After gut-punch losses, No. 14 Penn State overcomes slow start to beat Rutgers

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After gut-punch losses, No. 14 Penn State overcomes slow start to beat Rutgers

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hangovers? That was apparently something for the folks in the Beaver Stadium parking lots to worry about. Penn State coach James Franklin wasn’t interested in discussing whether his team might have been in the throes of one Saturday afternoon, when it started slowly and then slogged to a workmanlike 35-6 homecoming victory over Rutgers (see observations).

Never mind that the 14th-ranked Lions were coming off back-to-back gut-punch losses, at Ohio State and Michigan State. Never mind that the season’s course appears to be set, that there is a certain resignation about what this outfit, now 8-2, might be able to accomplish.

He was more interested in recalibrating everybody’s sights, making them understand there is still much that can be salvaged, even if a return trip to the Big Ten championship game is a long shot, a berth in the College Football Playoff a near impossibility.

“I think,” he began, “we made progress, and we were able to get a fairly convincing win against a program on the rise.”

Well, yeah, kinda. Rutgers came in with three victories in its last four games and overall has won twice as often as it had while going 2-10 last year. Then the Scarlet Knights moved to a 6-0 lead after a quarter, in part because none of the Lions elected to field the opening kickoff, before PSU yawned, stretched and made its appointed rounds.

Trace McSorley threw for two touchdowns and ran for one. Saquon Barkley, limited to a season-low 35 yards on the ground, nonetheless rushed for two TDs of his own. And later he addressed the season’s expectations, as opposed to the grim realities.

“I visualized going undefeated,” he said. “I visualized everything. But you only get to control what you can control.”

And the games in Columbus and East Lansing slipped through their fingers, in large part because they are lacking on both lines — Franklin went so far as to call their offense “too finesse” after the MSU loss — but also because of a blocked punt here, a roughing-the-passer penalty there, and few dozen completions by J.T. Barrett and Brian Lewerke.

Tough to adjust one’s focus after all that. But outwardly, at least, they are being brave in the attempt.

“We’re 8-2 right now,” Barkley said. “We hold ourselves to such a high standard that everyone thinks this is a bad season. There’s multiple teams that would beg and wish and dream to be in the position we are.”

A 10-2 regular-season finish is still possible. So too is a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl. Scant consolation, maybe, since the Lions were No. 2 in the country heading into the Ohio State game, but consolation nonetheless.

“We’re 8-2, top 15 team in the country,” Barkley said again, “and everyone’s like the season’s going to crap, which realistically it’s not. We all wanted to have an undefeated season, but we didn’t. We lost two games. But now that’s all behind us. All you can really focus on is the last three games that we have and (go about) doing what you can do to win those games.”

No surprise, then, that Barkley fended off questions about his immediate and long-term future — that he would say neither whether he planned to declare for the draft (as expected) nor whether he planned to sit out the bowl game, as two NFL-bound backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, did a year ago.

That’s a discussion for another time, he said, in both cases. More pressing now is whether the Lions can ever knock anybody off the ball. Barkley, working behind a line minus injured tackle Ryan Bates for the second straight week, found little traction against Rutgers. And over the last three weeks, he has managed 141 yards on 49 carries, while seeing his Heisman chances evaporate.

Time and again Franklin has said his team needs to be more physical — on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. And when asked whether any strides had been made in that regard Saturday, he didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement.

“I think a little bit,” he said, “but I still think that’s an area that we can get better in.”

Barkley’s take on Franklin’s week-old assessment?

“‘Finesse’ means we’re trying to be too flashy and got to grind out the yards and be a little more gritty,” he said. “That’s what I think of when I think ‘finesse.’ ”

He too thought some progress had been made. Baby steps, anyway.

Same for the recalibration process, the resetting of goals. One would think, after all, that the hangover cannot last forever, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Wheels fall off in Ann Arbor as No. 5 Michigan routs No. 14 Penn State

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Wheels fall off in Ann Arbor as No. 5 Michigan routs No. 14 Penn State

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- No. 5 Michigan wanted to do more than just beat No. 14 Penn State.

The Wolverines wanted to win big, getting revenge after getting routed and humiliated against the Nittany Lions last year.

Michigan got what it wanted.

Shea Patterson accounted for three touchdowns and the Wolverines put together a dominant performance on defense in a 42-7 rout against Penn State on Saturday.

"If we had a chance, we were going to run it up, too," Patterson said.

The Wolverines (8-1, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 5 CFP) moved a step closer toward their goals of winning a conference championship for the first time since 2004 and earning their first spot in the College Football Playoff.

"We're the team to beat in the Big Ten," proclaimed defensive end Chase Winovich , who has said the team is on a revenge tour to beat the four conference teams it lost to last season. "That's not a controversial statement. It's just, I think, that's a fact at this point."

The Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-3, No. 14 CFP) scored with 1:59 left, avoiding getting shut out for the first time since 2001 against Michigan.

"Defensively, they kicked our butts," coach James Franklin said.

