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

AP Images

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

AP Images

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.