No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State: Just about everything at stake

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State: Just about everything at stake

No. 2 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) at No. 6 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten)
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Scouting Penn State
The second-ranked Nittany Lions drilled No. 19 Michigan, 42-13, as Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley scored three touchdowns apiece. Barkley, a Heisman candidate, became the first Nittany Lion and fourth Big Ten player with 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his career, but the first Big Ten player to amass such totals in just his third season. Barkley, who had 176 all-purpose yards against the Wolverines, leads the FBS in that department at 211.1 per game. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, and middle linebacker Jason Cabinda earned the defensive distinction for his 13-tackle performance. PSU’s defense is allowing an FBS-best 9.6 points per game, and leads the Big Ten with 24 sacks.

Scouting Ohio State
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes, idle last week, have won five in a row since a Sept. 9 loss to Oklahoma, and have notched 54 points or more in the last four games. OSU is second in the FBS in scoring offense (47.3) and third in total offense (577.3). Quarterback J.T. Barrett leads the Big Ten in total offense (313.9) and passing efficiency, having clicked on 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,838 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just once. Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 775 yards (7.8 per carry), the conference’s second-highest total. The top receivers are K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell, with 28 catches apiece. OSU is allowing just 109.6 yards on the ground but has been somewhat forgiving through the air, surrendering 195.7 yards a game.

History
Ohio State leads the all-time series, 18-14, but Penn State ended a four-game losing streak to the Buckeyes last October, beating them, 24-21, on a blocked field-goal return late in the game.

Storyline to watch
The Lions were off the week before facing the Buckeyes in 2016, while OSU had a tough game against Wisconsin. Coincidence or not, Ohio State wilted in the fourth quarter against PSU. This year, it is the Buckeyes who are coming off their bye, while the Lions had that game against Michigan. PSU coach James Franklin said Tuesday it is an apples-and-oranges comparison, since last week’s game was one-sided and he was able to rest guys. But we shall see.

What's at stake
Only, like, everything — leadership in the Big Ten East, prime positioning for the conference championship game and the College Football Playoff, etc.

Prediction
Coin-flip game, but let’s ride the home field/bye/revenge angle.

Ohio State 28, Penn State 24

Hunt for clues about Saquon Barkley's future at Penn State is on

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USA Today Images

Hunt for clues about Saquon Barkley's future at Penn State is on

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For months now, everyone has been seeking clues as to what Saquon Barkley’s intentions beyond this season might be, and the detective work continued Saturday.

Is Penn State’s prized junior running back headed to the NFL after this season? Is he even going to play in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game?

The latter question was answered in the affirmative after Barkley generated 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in PSU’s 56-44 defeat of Nebraska: He’s a go for whatever bowl the No. 10 Lions, now 9-2, find themselves in.

Still TBA beyond that. While coach James Franklin advised Barkley before the season as to what he should do, Franklin wouldn’t divulge the particulars of that conversation. (You’re shocked, I’m sure.) And Barkley said he still wants to talk to his family before he decides whether or not to declare for next spring’s draft.

So we wait. And we hunt for clues.

Like when Franklin said he was “blessed to have coached” Barkley — past tense — what did that mean?

Uh, nothing, Franklin said though he did launch into a monologue about advising Barkley and advising players in general.

“What I try to do for all of my players is give them advice that I would give my son,” he said. “If I feel like they should come back to school to finish their degree and have the opportunity to go on and get one more season of development, and then go to the NFL, I tell them that. If I think they should leave early, then I tell them that as well.”

It’s quite simple, in his mind.

“If IBM came to our computer engineering department and offered a junior a $12 million contract, they’d be gone,” Franklin said. “So I give these guys information all the time based on the entire picture -- what their future is like, where they’re at academically.”

Which sounded like a hint as to what he might have told Barkley, all those months ago. But again, who knows?

What we do know is that Barkley is a likely top-five pick. And while he has performed unevenly this season through no fault of his own (i.e., the offensive line has been surprisingly poor), he scored on a 65-yard run three plays into Saturday’s game, went over 100 yards for the game (and 1,000 for the season) when he broke off a 30-yard run on the final play of the first quarter and finished the half with 142 yards and three TDs.

The Lions were up 42-10 at that point. Barkley's final totals were 17 carries for 158 yards and three TDs, and six catches for 66 yards. He became just the second player in program history to surpass 1,000 in three straight seasons — Evan Royster was the other — and overtook Lydell Mitchell for most career rushing TDs; Barkley now has 39.

And that's all with two games remaining this season.

Yes, definitely two — at Maryland in next week’s regular-season finale, and then the bowl, wherever that may be.

Again, there were clues as far back as May that Barkley might follow in the footsteps of two other NFL-bound running backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who skipped bowl games last year to prepare for the draft. Fournette was taken fourth overall by Jacksonville and McCaffery was taken eighth overall by Carolina

In a Sports Illustrated profile by Pete Thamel, Barkley was quoted as saying the following: “I would have a hard time doing it (i.e., skipping a bowl), but I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body, and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”

But he said Saturday he definitely plans to play, barring the unforeseen.

