No. 4 Penn State-Indiana observations: Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley does it all

No. 4 Penn State-Indiana observations: Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley does it all

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Heisman Trophy hopeful Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and No. 4 Penn State built a 28-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 45-14 victory Saturday afternoon over Indiana.

DaeSean Hamilton also caught three touchdown passes, two from quarterback Trace McSorley and another from Barkley — as the Lions improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2008.

Hamilton had nine receptions in the game to raise his career total to 181, a school record. Deon Butler, who played at Penn State from 2005-08, held the previous mark (179).

McSorley went 23 for 36 for 315 yards and two TDs. He was sacked five times and intercepted once.

Barkley, who entered the game leading the FBS in all-purpose yards per game (253.3), finished with 205. He rushed for just 56 on 20 carries, but contributed 51 on four receptions, in addition to his kickoff return.

Indiana fell to 2-2.

• Backup cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields threw an early block on Barkley’s kickoff return, and Barkley then burst through the first wave of pursuit. At the 40, he juked kicker Griffin Oakes before outracing DeVonte Williams down the right sideline to complete the 98-yard play. It was Penn State’s first kickoff-return touchdown since Chaz Powell took one back 95 yards against Indiana State in 2011.

• The Lions recorded two special-teams touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2001. Besides Barkley’s return, safety Nick Scott scooped up a fumble by IU punt returner J-Shun Harris and took it 13 yards for a scorer. Backup wide receiver Irv Charles forced the fumble.

• In between those two TDs, Lions cornerback Christian Campbell pried the ball free from running back Morgan Ellison, with linebacker Jason Cabinda recovering at the IU 39. Two plays later, McSorley hit a wide-open Juwan Johnson for a gain of 24 on a crossing route, setting up a one-yard TD keeper by the quarterback with 11:41 left in the period.

• A roughing-the-punter penalty greatly aided PSU’s nine-play, 73-yard drive at the end of the quarter, as did Barkley’s one-handed catch of McSorley’s swing pass, followed by a 36-yard burst. McSorley later hit DaeSean Hamilton for an eight-yard TD, making it 28-0.

• The Lions’ promising start was followed by a flat second quarter, in which the Hoosiers outgained PSU 146-22 and scored twice, on Ricky Brookins’ three-yard run and Peyton Ramsey’s 18-yard pass to Simmie Cobbs, cutting the Lions’ lead to 28-14.

• PSU managed two first downs in that period, and McSorley threw his fourth interception of the season. The pick, by Jonathan Crawford, was the Hoosiers’ first of the season. They also recorded three of their four first-half sacks in the second quarter.

• Tyler Davis missed a 21-yard field goal early in the third quarter, and while he connected from 45 yards later in the period, missed a 42-yarder in the fourth. He is now 5 for 11 on the season. Beforehand he was 30 for 32, and both the misses were blocks.

• A flag was thrown after Hamilton caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from McSorley in the third quarter, as the receiver was jousting with IU cornerback Chase Dutra. The officials ruled that no foul occurred, however, and the score stood.

• Hamilton’s final TD came on a 16-yard option pass from Barkley with 4:13 remaining in the game.

• While Chasz Wright, the starting right tackle the first three games of the season, returned after missing last week’s victory at Iowa, Will Fries earned his first career start at that position. Fries had played most of the game against the Hawkeyes in relief of Andrew Nelson. Nelson, who has suffered injuries to both knees in his PSU career, did not dress against IU because of an undisclosed injury.

• Also returning for PSU was cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who sat out the two previous games with an undisclosed injury. He recorded a third-quarter interception and returned the ball 17 yards to the IU 21, only to see Davis miss his field goal.

• Tight end Mike Gesicki, a fixture on preseason All-America teams, also departed with what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the second quarter. He did not return.

• The Lions visit Northwestern (2-2) next week.

No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 19 Michigan: This time, Lions favored in 'whiteout' game

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No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 19 Michigan: This time, Lions favored in 'whiteout' game

This team is back. That team is back. The practice of proclaiming that a struggling traditional college football power has returned to elite status after a big win is fraught with false steps.

The truth is that a return to glory can rarely be narrowed down to a single game. But if there ever was a "they're back" moment in college football that turned out to be real, it was on Oct. 22, 2016, in State College, Pennsylvania.

That night, unranked Penn State — a month removed from getting demolished at Michigan and three weeks after an overtime escape against Minnesota that had Nittany Lions fans booing the home team — beat No. 2 Ohio State in a Beaver Stadium whiteout. For the first time under coach James Franklin, Happy Valley was euphoric about Penn State football.

The Nittany Lions have been one of the best teams in the country since.

One year after that victory, the Nittany Lions have another whiteout scheduled and another Big Ten power visiting for a nationally televised game. The difference is that it will be no upset if No. 2 Penn State (6-0) beats No. 19 Michigan (5-1) on Saturday night.

The Wolverines have one of the best defenses in the country, but a lethargic offense (86th in the nation). Penn State looks like a College Football Playoff team right now with a Heisman Trophy contender in running back Saquon Barkley, a top-25 offense (6.49 yards per play) and a top-five defense (4.01 ypp).

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called Penn State "a well-built team."

"They're really good everywhere," he said.

It's easy to point to last year's Ohio State game as a turning point for Penn State in the post-Joe Paterno era, but the humbling loss to Michigan was also notable. The Nittany Lions were banged up on defense and still working out the kinks of a new offense, but at that moment they looked light years from being able to consistently compete with the best in the country. They have not lost a regular-season game since.

