Entering this season, the Eastern Michigan Eagles are winless against the Big 10 Conference in 31 previous games. The Eagles, however, have new found optimism after their Week 1 victory over Howard University 34-24. The Eagles, who only won two games last season, must travel on the road to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State had an impressive victory over a solid Syracuse team winning 23-17 in Giants Stadium. In the 2011 season, Penn State defeated the Eagles 34-6 in Happy Valley. If the Eagles are to get their first victory over the Big 10 Conference, they must be hitting on all cylinders come Saturday.
The Eagles return 42 lettermen from the 2012 team and did play Toledo, Michigan State, and Central Michigan very tough last season. In order to strike the upset on the road, the Eagles will need to take chances on offense and utilize their play makers in space. The Eagles did control the tempo against Howard and held the ball for 32 minutes and 58 seconds. Look for Eagles head coach Ron English to be aggressive on the offensive side of the ball. The Eagles have a very big offensive line and should be able to run the football on an inexperienced Penn State defensive front. Running back Bronson Hill rushed for 101 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns last week. Hill will be vital to the Eagles’ offense if they are to get the victory.
Quarterback Tyler Benz had an impressive game last week completing 19-of-26 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The Eagles have three wide receivers that can stretch the field. Jay Jones, Demarius Reed, and Dustin Creel combined for 12 receptions and one touchdown. The Eagles will need the wide receivers’ best effort against a Penn State defense that created three turnovers last week.
Defensively, the Eagles must create pressure and force Nittany Lion quarterback, Christian Hackenberg into making poor decisions. Hackenberg, a true freshman, will be making only his second start. In the game against Syracuse, Hackenberg tossed two interceptions, and the last one was critical as it led to Syracuse points. Linebackers Great Ibe and Sean Kurtz will look to create pressure on the Penn State offensive line. Kurtz led the team with 13 tackles and Ibe recorded nine tackles in the victory over Howard. In order to create turnovers against Penn State, the Eagles will have to blitz and utilize their linebackers’ speed in the gaps. The secondary will have to play bump and run coverage against Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, who accounted for 133 receiving yards and one touchdown against Syracuse.
If the Eagles can score first, they have the opportunity to put some pressure on the Penn State offense. Penn State struggled with the running game last week only gaining 57 rushing yards. If the Eagles can shut down the run, they have an opportunity to stay within striking distance of Penn State and take the game into the fourth quarter.
Before last week’s games, nobody thought North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Eastern Washington would ever pull off the upsets. The Eagles will look to follow the blueprint of these teams as they take the field come Saturday afternoon. You never know what can happen when you strap it up.