Even Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley can't save No. 7 Penn State

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Even Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley can't save No. 7 Penn State


EAST LANSING, Mich. — When Saquon Barkley has the ball in his hands, all eyes are on him. That’s why you’d be hard-pressed to find many people in the country who don’t think he’s a candidate for the Heisman.

But when the Nittany Lions lose — as they have two weeks in a row after falling, 27-24, to No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday — it’s easy to take a closer look at Barkley and the rest of the offense.

Saturday’s game against Michigan State was the most recent example, as Barkley struggled to get anything going on the ground.

The seventh-ranked Nittany Lions went to their passing game on a majority of plays against the Spartans — who tend to stack the box. When they did give it to Barkley, though, there was no running room to be had. It resulted in Barkley rushing for 0 yards on six carries in the first half.

The junior’s production picked up a bit, as he ripped off a 38-yard carry on Penn State’s first drive of the second half to bring his total to 63 on the day. For Nittany Lions’ coach James Franklin, though, that’s not good enough.

“Saquon didn’t struggle today,” Franklin said. “Our offense struggled at times today, and we haven’t been running the ball consistently this year.”

The bit of success Penn State did have on the ground came when they challenged the edges of the Michigan State defense. On the first offensive play of the second half, quarterback Trace McSorley tossed the ball to Barkley out wide to his left. Barkley nearly turned the corner but was tripped up after a three-yard gain.

But the Nittany Lions stuck with it. On the very next play, they ran the exact same look to the other side. This time, the blocking on the edge was better, and Barkley showed the burst we're used to seeing, sprinting up the Penn State sideline.

“In the first half, we saw a couple looks — blitzing inside — and thought that we could get to the perimeter, so that’s what we started doing.” sophomore center Connor McGovern said.

For a moment, it seemed like those plays loosened up the Spartan defense. On Barkley’s next run, he gashed Michigan State for seven yards right up the middle.

That success didn’t last long, though. Michigan State and its fourth-best rushing defense in the country tightened down and frustrated the Nittany Lion rushing attack the rest of the night.

“It’s Michigan State,” Barkley said. “They’re well-coached, they’re hard-nosed, they fly to the ball, they tackle very well. We started off slow in the run game. Second half we started getting going, the O-line got a lot of movement, I was able to take what the defense gave me, and the run game just got finally able to make plays. It was a good game, but we came up short.”

In Franklin’s eyes, that hard-nosed attitude is exactly what separates their rush defense from the Penn State rush offense, and that’s something he’s determined to change for the future.

“If we’ve got to go back to the old ‘inside drill,’ and just do that every single day of practice, that’s what we’re gonna do,” Franklin said. “We’re gonna become more of a hard-nosed team up front on both sides of the ball — offense and defense. Tight end, offensive line, running backs, everybody. We’re gonna be more physical up front, and we’re not right now.”

No. 7 Penn State drops 2nd straight on last-second FG to No. 24 Michigan State

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No. 7 Penn State drops 2nd straight on last-second FG to No. 24 Michigan State


EAST LANSING, Mich. — Penn State seemed to have weathered the storm, both literally and figuratively. After a 3 hour and 23-minute weather delay Saturday, No. 24 Michigan State gave the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions all it could handle.

But coach James Franklin and his team fought back. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but in the end, Penn State couldn’t overcome its bad penalties and mistakes, as the Nittany Lions fell to the Spartans, 27-24.

Heisman hopeful running back Saquon Barkley ran for 0 yards in the first half, and though he broke out a bit in the second, he finished with just 63 yards total, and the run game was far less potent than usual for the Nittany Lions.

Defensively, Penn State had no answer for Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Felton Davis also tore up the Nittany Lions, with a career-high 10 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown.

• The Spartans built a 21-14 lead with a touchdown from running back L.J. Scott, and they seemingly had all the momentum. Penn State fought back, though. After a methodical 12-play drive finished with a field goal from kicker Tyler Davis, the Nittany Lions defense got a stop.