All this talk of turning points does not resonate with Franklin, who just sees a long steady grind that continues to this day.

"Like I say with a lot of things, there's 25 slices in this pie," Franklin said. "The Michigan loss last year was a factor. Development was a factor. Players taking responsibility and accountability was a factor. The coaches building relationships and chemistry with the players was a factor. I don't make it as simplistic as a lot of people want it to be."

Things to know about 21st meeting between Penn State and Michigan, but the first since 2002 in which both teams are ranked:

Brown delivers
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown and Franklin worked together at Maryland under coach Ralph Friedgen in 2009 and '10.

"I would describe Don as a greedy defensive coordinator," said Franklin, who was offensive coordinator. "What I mean by that is, most defensive coordinators are going to try to take something away, but when they take something away, they're giving you something.

"Don doesn't believe in that. Don is going to overload the box. A lot of guys are going to be on the line of scrimmage in blitz demeanor. The defensive backs are going to be pressed pretty much across the board. They're going to try to take your run game away. They're going to take all the easy throws away."

Heisman watch
Barkley's Heisman campaign slowed a bit the last couple weeks as he was held to a 121 yards rushing and 60 receiving. Still, he is without question the focus of Michigan's defense.

"He runs with great balance," Michigan linebacker Devin Bush said told reporters this week. "He can make those cuts. He can hit those small holes."

Penn State's offensive line has had issues keeping defenders out of the backfield and giving Barkley a chance to get rolling. The Nittany Lions rank 122nd in the nation in tackles for loss allowed at 8.33 per game.

"We just have to be more physical up front and sustain our blocks," center Connor McGovern said.

Sluggish Wolverines
Michigan's team passer efficiency rating is 114.41, better than only Illinois and Rutgers in the Big Ten. John O'Korn (one touchdown pass, four interceptions) is expected to start again at quarterback.

Gameday
For the first time since 2009, ESPN's "College GameDay" pregame show will broadcast from State College. Beaver Stadium holds almost 107,000 people and when almost all of them are wearing white it can be one of the most hypnotic sights in college football. Penn State only holds whiteouts for big games. The Nittany Lions are 6-7 in those games.

Maturing Trace McSorley effective with short, quick passes

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Maturing Trace McSorley effective with short, quick passes

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — To take the next step in his evolution, Trace McSorley first had to go backward.

Penn State's quarterback went back in the offseason and reviewed enough film and saw enough open receivers who never had a shot to catch one of his passes. There, sitting in front of a computer screen, was the first time McSorley had looked their way.

"Where I was at this point last year, and even toward the end of the year, it felt like I was kind of predetermining things," McSorley said. "Now I feel like I'm doing a better job of going through my progressions and finding that open guy, getting to that third guy in the progression if the first two aren't there."

McSorley might've earned a national reputation for airing out deep balls down the stretch last season, but he's finding that managing a game by taking what defenses give works just as well.

It's also a much more dependable strategy for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

"That's what this offense was designed to do," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "You may not see the 70-yard touchdowns that we've had in the past, but that's because defenses aren't allowing us to do that."

After finishing fifth among FBS quarterbacks with 65 completions of 20 or more yards last year, McSorley is on pace for 52 so far. While he's not throwing deep as much, McSorley is using just about every other inch of the field in front of the first-down marker.

That quick passing game has come in handy.

Penn State's rushing attack, which is averaging 1.8 yards per carry on 75 attempts over the last two games, struggled badly against Northwestern. Save for a 53-yard touchdown run from Barkley, the Nittany Lions managed just 42 yards on 38 other carries. McSorley made up the difference by completing 16 of 20 passes that traveled less than 9 yards in the air for short gains to get drives started or keep them going.

"I think he's pretty much better in every metric possible," Penn State coach James Franklin said.

That includes his completion percentage — up nine percentage points to 67 percent — with more yards (1,597), touchdowns (13), attempts (194) and completions (130) than at this time last year. But the area McSorley takes the most pride in is his increased understanding of how defenses open up as plays develop. With it, McSorley's been able to make the most of plays by making good use of his time in the pocket.

Take a third-and-14 from midfield against the Wildcats for example. McSorley had time and his eyes scanned from left to right. He saw Juwan Johnson on an outside comeback, covered. Tight end Mike Gesicki was shadowed on a shallow crossing route. His third option, DaeSean Hamilton, ran a deeper cross and finally found a seam for McSorley to thread for a first down.

"I think Trace has gotten a lot more comfortable just being a quarterback," Gesicki said. "Any time you're in a system for another year, and you're with the same coach, not really switching up anything, you're always going to be more comfortable, more able to go through progressions or read defenses quicker."

As his quarterback has expanded his capacity, Moorhead has found more ways to get quick, shifty receivers the ball so they can gains yards after the catch in space. Those plays — simple, short, confidence-building throws to the flats or on outside routes — could be tougher to complete against No. 19 Michigan's top overall defense on Saturday.

The Wolverines like to play man-to-man coverage and the Nittany Lions are expecting a physical battle from a secondary that's giving up just 138 yards per game.

"They're going to take all the easy throws away," Franklin said. "It's going to be press coverage, man coverage. Our guys are going to have to create space with the routes, and they're going to have to make contested catches."