Saquon Barkley far from No. 3 Penn State's only weapon in win over Northwestern

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Saquon Barkley far from No. 3 Penn State's only weapon in win over Northwestern

BOX SCORE

EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern did all it could to keep Saquon Barkley from dominating the stat sheet Saturday afternoon, but it hardly fazed Barkley’s teammates.

Penn State’s stingy defense nearly posted another shutout and quarterback Trace McSorley made the most of the extra attention Barkley got by throwing for 250 yards and a touchdown to keep the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions perfect with a 31-7 victory (see observations).

The running back and Heisman Trophy candidate clearly is a huge part of Penn State’s attack, but the Lions spent most of the afternoon showing he’s hardly the only part.

The national leaders in scoring defense (9.0 points per game) held the Wildcats scoreless until the game was far out of reach and sent Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) into a three-week stretch that could decide whether it’ll get a chance to defend its conference title.

After the coming bye week, the Lions welcome Michigan to Happy Valley, then visit Ohio State a week later. 

Coach James Franklin wouldn’t take questions about Michigan but seemed pleased with his team’s performance as it gets ready for its biggest game of the season.

“Can’t give our defense enough credit,” Franklin said after the unit had three takeaways and four sacks.

Cornerback Armani Oruwariye set the tone with an early interception that stymied a long Northwestern drive and defensive end Shaka Toney (two sacks) forced a fumble that ended another Wildcats possession. The hosts never threatened again until the game was well in hand.

“We have a standard,” Oruwariye said. “In the second half, I don’t know how many three-and-outs we had (five), but it was a lot.

“For them to even get a first down, we were pissed off, so we came back and responded.”

Penn State started the day 13th nationally in total defense, 13 spots behind No. 7 Michigan. Safe to say the matchup could be a draw on that side of the ledger.

McSorley showed, however, that stopping Barkley won’t be enough if teams hope to upend the Lions.

He set a new school record with 15 straight completions spanning the first three quarters (one better than Kerry Collins in 1994) and passed the Lions out of trouble several times after Barkley was bottled up by a Northwestern defense clearly keying on the running back.

“Our receivers were doing a great job getting open against the zone,” he said. “We felt really good with our preparation this week. At that point, it was just about executing.”

McSorley, who threw for 245 yards in a 25-for-34 afternoon, also ran 12 times when holes opened up. 

Barkley was a blocker almost as much as he was a ball carrier early in the game but still showed some electricity when he found a hole and darted untouched for a 53-yard third-quarter touchdown that turned the game into a rout.

“We’re definitely a lot more balanced. We’re not having those games where we’re throwing for 300 and running for 40 or rushing for 250 and throwing for 75. We had games last year like that,” McSorley said.

“It helps everyone get into the flow of the game better because as an offense we feel like we can be more successful.”

Barkley finished the day with 75 net yards on 16 carries and caught a pair of passes for nine yards. He had 200 or more all-purpose yards in four of Penn State’s first five games.

“The thing that’s great is we have enough weapons,” Franklin said. “We’re going to have to throw the ball. We’re in a situation where it’s almost like you’ve got to pick your poison.

“I get it. People are going to try everything they possibly can to not allow Saquon Barkley to beat you, but it creates a lot of opportunities for other guys.”

And that might be the most encouraging factor as the Nittany Lions prepare for the Wolverines. The best offense probably wins that game and Penn State seems intent on proving its offense is much more than just Barkley.

Michigan has won three straight over the Lions, including last season’s 49-10 blowout that left the only blemish on Penn State’s Big Ten record.

Another bit of positive news for the offense: Tight end Mike Gisicki, who left last week’s win over Indiana with an injury, was back on the field and had a pair of catches against Northwestern. Franklin said he expects the senior to be ready for Michigan.

No Penn State players appeared to suffer injuries during Saturday's game.

Penn State stays put in College Football Playoff rankings

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Penn State stays put in College Football Playoff rankings

Penn State's College Football Playoff chances remained the same Tuesday night.

The Nittany Lions are still a long shot.

James Franklin's team stayed put at No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings despite beating Nebraska last Saturday, 56-44, in its home finale.

The Nittany Lions close out the regular season this Saturday at Maryland.

Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) missed out on the Dec. 2 Big Ten title game after losing back-to-back contests to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have since won two straight and seem destined for a New Year's Six bowl with the College Football Playoff almost entirely out of reach.

Speaking of such, Miami made a small but potentially significant move up to No. 2 behind Alabama in the CFP rankings, with Clemson slipping one spot to three and Oklahoma holding at four.

Wisconsin and Auburn remained next up behind the top four in a week when the top half of the selection committee's rankings were mostly unchanged.

Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Southern California followed in the same order as they did last week. Over the next two weeks, every team in the top nine will play another team ranked in the committee's top 25, including four games matching top playoff contenders.

The Crimson Tide will play at Auburn on Saturday to decide a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 2. The winner plays Georgia.

The Atlantic Coast Conference championship will match Clemson and Miami on Dec. 2, and Wisconsin and Ohio State play in the Big Ten championship.

Miami's move comes after rallying to beat Virginia last Saturday. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said Miami is showing characteristics of a championship team.

"When you get down the way Miami did to Virginia two times, once in each half, and you have the poise and the ability to come back and win in a convincing manner, that is special," said Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director.

The Hurricanes (10-0) play at Pitt Friday and now seem better positioned to get into the playoff even with a loss to Clemson, depending on how things play out in other conferences.

Central Florida came in at No. 15 and Memphis is 20th, the highest ranked teams from outside the Power Five. The American Athletic Conference rivals could meet in the league title game in two weeks if UCF beats USF on Black Friday, setting up a game that would likely send the winner into a New Year's Six bowl.