Jim Harbaugh did what he could to prevent Penn State from scoring at all, challenging a call on its last drive and calling timeout twice.

Michigan, clearly, was motivated to beat the Nittany Lions after they won 42-13 last year and tried to score a touchdown on its last play.

"It was personal right from the start," Karan Higdon said.

Higdon ran for 132 yards and a score that put the Wolverines up 35-0 early in the fourth quarter. He has run for 100-plus yards in seven straight games, one shy of the school record set by Mike Hart in 2007.

"I think it's time for him to get nominated for some big-time awards," Patterson said.

Michigan's defense held Penn State to 186 yards and forced three turnovers, including Tommy Stevens' interception that was returned 62 yards by Brandon Watson for its second score in the final minute of the third quarter. It was Watson's second pick-6 of the season, joining Lance Dottin (1991) as the only players to do that twice in a year.

The Nittany Lions started banged-up quarterback Trace McSorley and he was 5 of 13 for 83 yards with an interception and a fumble. McSorley played with an injured right knee in last week's win against Iowa. He shared time and rotated with Stevens, who was 3 of 4 for 35 yards. Stevens scored on an 8-yard run late in the game.

"When (Stevens) threw the interception there, we felt like we needed to put Trace back in," Franklin said. "Obviously, you make the decision and you probably could've made the change a little bit earlier. The way they were pressuring us and loading the box, having the ball with Trace's mobility was critical."

Patterson was 11 of 17 for 144 yards with two touchdown passes, a 23-yard throw to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the second quarter and a 7-yard strike to Zach Gentry. He ran 11 times, often on read-option plays , for 42 yards, including a 1-yard TD midway through the first quarter.

"With Shea, they've added another element to their package, getting on the perimeter," Franklin said.

No. 17 Penn State escapes No. 18 Iowa with late stands

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No. 17 Penn State escapes No. 18 Iowa with late stands

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Trace McSorley visited the injury tent. Not much in there, he said. Just a table for him to sit on while his right knee was being checked out in the second quarter of Penn State's game against Iowa.

"It's kind of cramped," McSorley said.

The senior quarterback, barely 6-feet tall and 200 pounds but able to carry Penn State's offense, has started 35 straight games and only has two more left at Beaver Stadium. He was not about to sit out the second half of this one.

McSorley returned after giving Penn State a scare, and the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions made two late defensive stands to escape No. 18 Iowa 30-24 on Saturday, avoiding a third straight home loss.

Nittany Lions safety Nick Scott intercepted a pass at the 2 with 3:18 left in the fourth quarter to thwart one Hawkeyes drive and Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) needed one more stop after that. Iowa (6-2, 3-2) drove to the Nittany Lions 44 in the final minute.

On fourth-and-10 with 7 seconds remaining, Penn State's pass rush swarmed Nate Stanley, who flipped backward to offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. The 300-pounder rumbled 15 yards before being dragged down with no time left.

It was a fitting end to what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called "kind of an unusual game," with little sustained offense on a chilly and rainy day. Iowa had two safeties and a touchdown pass by punter Colten Rastetter to defensive tackle Sam Brincks on a faked field goal in the first half, and a pick-six in the second half.

Penn State played three series in the second quarter without McSorley.

"Gutsy win," Penn State coach James Franklin said.

McSorley was sandwiched by two Hawkeyes as he tried to scramble and stayed down, grabbing his right leg. The Beaver Stadium crowd fell silent as athletic trainers attended to him. McSorley got up with assistance and limped off.

Tommy Stevens played the next two series at quarterback for Penn State, scoring on a 3-yard run. He also led a short drive late in the first half to set up Jake Pinegar's career-best 45-yard field goal to make it 17-all. The freshman kicker from Iowa added a 49-yarder in the third quarter and 44-yarder in the fourth.

McSorley went back in for one series in the first half and Penn State went three-and-out.

On the sideline, he got encouragement from his sister and his father. He tried to stay loose, riding the stationary bike, running and cutting.

Franklin said he planned to start the second half with Stevens.

"Trace has earned the right to tell us if he thinks he can go," Franklin said. "I said: `Look I need to the whole package. I can't just have a pro-style quarterback. I got to have more than that.'"

Wearing a knee brace, McSorley delivered. On Penn State's first possession, he broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run to give the Nittany Lions their first lead, 24-17, with 12:10 left in the third quarter.

"I wasn't really going to know until I got out there," said McSorley, who finished with 167 yards passing and 63 rushing.

Trailing 30-24 in the fourth quarter, Iowa drove to first-and-goal at the 3 with 3:30 left. But Stanley threw a quick pass toward star tight end Noah Fant, who was not looking.

Ferentz said the Hawkeyes were discombobulated and should have called a timeout.

"I was just trying to change the play based on the look that they gave us," said Stanley, who was 18 for 49 for 205 yards and two interceptions. "I just tried to rush it with the play clock running down. I just should have taken the timeout."

Scott jumped up and made the interception.

"This one's going to hurt," Ferentz said.