The scoreboard may have said that Eastern Michigan had seven points Saturday, but against the Penn State defense, all the Eagles offense had to show was a big goose egg.
Led by devastating tackle DaQuan Jones, the Nittany Lion defense held Eastern Michigan to a pair of botched first-half field goals, the Eagles’ lone offensive scoring chances in Penn State’s 45-7 triumph at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lion defense was absolutely dominant in the second half, allowing just two first downs and 44 total yards. For the game, Penn State limited the Eagles to 183 total yards. Eastern Michigan’s only score came from its defense on a return of a Christian Hackenberg fumble in the first quarter.
The defensive shutout came on the heels of a solid effort against Syracuse in the season opener. The Orange had just one sustained touchdown drive in Penn State’s 23-17 win. The second touchdown came on a one-play, one-yard drive following an interception return.
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“They’re playing very well right now,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “There’s some veteran guys over there that have played a lot of football for us, which is good. I haven’t had the opportunity, obviously, to watch the film yet, but I’m very pleased with our defense.”
In the middle of everything in both games has been Jones. As he did against the Orange, Jones had nine tackles, a huge number for a defensive tackle.
“He’s improved his strength, he’s improved his conditioning,” O’Brien said of the 6-foot-3, 318-pound senior. “He’s one great example of a guy that’s taken his game to the next level.”
Jones said Saturday that shedding pounds has helped him shed blockers.
“I feel good out there,” he said. “I feel light and quick. I’m just ready for the next one.”
He said the biggest improvement has been off the field.
“I’m trying to be more active between the tackles and work my moves, but really what it comes down to is watching film,” said Jones, who had two tackles for a loss, including a sack.
“You have to watch film and really break it down and see what teams are doing to run at you," Jones said. "Once you do that, you put yourself into position to make plays every time.”
Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler said Jones’ improved tackle numbers have a lot to do with skill, but also with scheme. Last season, Jones served a valuable supporting role while Jordan Hill got big numbers.
“What happened was (Jones) got a lot of double teams and Jordan Hill got a lot of single teams by scheme,” Butler explained. “We kind of madne it that way and that’s why Jordan made so many plays.”
Now, it’s Jones getting those numbers and adjustments.
“He’s a hard guy to block,” Butler said. “That’s one of the adjustments we made. In the first half, they were putting two guys on him. Our linebackers, because of how we coached them, were playing a little bit laterally, as opposed to playing downhill.
"In the second half we said, ‘If you see run, you’re going to run downhill and take a double-team off of him.’ ... It’s a simple adjustment, but it’s got to be a coordinated effort.”
Jones wasn’t the only defensive star on Saturday.
Middle linebacker Glenn Carson had 10 tackles and Butler rotated in a number of new faces. Brandon Bell saw his first action at linebacker, DaQuan Davis saw extended time at defensive back and defensive tackle Brian Gaia had four tackles.
“In these types of games, you’ve got to get guys playing,” Butler said. “The kids are only going to get better when they play in games.”
And playing means learning multiple options. Eastern Michigan moved the ball well early against the Nittany Lions, but stumbled when Penn State made adjustments.
“We always have Plan B and Plan C,” Butler said. “Our system works as such that if this is not working, we go right to the next thing until all of a sudden we stop the bleeding.
“In the second half, we didn’t feel like they could throw it on us, so we committed another guy to the run game,” Butler said. “Being multiple is not about 50,000 different things. There’s basically three ways to stop something and we’ve got to have all three.”
Jones says the Nittany Lions need to improve.
“We gave up some yardage,” he said of Saturday. “We’ve got to buckle down and take this game serious. Not that we didn’t take this game serious, but every game should be played like it’s the last.”
“We have to come out and play fast, and that is what it comes down to as a defense,” added cornerback Jordan Lucas. “We want to set the tone.”