In 'most complete game' of James Franklin era, Penn State sends message to Big Ten

In 'most complete game' of James Franklin era, Penn State sends message to Big Ten


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Recent happenings in the Penn State-Akron series (such as it is) have offered a before-and-after worthy of the cheesiest late-night infomercial.

Before: The teams’ 2014 meeting, in James Franklin’s first home game as head coach. PSU led just 7-3 midway through the third quarter and went on to win, albeit unimpressively, 21-3.

After: Saturday’s 52-0 wipeout on the part of the Lions (see observations).

The first game representing the extended low tide of PSU’s program, beset as it was by NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. The second representing the tidal wave the team is now riding.

No, we cannot trust many of the stats compiled by the sixth-ranked Lions on Saturday. Yes, it is dangerous to read too much into a game against an overmatched non-conference opponent. 

At the same time, look where PSU was three years ago, and look where it is now. The team is clearly light years beyond that milepost, clearly a contender to repeat as Big Ten champions, clearly a team on the rise.

“I would definitely say they’re up there,” Zips safety Zach Guiser said.

He faced Oklahoma and Wisconsin earlier in his career, and he called them “entirely different football teams” from Penn State.

“Oklahoma tried to beat us with a fast pace,” he said, “Wisconsin tried to run the ball down our throat and Penn State tried to do a little bit of everything, so they’re very different in what they do. But those three are definitely the best we’ve seen so far.”

On Saturday, the Lions unleashed Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, as is their wont. Barkley rushed 14 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 54 yards. McSorley threw for two TDs and ran for another.

DeAndre Thompkins also returned a punt 61 yards for a score, PSU’s first punt-return TD since Derrick Williams took one 63 yards against Wisconsin in 2008, and the defense produced 14 tackles for loss, three sacks and a turnover.

Coach James Franklin, as a result, called it “probably the most complete game” his team has played since he and his staff arrived in January 2014. 

Seems like a bit of a reach, given the opponent. But again, consider the timeline of the team’s progress, and where the Lions now hope to go.

“I mentioned this before, but last season we kind of (were) that second-half football team,” senior guard Brendan Mahon said. “Today really showed that we put up points in the first half and we played this entire game through and through. It’s something to watch throughout this season.”

Mahon, who missed a sizable chunk of last season with an undisclosed injury, started at right guard, after opening games at both tackle spots and the other guard position in previous years. Earlier this week, Franklin talked about Mahon’s “heavy hands” — “When he hits you,” he said, “it’s like getting hit with two cinder blocks” — and Mahon is only too happy to use them to his best advantage.

“I think we kind of had that physical persona (on Saturday) — the hard-nosed football that Penn State used to be,” he said. “I think we brought that back today and kind of got the ball rolling for this entire season.”

Barkley doesn’t need much help, but in the second quarter, he broke off a run he thought was an 87-yard touchdown, only to learn he stepped out at the 7. Left tackle Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood) and left tackle Steven Gonzalez paved the way by sealing off their men, and right tackle Chasz Wright — all 6-foot-7 and 366 pounds of him — pulled and obliterated a defender.

“It was literally like how you’d draw it up on paper,” Barkley said.

McSorley ran it in from the 3 two plays later, making it 21-0. And the avalanche continued from there.

Thompkins had, for his part, opened the scoring with his lightning bolt, breaking the school’s long punt-return drought.

“My freshman year I had a big return against Buffalo,” he said, “and throughout the whole program from then to today, that’s always something that’s been talked about: ‘Who’s going to break it? Who’s going to break it?’”

The defense is seeking to break out in its own right, and up front at least, they will do so by committee.

End Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley), who played more than usual when starter Shareef Miller (George Washington) was idled after the first series by an apparent leg injury, had a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Two other linemen, Tyrell Chavis and Torrence Brown, shared a sack, and Chavis led the team with three TFLs.

It didn’t end there. Linebackers Manny Bowen and Cam Brown seemed particularly active, more active than their stat lines — Bown was credited with five tackles, Brown four — might indicate. And cornerback Amani Oruwariye contributed an interception. 

Afterward, Buchholz, a redshirt sophomore, allowed that this might be the swiftest defense of which he has been a part.

“Sometimes today the play went away from me,” he said, “and I’d look and you would see Manny come in or Cam come in and take them down right away. I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Again, context is needed. The Lions were supposed to win handily, and they did.

In their minds, it sure beats the alternative. And it just as surely beats where they were three years ago.

