Penn State sprung some surprises on Michigan in blowout victory

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Penn State sprung some surprises on Michigan in blowout victory

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – It was 11:23 p.m. Saturday night – James Franklin, poised to address reporters in the Beaver Stadium media room, knew the time because he checked a cellphone lying before him – and Penn State’s coach said that would allow him exactly 37 minutes to enjoy the 42-13 victory over Michigan (see observations).

After that it was time to move on, time for the second-ranked Nittany Lions to prepare for the next step down a treacherous path. That involves a visit to No. 6 Ohio State next weekend, with another trip, to No. 18 Michigan State, to follow.

Franklin wasn’t about to discuss the Buckeyes within that precious 37-minute window. There will be time enough for that in the days to come.

But what seems apparent is that the Lions have the ability and adaptability to run with the Big Ten’s big dogs – that if they lose next week, it will be because of the Buckeyes’ strengths, not their weaknesses.

On Saturday night PSU was as good as it has been against a quality team in Franklin’s three-plus seasons on the job, outgaining the No. 19 Wolverines, 506-269, and unleashing Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley for three touchdowns apiece.

“Everybody’s been saying we haven’t been playing anybody this year,” wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “Obviously we played somebody today.”

Somebody who came away pretty, pretty impressed.

“They hit us on quite a few plays that we have defensed well this year,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I thought their execution was really good tonight, right from the beginning.”

As in, the second play from scrimmage. That’s when Barkley lined up in the Wildcat – a formation the Lions hadn’t shown all year – and zipped 69 yards for a touchdown. He then capped their second possession by scoring on an option pitch, something else PSU hadn’t done much this season.

Franklin had said in the days leading up to the game that the Lions had something up their sleeves, that they were waiting to spring some stratagems on the Big Ten heavyweights. The wrinkles, he added Saturday, were things they had worked on during the preseason.

“The fact that we have some recall helps,” he said.

So too did the fact that they had a week off to prepare for the Wolverines.

“We watched, probably, seven different games of Michigan film,” Hamilton said. “It really helped a lot.”

Michigan cut the gap to 14-13, but then the Lions ran away and hid. It was difficult to find fault with any aspect of their performance, though Franklin tried. He thought the defense could have handled sudden change better, seeing as Michigan charged downfield for a touchdown after McSorley threw a first-quarter interception.

Barkley tried, too. On a day when he generated 176 all-purpose yards – 108 of them on the ground – the Heisman hopeful fixated on his second-quarter drop of a McSorley pass, on a wheel route down the left sideline.

“Sometimes I overthink and I just put myself in bad situations,” Barkley said. “I should have just caught it first. I was thinking score. I was thinking about catching the ball. I felt the safety. I felt his presence. I wanted to try to make him miss and find a way to get into the end zone.”

He atoned with a 42-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter, though he juggled that one, too.

“I was able to run through it,” he said. “It humbles you again, makes you realize you’ve got to put a little more work in. You’ve got to find a way to make those plays.”

Especially now that the celebration, brief as it was, is over. It’s time to take another step down a treacherous path, time to find out where it might lead.

No. 2 Penn State-No. 19 Michigan observations: Yeah, Nittany Lions are this good

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No. 2 Penn State-No. 19 Michigan observations: Yeah, Nittany Lions are this good

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley scored three touchdowns as No. 2 Penn State routed No. 19 Michigan, 42-13, Saturday night.

Barkley scored on runs of 69 and 15 yards in the first quarter, and a 42-yard reception from Trace McSorley with 13:11 left in the game.

The national leader in all-purpose yards per game when play began (217.0), Barkley finished with 176 — 108 on 15 rushes, 53 on three receptions and a 15-yard kickoff return.

McSorley, who ran 11 times for 76 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, clicked on 17 of 26 passes for 282 yards and the score to Barkley. He was also intercepted once and finished with 76 yards on 11 rushes.

Playing before a Beaver Stadium-record crowd of 110,823, the Lions (7-0) piled up a 506-269 yardage advantage despite facing a team that began the night allowing an FBS-best 223.8 yards a game. 

PSU had four touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer and scored the most points against Michigan since Ohio State rang up 42 against the Wolverines in 2015.

Michigan, which scored first-half touchdowns on short runs by Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac, fell to 5-2.

