Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, listening to coach Bill O' Brien in the first quarter, led Penn State to a 45-7 victory against Eastern Michigan, but the Lions are struggling on third down, converting just one opportunity Saturday.
By Mark Dent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien gave his now famous saltwater quote last week, comparing it to winning and third-down trouble. Winning, he said, is like saltwater. Cures everything. All the discrepancies and mistakes don't feel as bad after a victory.
And Penn State won again Saturday, easily against Mid-American Conference doormat Eastern Michigan. But the team continued to struggle on third down, converting one out of 10 for a first down. For the season, Penn State is 2 for 26 on third down. Not exactly efficient.
"Obviously, we need to continue to work on it," wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said Saturday after the game.
Here's a quick rundown of the 26 third-down plays Penn State has run this year. Of the 26, 12 have been running plays and 14 passing plays. The one conversion against Syracuse came on a pass on a third-and-1. The one conversion against Eastern Michigan came on a pass on a third-and-6.
The key statistic might be distance. Just five of the 26 plays -- all against Syracuse -- have been on a third down with a distance of less than 5 yards needed for a first. Penn State has been facing a lot of third-and-longs.
So how will Penn State "work on it?" O'Brien has said they routinely practice situational football, setting up possessions designed to mimic third downs or any down. Hixon said from his standpoint the receivers need to do a better job of reading the defensive backs and running routes on these important third-down plays.
NOTES -- Tight end Kyle Carter played for Penn State Saturday after being considered day-to-day with an elbow injury. He said he injured it in the Syracuse game when Penn State attempted the fake field goal. Carter caught two passes for 16 yards. ... Linebacker Mike Hull, who was also considered day-to-day last week, did not play Saturday. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong started at linebacker in his place and finished with three tackles. ... Safety Ryan Keiser left Saturday's game with an injury. O'Brien said he didn't know the extent of the injury.