Associated Press

No. 2 Penn State exacts revenge on No. 19 Michigan, advances to showdown vs. No. 6 Ohio State

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The trajectory of Penn State’s program changed with last season’s loss to Michigan. That 49-10 drubbing in Ann Arbor dropped the Nittany Lions to 2-2 on the season and 2-6 dating back to the close of the 2015 season and furthered the narrative that James Franklin couldn’t compete against the elite of the Big Ten.

Penn State is now the elite of the Big Ten. The No. 2 Nittany Lions entered Saturday night 15-1 since that blowout loss to Michigan, and improved to 16-1 with a 42-13 defeat of No. 19 Michigan.

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead pulled out a wrinkle on the Nittany Lions’ second play from scrimmage, and it worked to perfection. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley shifted pre-snap, and Barkley took the direct snap and raced 69 yards untouched for a touchdown.

After forcing a three-and-out, Penn State moved 78 yards in four plays, keyed by a 35-yard rainbow heave from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki. Barkley scored his second touchdown of the first quarter one play later, a 15-yard burst around the right side. 

But Penn State’s offense stalled from there. The Lions’ next possession ended in a McSorley interception, and the possession after that was a three-and-out that lost nine yards. Penn State penetrated Michigan territory midway through the second quarter, but Barkley dropped a wheel route that would’ve put the Lions inside the red zone. Penn State turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

Meanwhile, Michigan turned McSorley’s interception into an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard Karan Higdon run on fourth-and-goal. Quinn Nordin missed the ensuing PAT.

After the turnover on downs, Michigan marched 67 yards on a series of John O’Korn plays — a 14-yard rush, an 18-yard strike to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and 23 yards to Kekoa CrawfordTy Isaac powered in from six yards out to pull the Wolverines within one with 1:45 to play before the half. 

Threatened for the first time of the evening, Penn State ended its streak of three straight unsuccessful drives with a 7-play, 75-yard march that consumed only 52 seconds. McSorley accounted for 68 yards on the drive, including a 3-yard rush to put the home team back up eight.

That momentum continued into the second half. The Lions opened the second half with a 9-play, 80-yard march that closed with McSorley’s second touchdown run and, after a three-and-out, Penn State’s backfield battery put the game out of reach with a 42-yard touchdown connection from McSorley to Barkley. McSorley closed the night hitting 17-of-26 throws for 282 yards with a touchdown and an interception and 11 carries for 76 yards and three scores. Barkley rushed 15 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns with three grabs for 53 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Penn State racked up 506 yards of total offense, more than double the 223.8 yards per game Michigan’s FBS-leading defense entered the night surrendering — and Franklin allowed the clock to expire with Penn State inside the Michigan 10-yard line and three timeouts in his pocket, so it could have been worse.

Trailing 35-13 early in the fourth quarter, Jim Harbaugh put together a last-chance drive to claw back in the game, but O’Korn was sacked on fourth down near midfield. McSorley’s third touchdown run of the night, a 9-yarder with 7:53 to play, added the exclamation point.

The win pushed Penn State to 7-0 on the season (4-0 Big Ten) and advanced the Nittany Lions into the game of the year in the Big Ten and perhaps the entire college football regular season: a visit to No. 6 Ohio State next Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

Michigan dropped to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play. Trailing Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State by two games and ceding the tie-breaker to the first two, the 2017 season officially takes on “rebuilding year” status as the Wolverines are now playing for positioning among the Tampa-Orlando-Jacksonville bowl games and 2018 preparation.

The Nittany Lions, though, are playing for much more, and they have Michigan to thank for that.

Penn State starts fast, but Michigan hanging around

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On a white out night in State College, Penn State threatened to blowout Michigan early, but the Wolverines battled back to a 21-13 deficit at the break.

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead pulled out a wrinkle on the Nittany Lions’ second play from scrimmage, and it worked to perfection. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley shifted pre-snap, and Barkley took the direct snap and raced 69 yards untouched for a touchdown.

After forcing a three-and-out, Penn State moved 78 yards in four plays, keyed by a 35-yard rainbow heave from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki. Barkley scored his second touchdown of the first quarter one play later, a 15-yard burst around the right side. 

But Penn State’s offense stalled from there. The Lions’ next possession ended in a McSorley interception, and the possession after that was a three-and-out that lost nine yards. Penn State penetrated Michigan territory midway through the second quarter, but Barkley dropped a wheel route that would’ve put the Lions inside the red zone. Penn State turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

Meanwhile, Michigan turned McSorley’s interception into an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard Karan Higdon run on fourth-and-goal. Quinn Nordin missed the ensuing PAT.

After the turnover on downs, Michigan marched 67 yards on a series of John O’Korn plays — a 14-yard rush, an 18-yard strike to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and 23 yards to Kekoa CrawfordTy Isaac powered in from six yards out to pull the Wolverines within one with 1:45 to play before the half. 

Threatened for the first time of the evening, Penn State ended its streak of three straight unsuccessful drives with a 7-play, 75-yard march that consumed only 52 seconds. McSorley accounted for 68 yards on the drive, including a 3-yard rush to put the home team back up eight.

O’Korn closed the half hitting 7-of-9 passes for 63 yards, while a host of Wolverines runners combined to rush 22 times for 78 yards.

McSorley hit 10-of-18 passes for 159 yards with an interception with five carries for 26 yards and a score. Barkley rushed 11 times for 109 yards and two scores, while DaeSean Hamilton caught three passes for 69 yards.