• On the next play, redshirt junior quarterback Trace McSorley fired a bomb to redshirt junior receiver Deandre Thompkins behind the defense. Thompkins’ man fell down, and he walked into the end zone for a go-ahead 70-yard touchdown.

• Michigan State was driving early in the fourth quarter after an interception from safety David Dowell. But Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye tapped his toes for a seemingly momentum-swinging interception.

• The Nittany Lions couldn’t answer, though. After driving inside the Spartans’ 35-yard line, Penn State faced a key fourth down. McSorley’s pass went through the hands of Thompkins and Michigan State took over with a chance to win the game.

• It appeared that Penn State stopped its opponents to give its offense a chance to tie or win the game. But a roughing the passer penalty on safety Marcus Allen extended the Spartan drive.

• With No. 6 Ohio State losing, a win for Penn State could have been enormous for its playoff and Big Ten Championship hopes. With a victory, Penn State would have tied the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East standings, and the Nittany Lions likely would have hopped them in the CFP polls.

• In the first half, Barkley only received six rush attempts, and he took them for zero yards. His inability to get anything going within the tackles was a major hindrance to the Nittany Lions’ attack all game.

• Penn State’s rush defense was quite stout. Michigan State was only able to muster 74 rushing yards of its own, and Scott had only 43 of those.

• The Nittany Lions will return to State College to take on Rutgers (4-5) next week.

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 45, Michigan State 12

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 45, Michigan State 12


STATE COLLEGE – Trace McSorley threw four second-half touchdown passes as No. 7 Penn State rallied to beat Michigan State 45-12 in its regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon, securing the Big Ten East championship.

Penn State (10-2) needed Ohio State to beat Michigan earlier in the day to have a shot at the division title, and the Buckeyes nipped the Wolverines 30-27 in double overtime, a game that went final midway through the first quarter of the PSU-MSU game.

The Lions trailed 12-10 at halftime, but McSorley fired TD strikes in the third quarter of 34 yards to Chris Godwin, 45 to Mike Gesicki and 59 yards to Godwin.

McSorley added a 40-yard scoring pass to backup running back Andre Robinson with 3:40 left in the game.

The victory was the eighth straight for PSU, which will face Wisconsin for the conference championship next Saturday in Indianapolis.

The Lions have been behind or tied at halftime in five of them. They have outscored their opponents 118-47 in the third quarter this season, 274-102 in the second half.

Michigan State finished an uncharacteristic 3-9.

As has been the case in several games this season, the Spartans were bent on stacking the box and taking away running back Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten’s leading rusher. They succeeded in doing that, as Barkley finished with 14 yards on 12 carries before departing in the game late in the third quarter after rolling his right ankle.

But McSorley made MSU pay, hitting one deep shot after another. He finished 17 for 23 for a career-high 376 yards and the four scores. Godwin finished with five catches for 135 yards.

Barkley also dove for a one-yard TD in the first half, and Robinson went 14 yards for a score with 6:33 remaining in the game.

MSU outgained the Lions 256-125 in the first half but only had four field goals to show for it because of some superb red-zone defense on PSU’s part. The Spartans, who were ahead 12-10 at the break, had minus-6 yards on 12 snaps inside the Lions’ 15. 

PSU, which owned a 338-87 second-half yardage advantage, was helped in no small part by the fact that the Spartans lost running back L.J. Scott and quarterback Damion Terry in the second quarter. Scott, who suffered a knee injury, later returned. Terry did not. 

Special teams
Tyler Davis kicked another field goal to improve to 21 for 23 this season. The two misses were blocks. Freshman punter Blake Gillikin averaged 51.5 yards on two first-half punts, then killed another at the Michigan State 2 early in the fourth quarter.

Turnstile report
The announced attendance in the 107,282-seat stadium was 97,418.

What’s next
The Lions face Big Ten West champion Wisconsin in the conference championship game next Saturday in Indianapolis.