• The Lions had not run a single Wildcat snap this season, until the second play of Saturday’s game. That’s when Barkley took a direct snap, started to his right behind pulling guard Steven Gonzalez, cut back through a gaping hole to his left and outran the Michigan defense for a 69-yard touchdown.

• PSU gobbled up 75 on its first possession and 78 more on its second, a four-play march culminating in Barkley’s 15-yard TD run, on an option pitch from McSorley. In all the Lions had four TD drives of 75 or longer.

• The Lions finished the first quarter with a 14-0 lead, and to date, this season they have outscored their opponents, 90-0, in the opening period. They are the only team in the nation to hold their foes scoreless in that quarter to date.

• The Lions’ fast start obscured some early struggles by McSorley. He overthrew Barkley and tight end Mike Gesicki when both were wide open over the middle, then was intercepted by cornerback David Long when it appeared there was a miscommunication between the QB and Gesicki.

• Coming into the game, Michigan had scored just six touchdowns on 18 trips into the red zone, the Big Ten’s worst conversion rate. Following Long’s interception, the Wolverines drove to a first-and-goal at the PSU 3. They finally punched it in on a one-yard run by Higdon on fourth down.

• UM kicker Quinn Nordin, the one-time Penn State commit, was booed lustily when he lined up for the extra point. He then proceeded to push his kick wide right.

• After Michigan cut the gap to 14-13 on Isaac’s touchdown run with 1:45 left in the half, McSorley whisked the Lions 75 yards in seven plays, a drive that consumed just 52 seconds. McSorley hit three of four passes, including a 36-yarder to DaeSean Hamilton and a 17-yarder to Gesicki on third down. The latter gave PSU a first-and-goal at the 3, and McSorley ran it in from there, with just 53 seconds left in the half.

• McSorley also scored on runs of 13 yards in the third quarter and nine yards in the fourth.

• Barkley, who had a rare drop of a pass in the first half, made a juggling grab of a McSorley throw for his fourth-quarter TD. In the course of the game, he became the first Penn State player with over 3,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, and the fourth in Big Ten history.

• McSorley and Hamilton clicked all night. The senior wide receiver finished with six receptions for 115 yards.

• Middle linebacker Jason Cabinda led the defense with 13 tackles and was credited with one of the Lions’ seven sacks.

No 2. Penn State vs. No. 19 Michigan: Defensive struggle with huge stakes

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No 2. Penn State vs. No. 19 Michigan: Defensive struggle with huge stakes

No. 2 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 19 Michigan (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
Beaver Stadium, State College
Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC

Scouting Penn State
The second-ranked Nittany Lions were idle last week, after beating Northwestern, 31-7, on Oct. 7, as Trace McSorley went 25 for 34 for 245 yards and two touchdowns. McSorley, taking advantage of a defense stacked in an attempt to limit the effectiveness of star running back Saquon Barkley, completed a school-record 15 straight passes in one stretch. Barkley, while held to 75 yards on the ground, did break off a 53-yard touchdown run, one of two scores he had in the game. He leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game (217.0). The Lions, who are also atop the nation in scoring defense (9.0), are led on that side of the ball by linebacker Jason Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen with 40 and 35 tackles, respectively. Fourteen players have had a hand in a sack, and 26 have been part of a tackle for loss.

Scouting Michigan
The No. 19 Wolverines beat Indiana 27-20 in overtime last week, on a 25-yard run by Karan Higdon. Higdon finished with 25 carries for 200 yards and three TDs, all career highs, and to date has rushed for 401 yards (5.7 a carry). Quarterback John O’Korn, who has taken over for the injured Wilton Speight, was just 10 for 20 for 58 yards against the Hoosiers. He has clicked on 54.9 percent of his throws, for 563 yards and a touchdown, and has been picked off four times. UM has allowed the fewest yards per game in the FBS this season (223.8), and while middle linebacker Devin Bush is fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (49) and second in sacks (5), the key to the Wolverines’ D is Maurice Hurst, an eyeblink-quick defensive tackle.

History
Michigan leads the all-time series 13-7 and has won the last three meetings. The Wolverines routed the Lions last year in Ann Arbor, 49-10, in the most one-sided game ever between the two teams. PSU has gone 15-1 since.

Storyline to watch
It’s pretty simple: In a game that has “defensive struggle” written all over it, which offense can gain traction? And which team can avoid a killer mistake? 

What’s at stake
A PSU victory sets up a showdown against No. 6 Ohio State next weekend in Columbus.

Prediction
Penn State 21, Michigan 13.