Michigan will receive to open the second half.

Northwestern can’t keep lid on Saquon Barkley as No. 4 Penn State scores 31-7 road win

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Northwestern managed to tie down Penn State running back Saquon Barkley for the majority of the afternoon, but sooner or later he was bound to break loose for a big play. And break loose he did, Barkley ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to flip the script in the box score for his Heisman Trophy campaign, but it was a full team effort that contributed to No. 4 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) picking up a decisive 31-7 victory on the road against Northwestern (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) in Big Ten play.

Barkley ended his afternoon with 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with the 53-yard score being the highlight of the day for him. At one point in the game, Barkley had more rushing touchdowns (1) than he had rushing yards (0). It was that kind of day against Northwestern, who excelled in not letting Barkley get too many opportunities to do damage. But that meant other players would have chances to step up for Penn State. Saeed Blacknall caught four passes for 74 yards. Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens caught two passes, including a touchdown. Juwan Johnson had a team-high six catches for 43 yards as Penn State spread the ball around in the passing game. Trace McSorley was 25-of-34 for 245 yards and a touchdown without a turnover.

Northwestern’s only score of the day came late in the fourth quarter after missing on some opportunities to make a game of it earlier in the game. Northwestern held the football on Penn State’s side of the field three times in the first half but saw each possession end with a turnover.

Penn State’s defense came close to pitching a third shutout of the season, but it continues to be a strength of the Nittany Lions. Northwestern managed just 265 yards of offense in the game.

Penn State heads into a bye week before what should be the make-or-break stretch of the season as far as Penn State’s Big Ten and College Football Playoff hopes may be concerned. After getting off next week, Penn State will host Michigan the following week. After that is a road trip to Ohio State. If Penn State doesn’t have their offensive line playing better for those two games, they could be in trouble.

Northwestern will hit the road in Big Ten play next week to play Maryland. The Terrapins will be coming off a road game at Ohio State.

Saquon Barkley adds to Heisman reel as No. 4 Penn State drops Indiana 45-14

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Penn State running back Saquon Barkley may not have had a dynamite day running the football, but he once again demonstrated how lethal he can be in other ways. Barkley returned the game’s opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as No. 4 Penn State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) started fast and finished strongly against Indiana (2-2, 0-2 Big Ten) in a 45-14 win.

Barkley carried the football 20 times but was limited to 56 yards by the Indiana defense. But Barkley added four catches for 51 yards and completed a 16-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton on top of his 98-yard kick return for 221 all-purpose yards. Hamilton also made some Penn State history by becoming the school’s all-time leading receiver with 180 career receptions. He also scored three touchdowns in the game. Trace McSorley had a somewhat rough outing but still managed to end the game with 315 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air, and he added one rushing touchdown as well.

Outside of the first quarter, in which Penn State put a 28-0 lead on the board, the Hoosiers played fairly well. But four turnovers proved to be too much against Penn State, with three turnovers leading to a Penn State touchdown. The Hoosiers also seemed to make a switch at quarterback from Richard Lagow (7-of-15, 97 yards) to Peyton Ramsey (8-of-17, 78 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Lagow may have gotten banged up but he continued to toss the football on the sideline in the second half alongside Ramsey.

Penn State will be back on the road for the second time in three weeks of Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions head to Evanston to face Northwestern next Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats are coming off a road loss at Wisconsin and have won each of the past two meetings with Penn State (2014, 2015). James Franklin is 0-3 against Pat Fitzgerald, including one loss while the head coach of Vanderbilt.

Indiana will get a chance to get back in the win column next week when they return home to host FCS Charleston Southern in Bloomington. After that, Indiana will host the Michigan Wolverines on Oct. 14.

Saquon Barkley fuels fast start for Penn State, but Indiana hanging around

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Penn State may have had to sneak out of Iowa City with a win last week, but the Nittany Lions started fast in their return home to Beaver Stadium this week. Saquon Barkley added to his Heisman candidacy highlight reel by returning the game’s opening kick 98 yards for a touchdown and later added a nifty one-handed catch before taking off for a big gain as Penn State jumped out to a 28-0 lead on Indiana, but the Hoosiers have clawed back a little and only trail 28-14 at halftime.

Penn State scored 28 points in the first quarter, including a second score just a few minutes after Barkley’s kickoff touchdown. The Nittany Lions have scored 14 points off Indiana turnovers, including a short return on special teams by Nick Scott. Scott picked up a loose football after Irvin Charles knocked the ball out of the hands of Indiana’s J-Shun Harris II on a punt return. Scott needed just 13 yards on the return for a score.

Harris was slow to get up off the field on the play and has not returned to the game. Indiana also saw running back Morgan Ellison get helped off the field in the first half.

Indiana cut the lead in half late in the second quarter eight plays after a turnover by Penn State. After picking off a pass, Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs Jr. picked up an 18-yard touchdown reception from Peyton Ramsey to continue the chipping away at Penn State’s lead.

Despite getting off on the right foot in the first quarter, Penn State’s offense went into a shell in the second quarter as Indiana found ways to bring pressure on Trace McSorley. Toward the end of the first half, Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki took a shot to the ribs that required some medical assistance off the field. Penn State failed to score in the second quarter, while Indiana did all it could to chip away. The question in the second half is how long Indiana can keep Penn State from doing much damage, and if they can find enough offense to give Penn State a run.