Penn State commit arrested for armed robbery of Wawa

AP Images

Penn State commit arrested for armed robbery of Wawa

This post appeared on College Football Talk on Saturday

Or will that be former Penn State recruit?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Isheem Young was one of three individuals arrested Friday in connection with the armed robbery of a Wawa convenience store in South Philadelphia this past summer. One of the two alleged accomplices is Young’s brother, the manager of the store that was robbed, while the other an unnamed getaway driver.

The Inquirer reports that the 18-year-old Young is facing charges of robbery, conspiracy, firearms violations and related offenses. He is currently being held in lieu of a $150,000 bond.

It’s alleged that Young and his partners in crime made off with $13,600 in cash from the store’s safe. A police report stated that Young entered the store armed with a black revolver and committed the robbery.

Young committed to play his college football at Penn State in mid-July; two weeks later is when he allegedly committed the crime. He was 17 years old when the incident happened.

A four-star 2018 recruit, he’s rated as the No. 12 safety in the country, the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania and the No. 151 player overall on‘s composite board.

The new early-signing period for college football, incidentally, kicks off in less than three weeks.

Penn State can't get by Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin

USA Today Images

Penn State can't get by Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The last 48 hours weren't easy for the Wisconsin Badgers who had all day Sunday plus a long flight into Happy Valley on Monday to stew over their worst home loss in nearly a decade.

Penn State nearly extended that misery, but a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Tony Carr bounced off the rim with two seconds to play and the Badgers held on for a 64-63 win.

"It's nice to see a bounce back and look like a Wisconsin team should look," Badgers coach Greg Gard said.

Khalil Iverson scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Nate Reuvers added 11 points and Ethan Happ grabbed 10 rebounds for the Badgers (4-5, 1-1 Big Ten), who snapped a two-game losing streak.

Mike Watkins scored a career-high 22 points for the Nittany Lions (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) who battled back from a 17-point deficit with 9:40 to play. Carr added 16 points and Shep Garner made 13 for the Nittany Lions who were trying for their first 2-0 start in conference play since 2007.

Penn State played its third game, and first at home, in six days and struggled to shoot the ball for most of the night. The Nittany Lions made just 9 of 26 field goals in the first half, trailed 31-25 at halftime and were just 3-for-21 over the final 1:50 of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second.

"We dug a little deeper because we looked very sluggish in the first half," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.

The Badgers led 51-36 with 9:40 to play, but Garner drained back-to-back jumpers shortly thereafter to spark a 21-9 run that cut Wisconsin's lead to 60-57 with 1:53 left.

A pair of Garner free throws with less than a minute to play made it a one-point game before the teams traded free throws over the final 43 seconds. D'Mitrik Trice closed it out at the line on 4-of-4 shooting for the Badgers.

"I knew we'd have to be really dialed-in and gritty and persevere," Gard said. "I expected the whole game to be like the last four minutes and fortunately we were able to make enough plays and get enough stops to hang on."

Built Ford tough
Carr got his shot after forward Aleem Ford bounced the game's final free throw off the rim on the other end of the floor. He didn't get another chance thanks in part to Ford's hustle to get back on defense.

When Carr's shot rang off the rim, it took a bounce toward a Penn State player in the corner. Ford grabbed hold of the ball to force a jump ball and prevent the Nittany Lions from getting any kind of chance.

Ford's late recovery came in the absence of usual post presences Happ and Davison, who both had fouled out.

"He really hustled for that loose ball," Gard said. "There were a lot of winning plays, so to speak that were made. "We need to make better decisions down the stretch so that it doesn't get to that point."

Trusting Carr
Chambers had no issue with Carr, who was just 5-for-22 from the field, pulling up for the final 3-pointer even though Penn State's crafty point guard might've had room toward the hoop.

The clock was ticking and Chambers trusts his leading scorer who entered the game with 20.6 points per game, 39 assists and 19-for-32 from 3-point range.

"Whatever Tony thought," Chambers said. "I'm not in his vision. I'm on the sideline. I don't know what he saw but he's a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions. So I'm going to trust that decision."

Tough stats to swallow
Wisconsin's bench chipped in 25 points to Penn State's one.

Meanwhile, of Penn State's 29 misses, 11 were layups that didn't fall.

The big picture
Wisconsin: The Badgers are the only team to have played four ranked opponents so far and were tied or within a basket with two minutes left in three of those games. They looked better than their record inside the Bryce Jordan Center, matching Penn State's physical play throughout and frustrating Penn State's shooters all night.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions continue to play solid defense, but those stingy efforts will be for nothing if Penn State's shooters continue to miss like they did early and midway through against the Badgers. Penn State finished 26 for 50 from the floor.

Up next
Wisconsin concludes a three-day trip through the Keystone State at Temple (4-2) on Wednesday.

Penn State hosts George Washington (4-4) on Saturday.