“I understand why some other players have not played in a bowl game,” he said. “I’m different from Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. … Our situations are different.”

Barkley admitted that he did get “a little emotional” Saturday, not so much because it was his final home game but because it was the last time he would be playing alongside the seniors in Beaver Stadium — “no matter what happens.”

No clues there, then. His play, however, would appear to offer the biggest clue of all and leaves little reason for doubt.

Why, at this point, should the sporting equivalent of IBM have to wait any longer?

No. 10 Penn State coasts to win over Nebraska

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No. 10 Penn State coasts to win over Nebraska

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Saquon Barkley collected 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns as No. 10 Penn State battered Nebraska, 56-44, Saturday afternoon in its final home game of the season.

Barkley, slowed in recent weeks after a strong start to the season, rushed 17 times for 158 yards and three scores, and caught six passes for 66 yards, helping the Lions improve to 9-2.

PSU, which closes out the regular season next week at Maryland, generated its most points since it put up 63 against Illinois in 2005.

Trace McSorley clicked on 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards and three scores, two to tight end Mike Gesicki. McSorley also rushed nine times for 46 yards and a TD.

Barkley, who rushed 14 times for 142 yards and three scores in the first half, surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground for the third straight season, just the second player in school history to do that.

He also broke PSU’s all-time record for rushing touchdowns. He now has 39, one more than Lydell Mitchell, the previous record-holder.

McSorley went 18-of-28 for 259 yards and two TDs in the first half when the Lions built a 42-10 lead.

Nebraska fell to 4-7.

• Barkley had managed just 142 yards on 49 carries in his three previous games, but he broke off a 65-yard touchdown run 57 seconds into the game, and by the end of the first quarter had piled up 111 yards on the ground. On a related note, Nebraska entered the game last in the Big Ten in rushing defense (200.1 yards per game).

• The first touchdown came on a run to the left, and the Nittany Lions had repeated success running in that direction behind guard Steven Gonzalez and tackle Will Fries.

• Nebraska took advantage of two Penn State special-teams breakdowns to take a 10-7 lead later in the first quarter. A short punt by the Huskers’ Caleb Lightbourn bounced off the Lions’ Zech McPhearson and was recovered by Marquel Dismuke, setting up Drew Brown’s 28-yard field goal. Then, with PSU backed up at its own 18, Blake Gillikin’s 18-yard punt gave Nebraska the ball at the Penn State 36. Tanner Lee’s completions of 17 yards to JD Spielman and 18 yards to Stanley Morgan Jr. set up a one-yard TD run by Devine Ozigbo.

• The Nittany Lions answered with touchdowns on their next five possessions, all of them on drives that consumed at least 65 yards, to take command. First McSorley’s 43-yard pass to Juwan Johnson led to Barkley’s 1-yard plunge, putting PSU ahead to stay at 14-10. Then Barkley jumpstarted an eight-play, 85-yard march with a 30-yard run — a drive that also included McSorley’s 22-yard pass to Saeed Blacknall on 3rd-and-10 — and McSorley ended it with a nine-yard run. McSorley later threw TD passes to Gesicki and DeAndre Thompkins covering 9 and 15 yards, respectively, and Barkley powered eight yards to the end zone.

• The Lions, whose point total was their highest in a first half since they put up 56 at Illinois in 2005, owned a 439-77 yardage advantage at that point.

• Nebraska cut the gap to 42-24 with two third-quarter touchdowns, on a 24-yard run by Mikale Wilbon and Lee’s 22-yard pass to De’Mornay Pierson-El, but McSorley found Gesicki for a 17-yard TD just over a minute into the fourth quarter, and backup quarterback Tommy Stevens later hit Nick Bowers for a 15-yard score.

• The Huskers added three TDs in the final 6:32, on Lee's eight-yard pass to Morgan, Wilbon's one-yard run and Lee's three-yard pass to Jack Stoll. The latter came on the game's final play. 

• Lee, who threw for 399 yards, started despite suffering a head injury in last week’s loss to Minnesota, which resulted in his placement in the concussion protocol.

• Gesicki finished with four catches for 47 yards and two scores. His 1,376 career receiving yards are an all-time record for a PSU tight end, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,343, set by Ted Kwalick (1966-68). Gesicki's 13 career TDs are also a record for someone at his position. 

• Juwan Johnson had five catches for 105 yards, the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.

• Penn State was again without offensive tackle Ryan Bates and defensive end Ryan Buchholz, each of whom missed their third straight game with a leg injury. Both were injured in the Oct. 28 loss at Ohio State. The Lions were also without linebacker Manny Bowen for the second straight week. He violated a team rule, according to coach James Franklin.

• The announced attendance was 106,722, despite intermittent showers.