Penn State wallops Eastern Michigan, 45-7

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State running back Akeel Lynch didn't have any particular fondness for the No. 5. He wore it in high school; that was all. And when he arrived at Penn State, he wanted to wear No. 5 for his college career, too.

Problem was, Bill Belton -- another running back -- had it. Belton would later switch to No. 1 when quarterback Rob Bolden left last summer.

So No. 5 was available but Lynch, a redshirt freshman, stayed with No. 22. Equipment manager Spider Caldwell suggested it. Lynch didn't realize until later that former Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti wore it for Penn State in the early 1970s.

"I looked up the history," Lynch said, "and I was like, 'That's pretty cool.' "

All the coolness surrounding that number was magnified Saturday in Penn State's 45-7 victory against Eastern Michigan in front of a crowd of 92,863 at Beaver Stadium.

Cappelletti was there to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Nittany Lions' undefeated 1973 season. Penn State (2-0) honored him by retiring his number, a first in school history. But the retirement won't take effect until later because of Lynch.

In his first game action at Penn State, Lynch rushed for 108 yards on 13 carries. Behind him, Belton and running back Zach Zwinak, Penn State cruised in the second half and reversed one of its biggest deficiencies from the season opener against Syracuse. In that win, the Nittany Lions gained just 57 rushing yards on 38 attempts. They had 286 rushing yards on 35 attempts Saturday.

Like Lynch, Belton finished with 108 yards. It was the second time in his career he gained more than 100 and provided a reminder why coach Bill O'Brien was so high on him early last season before Belton disappeared down the stretch.

With an improved Belton, Zwinak looking like his usual self and Lynch making his debut, Penn State saw for the first time the potency it can have with a loaded backfield. The three running backs consider themselves good friends and said they don't mind splitting the carries.

"When you rotate like that, just coming into the game it's like your first carry," Belton said. "We're definitely not winded and we're coming in 100 percent, going hard. That's all you can ask for from the running backs."

At the start of the game, Penn State didn't appear fresh. The offense's first two drives ended in three-and-outs, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg fumbled toward the end of the first quarter, leading to a return touchdown and 7-0 lead for Eastern Michigan (1-1).

Eastern Michigan's defense came out playing a 4-3 formation. Last week against Howard, it played a 3-4, throwing a slight kink into the Penn State machine. O'Brien said he thought the offense could have adjusted quicker.

Tight end Jesse James said the Nittany Lions were prepared, they just weren't performing.

"We're always ready to play against any defense we get," said James, a South Allegheny graduate.

When the offense got going, though, it really got going. Penn State scored 28 points in the final quarter and a half. Included in the scoring burst was a 45-yard touchdown strike from Hackenberg to star receiver Allen Robinson.

Hackenberg completed one of his first five passes to start the game but settled in to finish with 311 yards and a touchdown. Robinson, who sat out the first half last week against Syracuse for unspecified reasons, played the entire game and finished with seven receptions for 129 yards.

"He knows what he wants to do," wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. "He has a plan for each route he's running and he knows how to set the defensive backs up to get what he wants to get."

The final Penn State touchdown came courtesy of Lynch. He almost stumbled but stayed up long enough to score on a rush of 18 yards.

After the game, Cappelletti addressed the team. Tight end Kyle Carter said his chief message was camaraderie. He told the players they need to be close.

He also called up Lynch, telling him he could have the No. 22 until his playing career concluded. Lynch had worried a little bit before that.

"When I heard they were retiring the number, I thought, 'I better do something so they let me keep the number,' " he said.

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Mark Dent:, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published September 7, 2013 2:00 PM


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