Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley, Penn State out to prove last year was no fluke

Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley, Penn State out to prove last year was no fluke

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.  -- Two years ago, James Franklin urged Penn State fans to be patient. He and his players believed a plan was in motion.

That patience wore thin through back-to-back 7-6 seasons, but paid off last season. After shaking off a slow start, the Nittany Lions won nine straight games, including a come-from-behind victory in the Big Ten championship game that put them within reach of a playoff berth.

"Last year's last year, and this year's this year," Franklin said. "We want to take all those experiences and maturity that we gained from last year and then continue growing and evolving."

That's been a theme since Franklin took over a program then reeling from NCAA sanctions and reduced scholarship numbers.

Back then, Franklin committed to playing handfuls of freshmen. Now, players who were vaunted recruits at the time have formed a core of grizzled veterans who are primed to take the next step.

But the Nittany Lions have more than just experience going for them.

Nine starters, including dynamic running back Saquon Barkley, return to an offense that was among the country's most explosive down the stretch. Six defensive starters are back to take cues from rising defensive coordinator Brent Pry and juniors and sophomores return who all have logged meaningful time or swapped starts during Franklin's tenure. Newly arriving freshmen are looking to earn a job right away, giving this camp a much more competitive feel than last season.

That's what Franklin wants.

"If you go into practice and you're screwing up, making mistakes, guys are going to pass you," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "It's no longer a point where you have the first team and then with the second team there's a drop off and then the third team after that is a bigger drop off. We have guys on the second and third teams that the coaches feel really good about playing."

Barkley's World
Everyone from coaches to teammates to Heisman Trophy prognosticators feel good about Barkley.

His 2,572 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns over the past two years have usually come via spectacular runs and he could turn similar numbers into the school's second Heisman win. Running back John Cappelletti won it in 1973.

"It's something that I can truly say, we're not really thinking about with each play," offensive tackle Andrew Nelson said. "The thing we do think about is the fact that if we can do our job every play, it's not if or when he's going to make a big play, it's he will make a big play."

Trace's Space
Quarterback Trace McSorley quickly emerged as a dangerous player last season, not only for an ability to extend plays or smart decision-making, but for his downfield throwing ability few teams were prepared for.

Expect more from McSorley in Year 2 of Joe Moorhead's no-huddle offense.

The usually reserved Moorhead grew offended at suggestions he heard in the offseason that McSorley's efforts were flukey. In fact, his system is much more nuanced than it might've looked when McSorley was picking on safeties over the top.

"A kid couldn't lead the league in multiple passing categories and set school single season records and be on the verge of multiple other school records if he was just throwing the ball indiscriminately down the field," Moorhead said.

Turning the Corner
The secondary lost its best cover cornerback when John Reid suffered a serious knee injury in the spring. Reid, who played more snaps than any Nittany Lion last season, was expected to lead a secondary that was returning mostly intact.

While Franklin hasn't ruled Reid out for the season, he doesn't seem close to returning. Reid took an internship for the summer and was still in Oregon fulfilling it when camp began.

Pry has options, however. Christian Campbell has started when others have been hurt and adds length opposite Grant Haley, one of the team's most experienced and cerebral players.

Line Games
This team is built to withstand injuries in bunches. It proved it last season when all three starting linebackers were out early and both starting offensive tackles were hurt late.

As a result, more offensive linemen like Connor McGovern got playing time and Penn State enters 2017 with a legit two-deep that could potentially be mixed and matched with potential for success.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions would benefit from a bonafide pass-rusher to emerge. Torrence Brown and Shareef Miller are the frontrunners, but have had to earn reps behind older players up until this year.

Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple

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Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Josh Reaves had his second career double-double, Shep Garner hit two 3-pointers in the final three minutes and Penn State overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Temple 63-57 on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Reaves shot 7 of 10 from the field, including a career-high tying four 3-pointers, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Tony Carr missed 10 consecutive field-goal attempts before scoring his first points of the game on a jumper that pulled Penn State within four with 6:20 to play. That sparked a 16-2 run to give the Nittany Lions a 62-54 lead with 16 seconds left.

