As a piece of prime time reality TV programming, Penn State’s nonconference finale against visiting Georgia State may not have had a script, but it certainly went as planned, at least as far as the Nittany Lions were concerned.
Penn State thrashed the Panthers, 56-0, as its offense and defense both turned in solid performances. The Lions’ offensive playmakers came through with big plays, before giving way to their backups, who also came through with big plays. By the end of the evening, the Lions had outgained Georgia State 526 yards to 320, and many of the Panthers’ yards came in the fourth quarter after Penn State had turned the game over to its backups.
“We talked all week long about playing a complete game for four quarters, playing well in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams,” coach James Franklin said. “I thought we did that. That’s a team that [went to] Wisconsin [last season] and had a lead in the fourth quarter on the road. I thought it was valuable for us to be able to talk to our team about that and show them that on tape.”
The Lions wasted little time ensuring that there would be no such fourth-quarter drama in this game. Here’s a look at the good and the bad:
• Saquon Barkley totaled 226 all-purpose yards, finding a way to make things happen even when the running lanes were clogged up, as they often were. His 85-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the first quarter helped Penn State get rolling, and he went on to finish with 142 receiving yards. Also, Trace McSorley completed 18 of 23 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Both Barkley and McSorley exited the game in the third quarter.
• The Lions got some nice contributions from their reserves, and not just in the second half when the score was out of hand. Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to finish off the Lions’ first possession, and Miles Sanders scored on a 29-yard run in the second quarter, bouncing off a pileup at the line of scrimmage and finding lots of open space on the right side. In the second half, Stevens stood tall in the face of a heavy rush and connected with Saeed Blacknall on a 35-yard touchdown pass.• The opportunistic play by Penn State’s defense continues. Grant Haley’s second-quarter interception was the Lions’ fourth of the season, and it was quickly followed by No. 5, courtesy of Marcus Allen, and No. 6, by freshman cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields. By comparison, the Lions had 10 interceptions in 14 games last season. In addition, Kevin Givens recovered a fumble after pounding quarterback Conner Manning, and Yetur Gross-Matos did much the same in the fourth quarter. • Penn State finished its three-game nonconference season having given up only 14 points and one touchdown.
• To anyone looking for evidence that time-of-possession is becoming an increasingly irrelevant statistic, consider this: Georgia State held the ball for just under 39 minutes but was still outscored by eight touchdowns.
• Tyler Davis had six touchbacks on six kickoffs.
• While the Lions were able to find creative ways of getting Barkley into open space – wheel routes, kickoff returns, etc. – he didn’t gain a lot of yards on the ground. Barkley finished with 47 rushing yards on 10 attempts. Starting guard Brendan Mahon missed the game for unspecified reasons, and Franklin said his absence had an impact. “I would have liked to have seen us run the ball a little bit better,” he said. “Not having Mahon in there affected us a little bit in the run game.”
• Georgia State did have some success running the ball early in the game and again at the end when the Penn State defense was made up of backups and walk-ons. The Panthers, who rushed for only 49 yards as a team in a season-opening loss to Tennessee State, gained 150 against Penn State. Taz Bateman accounted for 100 of those yards on 29 carries, and he also caught three passes for 19 yards. “You would love for us to be a more suffocating defense where they don’t run the ball and don’t throw the ball for the little dinks and dunks down the field,” Franklin said. “But the most important thing is that we’re keeping people out of the end zone.”
• Losing Torrence Brown early in the game to what appeared to be a knee or leg injury was a significant blow to the defense. The Lions have plenty of promising young defensive ends, but Brown, a redshirt junior, is their most experienced player at the position. He was carted off the field, and his availability going forward is uncertain.
• Davis missed a 39-yard field goal in the first half. It was his second miss of the season, with both coming from inside 40 yards.
On to the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions will open their conference season on Saturday at Iowa, where they will be meeting a Hawkeyes team that ran its record to 3-0 with a 31-14 victory over North Texas. Nate Stanley threw for 197 yards, while freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin rushed for 74 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to help Iowa pull away after trailing by three points late in the third quarter.
Penn State’s last visit to Iowa City worked out pretty well, as the Nittany Lions throttled the Hawkeyes, 38-14, in 2012. Their most recent meeting worked out pretty well, too. Penn State dominated Iowa, 41-14, at Beaver Stadium last fall, and that game will likely be on the minds of this year’s Hawkeyes as they prepare for the rematch.
Penn State’s victory over Georgia State may not have revealed much about its potential that wasn’t already known, but it was still a nice springboard into the conference season.
“I’m pleased overall,” Franklin said. “There are a bunch of stats and numbers here that I could go over, but the most important thing is that we came out and played a complete game. We got a bunch of players in the game and gained valuable experience. We’ll enjoy this for fewer hours than normal [because the game didn’t end until nearly midnight], and then we’ll start focusing on the next opponent.”