Hackenberg could have big day

Five things to look for as Penn State plays its first home game against an overmatched Eastern Michigan team.

No. 1: Hack attack

This is a great chance in what should be a blowout win for Christian Hackenberg to get more comfortable in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, reading defenses and running a college offense.

If you didn’t know the quarterback was a true freshman in last week’s opener against Syracuse, you never would have figured it out. Hackenberg was poised and looked confident, and he can take further steps forward in those areas today.

The only thing that should prevent Hackenberg from having a big day through the air is if coach Bill O’Brien decides to keep it primarily on the ground to get the running game some confidence after last week’s struggles.

No. 2: QB feast

Look for the Nittany Lions to pound Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Benz, sending a ton of blitzes to go along with heavy pressure by end Deion Barnes.

Let’s put the over/under on sacks at six, because of the constant pressure and also because the Eagles are going to be way behind and will have to keep trying to throw the ball.

No. 3: Use the TEs

The tight ends caught only four passes last week, and that’s not a formula for success for the Lions. Hackenberg will need to utilize the tight ends a great deal if the offense is going to reach its potential this season, and this is the kind of game they all need to start learning how to get on the same page.

Matt Lehman (knee) and Brent Wilkerson (back) are out for the season, and Kyle Carter (left arm) is day to day, so the tight end group already has taken several blows. The Lions need a healthy Carter to go along with Jesse James and Adam Breneman to give the offense the kind of versatility that O’Brien wants.

No. 4: Stay healthy

This is actually No. 1, and will continue to be No. 1 all season, but since that’s a given because of the depth issues, we’ll slot it at No. 4.

The Lions have played one game and already have lost one player (Lehman) for the season, plus Carter and standout linebacker Mike Hull (knee) are banged up. Were their bodies ready for the physical demands of a game after doing so much thud work, or were their injuries just bad luck and/or coincidences?

It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that if the Lions lose one or two players every week, they’re going to be in a world of trouble.

No. 5: Player to watch

Running back Zach Zwinak should have a big day against a defense that gave up 202 yards rushing against Howard.

Syracuse loaded the box to stop the run and dare Hackenberg to throw last week, and PSU’s running game did very little. Eastern Michigan might try that philosophy, as well, but it doesn’t have the size and strength that Syracuse does, so the Lions still should have success on the ground.

And if the Eagles don’t load the box, then Zwinak should be able to run all over them.

Prediction: Penn State 43, Eastern Michigan 16

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger throughout today’s game for live updates and analysis from the press box.