How does this play out?
On championship Saturday, the selection committee gathers at the Dallas-area resort hotel where it holds its weekly meeting to watch games together. When the games are done, Hocutt and his crew of 12 experts dig into the results and put together their final, and only truly meaningful, top 25.

Will it be a late night at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine or will the committee members be able to uncork a bottle of wine during the second half of the ACC title game? A lot depends on Alabama.

The Crimson Tide could essentially eliminate two other playoff contenders in Auburn and Georgia. The Tigers have no shot if they don't win the Iron Bowl and the SEC title. Georgia at 11-2 with a loss in the conference title game could still have a flicker of hope to be the second SEC team in the playoff, but would need a lot of help.

At 13-0, the Crimson Tide would be seeded No. 1 and heading to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Easy.

If Alabama loses the Iron Bowl or wins that and loses the SEC championship game, it means the committee will likely be ordering up a couple extra pots of coffee instead of a nice pinot noir.

The SEC champion is pretty much a lock to get in. But what to do with Alabama at 11-1 or 12-1? The Crimson Tide has been the most dominant team all season, rarely challenged on the field. Nick Saban's Tide, loaded with five-star recruits and future high draft picks, will always pass the eye test. Alabama's best wins now are against LSU and Mississippi State, both 8-3.

Alabama is the only team to make the playoff all three seasons. Is the committee prepared to leave the Tide out?

The next team that can help clear things up for the committee is Wisconsin.

The committee is not thrilled with the Badgers' schedule, but Wisconsin can get a marquee victory in the Big Ten title game — as long as Ohio State takes care of Michigan on Saturday. At 13-0 and with a conference championship, the committee can replace the ACC championship loser with Wisconsin in the top four.

Wisconsin can also eliminate Ohio State and its 31-point loss to Iowa. A Wisconsin loss to Ohio State — or Oklahoma losing to TCU in the Big 12 title game — opens to the door to consideration of two-loss teams that could bring Notre Dame and USC back into the discussion.

The committee could be weighing two-loss conference champions against one-loss teams with no titles. Last year Ohio State was the latter and got in on the strength of three victories against top-10 teams. No contender can match that without winning its conference this season, which could make the decision much tougher this time.

Penn State falls for 1st time this season to No. 16 Texas A&M

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Penn State falls for 1st time this season to No. 16 Texas A&M

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NEW YORK -- Without prompting, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy and Robert Williams and Duane Wilson took turns speaking about the long term aspirations for the Aggies.

The words they used were `'special" and "March."

No false modesty here. The 16th-ranked Aggies know they're good and have set their sights on the NCAA Tournament, facts that they unequivocally reiterated after a 98-87 victory over Penn State in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.

"It shows we're capable of doing something special," Kennedy said.

Indeed.

All it takes is a brief glance at the final stat sheet to support his argument. Five Aggies finished in double figures. Williams finished with 21 points and nine rebounds. Wilson led the Aggies (4-0) with 22 points while Tyler Davis chipped in 15, Admon Gilder had 14 and Tonny Torcha-Morelos finished with 11.

"We're deep. We're talented. We can make special plays," said Kennedy, who later added, "We have a deep team. We have a lot of guys.

"We have a lot of weapons."

A fact which wasn't lost on Penn State coach Pat Chambers.

Despite getting a career-high 31 points from Tony Carr, Penn State (5-1) lost its first game of the season. Lamar Stevens added 25 points for Penn State.

"Our halfcourt defense, specifically our ball screen defense has to be better," said Chambers, who jabbed the table with his fingers for emphasis. "If you told me (DJ Hogg) was only going to have seven (points) and we scored 87, I'd (have) thought we'd be sitting here with a win."

The Aggies took a 42-40 lead into halftime due to Williams' two-hand follow jam with 4 seconds left in the half. Seven of the eight players who got into the game in the first half for Texas A&M scored, led by Williams' 12.

And the Aggies needed every point, as Carr was a one-man offensive onslaught for the Nittany Lions. Carr had 21 points in the opening half on 7-of-8 shooting including 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He made 5 of 6 free throws.

Texas A&M took a 63-51 lead on Wilson's scoop layup 6:41 into the second half. Wilson's layup was the culmination of a stretch in which the Aggies outscored the Nittany Lions 21-11.

Following Wilson's layup, Chambers called time out. DJ Hogg hit a 3 for the Aggies, Gilder made two free throws and Williams finished a 2-on-1 break with a two-handed jam off an alley-oop pass which pushed the lead to 70-53.

"Give Texas A&M credit. They jumped us," Chambers said. "They got to a big lead."

Penn State used an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 70-61.

After a layup by Gilder pushed the lead to 72-61, the Nittany Lions scored the next five points on a layup by Carr and three free throws from Stevens. That was as close as they would get.

"Keep your composure at the end," Williams said. "Don't lose it."

Williams was named tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Wilson, Carr, Stevens and Oklahoma State's Jeffrey Carroll.

Big picture
Penn State: The positive for Penn State is that Carr and Stevens combined for 56 points. The negative? The rest of the Nittany Lions totaled 31.

Texas A&M: The defensively stout Aggies were able to flex their offensive muscle against Penn State. Texas A&M made 33 of 54 shots (61 percent) from the field and knocked down 26 of 29 (89.7 percent) free throws.

Notable
Penn State: In the Chambers Era, the Nittany Lions are 4-3 all-time in games played in New York City, and 2-2 at games held at Barclays Center.

Texas A&M: The Aggies improved to 4-0 all-time against the Nittany Lions. Texas A&M is 2-0 at neutral site venues against Penn State.

Up next
Penn State: Hosts Oral Roberts on Friday.

Texas A&M: Hosts Pepperdine on Friday.