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

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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.

This one truly hurts for Penn State

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This one truly hurts for Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- John Beilein has always coveted the type of player with near-limitless energy reserve who can provide a scoring spark off the bench.

Michigan's coach has found his man this year.

Duncan Robinson supported No. 17 Michigan's starters with 19 points and helped the Wolverines beat Penn State 72-63 on Wednesday night.

"I've loved always having this, whether I was at Richmond, West Virginia, Canisius, the guy that can come off the bench with no conscience," Beilein said. "It's very hard to sit there for 10 minutes and then just go in and shoot. And he can do that."

Moritz Wagner added 18 and Jordan Poole had 13 for the Wolverines (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) who won their fourth straight.

It got easier for the Wolverines just four minutes in when star Penn State forward Mike Watkins crumpled under Penn State's basket with an apparent right leg injury.

"That certainly was a factor in the game as well," Beilein said.

Tony Carr scored 21 points and Lamar Stevens added 19 for the Nittany Lions (19-11, 9-8) who trailed for all but about four minutes.

Michigan took control with a 25-12 run midway through the first and Robinson made Michigan's fifth of 10 3-pointers to put the Wolverines up by 13, their biggest lead of the game, with 3:52 left in the opening half. Back-to-back jumpers from Stevens cut Michigan's halftime lead to 34-26.

The Nittany Lions opened the second with a 13-4 run and took a 39-38 lead when Carr rolled a floater off his fingertips, drew a foul and made the free throw with 16:12 left.

"At halftime, we knew we didn't play well," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We were dealing with some adversity and I thought our guys competed and played hard, to come out and take the lead."

But the Wolverines went ahead for good on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's 3-pointer with 10:19 left. Michigan players combined to go 9-for-10 from the free throw line in the final minute to close out the game.

Watkins hurt
Watkins appeared to be in a good amount of discomfort as he was helped off the court.

Afterward, the forward spent a few minutes on a courtside exercise bike before returning to the bench with 9:28 to play. He lobbied Chambers to let him re-enter the game, but was clearly hobbled before Chambers pulled him out for good moments later.

Visibly upset, Watkins covered his face with a towel then entered the locker room before the half ended.

Chambers said he didn't have an update on Watkins other than the team would wait for test results on his right leg to come back later this week.

It was the second straight game -- and second straight loss -- where Watkins' presence was sorely missed. He found himself in early foul trouble against Purdue and played just nine minutes in Penn State's 76-73 loss.

"It's tough. They're a team that shoots a bunch of 3s. We weren't surprised that they shot the ball well."

Defending the 3
The Wolverines entered the game having made 264 3-pointers, good for second in the conference. They dropped 10 more on the Nittany Lions including a pair of back-to-back shots from Wagner that broke up Penn State's early second-half run.

They were big considering Beilein felt like his squad was squandering most of its chances early in the second.

"They just happened," Beilein said. "He got open, luckily, and he made them both and all of a sudden it's a 1-point game and we're still playing."

Robinson was 3-for-6 and hit the final 3-pointer to give the Wolverines' a 9-point lead with 1:28 left. Wagner was 4-for-5 from 3-point range while Poole added a pair.

"When you give up 10 3s to Michigan, It's going to be a tough outing for sure," Chambers said.

The big picture
Michigan: The Wolverines are guaranteed to be seeded no worse than fifth in the Big Ten tournament with the win. They'll have a chance to improve that as the teams above them in the standings No. 9 Purdue and Nebraska still have games remaining.

Penn State: With a 3-point loss to Purdue in their last game, the Nittany Lions badly needed this one for their NCAA tournament resume. Watkins will be nearly impossible for Penn State to replace if it has to move on without him. The 6-foot-9 forward is third in the country shooting 69.2 percent from the field. He has 13 double-doubles on the season and leads the team with 68 blocks and 258 rebounds. The players who would likely replace his minutes --Julian Moore and Satchel Pierce -- have averaged just 10 and eight minutes per game respectively.

Up next
Michigan visits Maryland on Saturday.

Penn State travels to Nebraska on Sunday.

Penn State can't keep streak alive against No. 6 Purdue

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Penn State can't keep streak alive against No. 6 Purdue

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Carsen Edwards scored 27 points to lead sixth-ranked Purdue to a 76-73 victory over Penn State on Sunday night.

Dakota Mathias added 18 points and Isaac Haas had 12 points and six rebounds for the Boilermakers (24-5, 13-3 Big Ten), who snapped a season-worst three-game skid.

Tony Carr had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, Shep Garner had 17 points and Lamar Stevens had 13 points and six rebounds for the Nittany Lions (19-10, 9-7). The loss ended a stretch of six wins in seven games.

Ryan Cline's 3-pointer with 5:31 remaining gave Purdue a 61-58 lead, and the Boilers never trailed the rest of the way.

It wasn't easy for a Purdue team in search of the same offensive flair that made the Boilermakers unbeatable during a program-record 19-game winning streak that stretched from November until a 64-63 loss to Ohio State on Feb. 7. It became more difficult without starting forward Vincent Edwards, one of the team's most consistent players.

Vincent Edwards sat on the bench wearing a walking boot after spraining his left ankle in practice on Saturday. The team disclosed the injury in a statement before tipoff.

It was another uncharacteristic game for the Boilermakers. They trailed by as much nine points in the first half, during which they shot 42.3 percent from the field and went 2 for 9 from 3-point range.

Penn State led 36-32 at halftime.

Big picture 
Penn State: Despite another poor offensive night by Purdue, the Nittany Lions proved their recent hot streak, which included a 79-56 blowout of No. 8 Ohio State, may not have been a fluke. Even after the Boilermakers found a groove in the second half, Penn State still never trailed by more than 11 points.

Purdue: After dropping three straight conference games and falling in the Big Ten standings, the Boilermakers needed to get back on track quickly with just two regular season games remaining.

Up next 
Penn State: The Nittany Lions host Michigan on Wednesday.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are at Illinois on Thursday.