Reaves and Garner hit back-to-back 3s to make it 54-all before John Harrar's layup with 1:52 remaining gave Penn State its first lead since 4-3. The Owls made just 1 of 9 from the field and committed three turnovers during the span.

Shizz Alston Jr. led Temple (17-16), which led for more than 35 minutes, with 15 points and Josh Brown added 14.

Carr and Garner -- who came in averaging 19.9 and 11.1 points per game, respectively -- combined to score 10 on 3-of-19 shooting for the Nittany Lions (22-13).

The Owls made just 5 of 14 free throws while Penn State hit 20 of 30.

It was the 93rd meeting between the schools, which are located less than 200 miles apart, but the first since 2011. The Nittany Lions snapped a seven-game skid in the series, dating to Dec. 9, 2000.

Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented

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Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented


NEW YORK — Purdue threw a little of everything at Penn State star Tony Carr, the Big Ten's leading scorer. Bigger guys. Smaller ones. Switches and some double teams.

Carr managed only 12 points in a woeful shooting game, and No. 8 Purdue separated from Penn State in the second half of a 78-70 victory Saturday that put the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Third-seeded Purdue (28-5) faces No. 5 Michigan, which will try to repeat as tournament champs on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Purdue frustrated Carr and held him to 4-of-18 shooting. The sophomore faced an array of defenders, including the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Nojel Eastern, 5-10 P.J. Thompson, 6-4 Dakota Mathias, 6-8 Vincent Edwards and 6-1 Carsen Edwards.

"When you have a good player like that it takes more than one guy because he's able to make shots and make plays over guys," Vincent Edwards said. "They just did a good job of taking up that space and being able to force him into tough shots."

Shep Garner led the Nittany Lions (21-12) with a career-high 33 points and the senior set a school record with 129 career points in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Boilermakers will be making their third appearance in the Big Ten championship since the tournament started in 1998. Their one championship came in 2009.

Against Penn State, Purdue used a 12-2 run the middle of the second half to build a 15-point lead. Carsen Edwards led the way, spinning through the lane for a driving layup and making a 3 from up top that made the score 59-44 with 9:15 left. He finished with 27 points and shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range after scoring 26 on Friday against Rutgers.

"It's a consistency," guard Dakota Mathias said of Edwards. "He's being very efficient, too."

Edwards made back-to-back 3s to make it 74-56 with 3:41 left and Purdue was on its way to play for a title.

Isaac Haas, the 7-2 center, added 17 points and seven rebounds for Purdue.

With Carr struggling, Penn State could not keep up. He picked up a third foul in the second half, a push off call that caused Penn State coach Pat Chambers to draw a technical.

"I think they were very physical," Chambers said. "Obviously that's why I felt like I needed to get T'd up, my first T in a long, long time."

Big Picture
Penn State: The Nittany Lions had a chance to work their way into the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid by beating Purdue, but now Penn State seems like a long shot at best. Chambers is still hopefully.

"Well, I'm an optimist," he said. "We have NCAA Tournament talent."

Purdue: The Boilermakers hit a rough patch losing three straight close games in early February to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but an argument can be made that they have been the Big Ten's most consistent team this season.

"We had an opportunity to win the Big Ten regular season. We kind of gave that away," said Thompson, one of four senior starters. "But we still had a goal of winning a Big Ten championship on our list before the season started and we put ourselves in position to be able to do that tomorrow."

Purdue does most everything well, except rebound. A night after giving up 17 offensive boards to Rutgers, the Boilermakers allowed 16 rebounds to Penn State.

Shep Shooter
Garner went 4 for 5 from 3-point range, including a four-point play, to carry Penn State in the first half. The Nittany Lions led much of the way, but Edwards made a 3 for Purdue with 2 seconds left in the half to send the Boilermakers to the break ahead 33-31.

Up Next
Penn State: An NIT bid is likely coming the Nittany Lions way, though the big question beyond March is whether Carr returns for another season or heads to the NBA draft.

Purdue: The Boilermakers swept the Wolverines in two games decided by a combined five points.

"Just a really skilled offensive team," Carsen Edwards said. "They have a lot of options. For us it's going to come down to defense and getting stops."