STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Saquon Barkley rushed 14 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns as No. 6 Penn State drubbed Akron 52-0 in its season opener Saturday in Beaver Stadium.
Trace McSorley also threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and DeAndre Thompkins returned a punt 61 yards for a score. It was PSU’s first punt return TD since Derrick Williams took one 63 yards against Wisconsin in 2008.
Both of McSorley’s scoring passes went to tight end Mike Gesicki, who had six catches in all.
Nearly all of Penn State’s starters sat out the fourth quarter.
• Barkley was Barkley, scoring on runs of 30 and three yards. It also appeared he went 87 yards for a score in the second quarter, but it was ruled he stepped out at the seven – a play that was for some reason not subjected to replay review. His 30-yard TD later in the period was reviewed, even though he didn’t come anywhere near the sideline. He also caught three passes for 54 yards, including a 43-yarder in the third quarter that set up McSorley’s second scoring strike to Gesicki.
• McSorley overcame an early end-zone interception to go 18 for 25 for 280 yards through the air. He also ran 12 times for 48 yards.
• Thompkins returned four punts for 127 yards in all, an average of 31.8 yards a runback. Penn State’s punt returners averaged 6.5 yards per return last season.
• Tyler Davis missed a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter, his first real miss in 33 career attempts. His two previous misses had both been blocks. He rebounded to hit a career-long 47-yarder in the third quarter.
• For some reason, coach James Franklin felt compelled to use Barkley as his kickoff-return man to start the third quarter, at which point the Lions led 35-0. Seemed like sheer lunacy, given Barkley’s importance to the team.
• The Lions used backup quarterback Tommy Stevens as a running back in the second half. It was in that guise that he caught his first career pass, for a gain of seven yards. He later completed an option pass to DaeSean Hamilton after taking a handoff from McSorley going right. The Lions were leading 45-0 at the time, and perhaps not coincidentally, the Zips were called for personal fouls on two subsequent runs by Stevens, who took over at QB. The second, a targeting foul on defensive end Deon’Tae Moore, resulted in Moore’s ejection.
• As might be expected, PSU dominated the line of scrimmage. The new-look offensive line – Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood), Steven Gonzalez, Connor McGovern, Brendan Mahon and Chasz Wright – helped the Lions pile up 255 rushing yards, and 577 yards in all. And the defense recorded 14 tackles for loss, including three sacks. Backup defensive end Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley) had 1.5 TFLs, including a sack. Buchholz saw extensive action when the starter, Shareef Miller (George Washington), departed after the first series with a leg injury. He did not return.
• Redshirt freshman defensive end Shaka Toney (Imhotep Charter), renowned for his quickness, saw the first action of his career in the second half, and on one pass rush drew a holding penalty from offensive tackle Jovann Letuli. He also jumped offsides later in the half.
• Hamilton, who finished with three catches for 74 yards, had a rough time in the first half. He had a drop on PSU’s fifth offensive snap, and two other balls – one of which would have gone for a TD – were either thrown a little behind him or a little high. He managed to get his hands on both, but he was unable to come down with either.
• Juwan Johnson (Glassboro, New Jersey) was as good as his preseason billing. Widely viewed as a breakout candidate entering the fall, the redshirt sophomore wide receiver had four catches for 84 yards in his first career start.
• Saeed Blacknall was viewed as one of the Lions’ key receivers entering the season, but he was listed as the second-stringer behind Thompkins earlier in the week and saw a great deal of action in garbage time.