We're figuring each other out,'' O'Brien said. ''Now he knows what I'm like on game day and I know what he's like. It's going to be interesting going forward. He's a bright kid, he's been able to pick up so many different things in our offense, so it's more me doing a better job with him than him doing a better job, to be honest with you.''
Hackenberg should be at ease against the Eagles of the Mid-American Conference. But he'll have at least one less contributor on offense. Tight end Matt Lehman is out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury against Syracuse. He caught 24 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Maybe another strong game can energize the fan base. Beaver Stadium had dwindling crowds last season in the first year after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the lingering effects still scar the program. Penn State is offering a gameday discount to students to try to put more fans in the seats.
O'Brien honored the players who stuck around after the NCAA levied sanctions on the program by putting their names on the back of their jerseys.
He would love for the entire program - down to the fans - to band together through the tough times.
''We're counting on a great turnout, O'Brien said, ''from our fans.''
Here are five things to watch when Penn State hosts Eastern Michigan:
REMEMBERING 1973: The moment to remember in the home opener may actually happen at halftime. More than 50 members of the Penn State's undefeated 1973 team will be honored. The Nittany Lions capped a perfect 12-0 season with an Orange Bowl win against LSU but failed to win the national championship. John Cappelletti, the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner, will attend the 40th anniversary celebration. O'Brien said any members of that team have an open invitation to attend practice or address this year's squad.
RUN OF THE WEAK: Lost in the excitement of Hackenberg's debut was a backfield performance that shouldn't even worry Eastern Michigan. The Nittany Lions' sputtering running game only gained 57 yards on 38 carries. Zach Zwinak, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, was held to 61 yards against Syracuse and never broke free for anything longer than an 11-yard gain. With Hackenberg twice connecting on 50-yard scores, there was less time for the ground game to get going. Look for the running backs to try and control the pace, especially if Penn State opens the second half with a big lead. ''Hopefully, you will see improvement this week against Eastern Michigan,'' O'Brien said.
MAKE IT TWO: Eastern Michigan kicked off its 122nd season with a 34-24 win over Howard. The Eagles defeated Army, 48-38, last season and snapped a winless streak against non-conference FBS teams that dated to 2005. A victory at Penn State would give EMU back-to-back victories against non-conference FBS teams for the first time since 1987.
GET HIS KICKS: Keep an eye on Penn State kicker Sam Ficken. He has made 13 straight field goal attempts overall and started the season by going 3 for 3 vs. the Orange. Ficken booted through kicks of 36, 35 and a career-best 46 yards early in the fourth quarter. ''He understands how to kick the ball and is able to coach himself in some ways,'' O'Brien said.
RETURN OF THE MAC: Penn State opened as a 28-point favorite over the Eagles. A slam dunk? Maybe not. After all, Ohio is out of the MAC as well. Still, Penn State owns a 19-3 record against the current football alignment of that league.
BEST OF MAXIM
AROUND THE WEB
The field’s out there junior!
Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg had a little trouble getting this pass off Saturday afternoon against Eastern Michigan.
The result? A fumble recovery by Hunter Matt and Eagle touchdown which gave them a 7-0 lead.
Since then though Penn State has surged for 24 unanswered points to lead EMU 31-7.
After opening the season with a win on the road, the Penn State Nittany Lions return home to some of the friendliest confines in college football on Saturday.
After the Nittany Lions spent last weeks season opener in a “neutral site” game, beating Syracuse 23-17 at MetLiefe Stadium, they’ll return home to Beaver Stadium, which can house roughly another 20,000 more fans than...
After a slow start, capped off by a Christian Hackenberg fumble that was returned for the only touchdown of the day by Eastern Michigan, Penn State took complete control of this game. Hackenberg, making his first career start at Beaver Stadium, showed obvious signs of nerves early in the first quarter but eventually put…
While it wasn’t the quick start they were looking for, the end result was plenty good enough for Penn State on Saturday.
After a lethargic first quarter, the Nittany Lions rallied to score 45 unanswered points the rest of the way in cruising to a 45-7 win over Eastern Michigan to move to 2-0 on the season.
A week after struggling to run the ball against Syracuse, the Penn State...
Christian Hackenberg threw for 311 yards and a touchdown, and Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton each ran for a pair of scores, leading Penn State past Eastern Michigan 45-7 on Saturday.
Hackenberg went 23 of 33 and overcame a shaky start to lead Penn State (2-0) to a win in its home opener. He connected with Allen Robinson for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that helped put...
The independent monitor who's tracking Penn State's adoption of reforms in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal says in an annual progress report that the university is making notable progress.
Former Sen. George Mitchell is serving as Penn State's athletics integrity monitor. He issued his first-year wrap-up Friday.
Mitchell says Penn State has implemented most of...
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell--appointed to monitor over 100 recommendations of change for Penn State University following the Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions last year--released his yearly report on Friday, September 6, and the university came back with glowing reviews.
While the quarterly reports had shown excellent compliance and change within PSU, the annual report...
Check out the Penn State coach’s press conference following the Nittany Lions' 45-7 win over the Eagles.
Penn State caps Eastern Michigan 45-7, but there is still room for improvement heading into a Week 3 matchup with UCF.
Keep tabs on the Nittany Lions as they take on Eastern Michigan in the 2013 home opener.
George Morris showed his versatility as one of Syracuse's primary kick returners last Saturday afternoon versus Penn State. Inside, the red-shirt freshman talks about learning under Smith and Tyson-Gulley and what was going through his mind as he was trying to breakthrough the Nittany Lions coverage.
Who made the grade and who came up short as Penn State grounded the Eagles Saturday? Get the details right here.
Robert Welsh splashed onto the scene last Saturday versus Penn State, showcasing his talent on the defensive side of the ball. The junior lineman discusses his performance, pre-game ritual and his almost pick-six inside.