By: Thomas Frank Carr
Penn State got the start to the season that they were hoping for on Saturday, with a 52-0 route of Akron at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions shed their traditional slow starts from last season to blow the game open 38-0 at halftime.
All eyes were on Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions eye-popping tailback who is an early Heisman contender heading into the season. Barkley was hard to find early in the game. That’s because he didn’t touch the ball until there were five and a half minutes left in the first quarter.
It was the much-maligned punt return team that got the scoring started on the day for Penn State. Akron punter Nick Gasser hit a dud of a punt that landed at the 50 yard line, but thanks to a running into the kicker penalty, Akron got another chance. A chance they shouldn’t have taken. DeAndre Thompkins fielded the ball cleanly and took it 61 yards to the house on the first punt return for a touchdown since Derrick Williams in 2008.
Not long after that, Barkley made his presence known.
The next series Barkley broke into the open field untouched through the left side of the offensive line for 80 yards (Barkley reached the end zone but was called out at the seven yard line). Just like that, the lead lion was over 100 yards in the game and on his way to a phenomenal day.
Not to be out-done, his backfield mate Trace McSorley was active early and often, scoring the first two offensive touchdowns of the game and accounting for 100 of the Nittany Lions 136 yards in the first quarter.
The decision to have McSorley featured often had more to do with the way Akron was playing the Penn State’s run-pass-option offense, according to Head Coach James Franklin,
“You’re probably going to say that you’d like to get the ball in Saquon Barkley’s hands but with the offense we run, they were dictating that other people got the ball early on.”
BarkSorley (McBarkley?) finished the day with a combined 500 of the Nittany Lions 577 total yards on the day and were the dominate force that fans, media and national pundits expected them to be.
There was some question as to whether the dynamic duo would play in the second half of the game, with Penn State leading 38 to nothing. Head Coach James Franklin and his staff did not shy away from playing his stars late into the game.
“I felt like we managed it well. We’ve all seen example after example of when fans think the game is out of hand, and it’s not. You have to put yourself in position to really have the game in control before you go to the second team,” Franklin said.
Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead wasn’t afraid to call backup quarterback Tommy Steven’s number either. The talented backup came into the game in the third quarter at tailback with McSorley as the man under center. He ran, caught a pass and put his body in harm’s way several times before finally taking the ball for good in the fourth quarter.
The day was finally over for the starters at the end of the third quarter, after Mike Gesicki caught his second touchdown of the day on a crossing pattern at the goal line. The drive was set up by a beautiful 43 yard wheel route by Barkley two plays before. The Nittany Lions will now prepare for Pitt to visit next Saturday at 3:30. Coverage on ESPN Radio 1450 starts at 12:30 with the BlaizeAlexander.com Tailgate 2017.
Observations From The Game:
Senior receiver DaSean Hamilton struggled with several drops early in the game. He still finished the day with three catches for 74 yards, but he was targeted seven times with three drops. Hamilton will be a steady presence for the Blue and White this year but it was a rough start for a player who is now 15 catches away from being the all-time leading receiver in Penn State history.
Linebacker Jason Cabinda had a slow start to the game as well He over-ran one play and missing a tackle in the 2nd drive vs Akron. These aren’t huge problems right now, but if the trend continues vs quality opponents, it will be. Overall though, the tackling was much better in this game than it was in previous seasons.
Cabinda made an early exit in the game, as did Shareef Miller. The new starter at defensive end played one series and was not seen for the rest of the game. Cabinda’s day may have been done due more to the score than anything else. We will likely not know what happened, but the Nittany Lions do have several options behind him. Albeit untested ones, but they do have options.