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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 5 Penn State football (2-0, 0-0 B1G) is back in Beaver Stadium for a third consecutive week, hosting Georgia State (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) in a prime time matchup Saturday.
In the first meeting between the two teams in program history, the Nittany Lions close out the nonconference slate with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff live on the Big Ten Network.
On a nine-game home winning streak, Penn State's high-scoring explosive offense will also look to stretch its nine-game streak scoring 30-plus, with a program record 33 or more points in as many outings.
Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley are also streaking. With at least one touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games, McSorley's touchdown pass streak is the third longest in FBS, while Barkey's nine straight rushing touchdowns is tied for the longest in FBS.
Penn State's defense hasn't missed a beat this year, currently leading the conference and ranked seventh in FBS in scoring defense, averaging just 7.0 points per game surrendered on the year.
Safety Marcus Allen led the way with a game-high 12 tackles last weekend, including Penn State's first safety since 2010 to earn Lott Impact Player of the Week honors. Allen and cornerback Grant Haley both earned staff defensive player of the week honor, with Haley triggering the Nittany Lion offense right from the start, with a first quarter interception that he returned 42 yards.
Rounding out Penn State's early success in all three phases, the Nittany Lion special teams unit has been instrumental in the 2-0 start, especially key in a 33-14 win against Pittsburgh last week.
"I thought probably one of the biggest factors in the game was drive start," Franklin said. "Our drive start was the 36-yard line. Their drive start was the 18."
Guided by first year head coach Shawn Elliott, Georgia State enters the weekend fresh off an early bye week, having dropped its season opener in a 17-10 loss to Tennessee State.
"I think the thing that probably jumps out to me is essentially this same team went to Wisconsin last year and was leading in the fourth quarter," Franklin said. "So they are going to be used to playing in these Big Ten type of environments on the road."
What To Watch For -
1. Trained in the Art of Chaos
Defensive line coach Sean Spencer has unleashed his wild dogs this year, with the Nittany Lions up front responsible more than half of Penn State's 23 tackles for loss on the year. Currently ranked atop the FBS standings, the Nittany Lions are averaging 11.5 tackles for loss, with defensive tackle Tyrell Chavis and defensive end Shareef Miller tied for fifth in the Big Ten, averaging 1.4 per game. Miller is coming off a career outing against Pittsburgh with 2.5 tackles for loss in addition to two sacks to match a career-high mark.
2. Playing at an Elite
On a conference call this week, Penn State assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith noted that the Nittany Lion secondary has made plays on the football this year better than it has in any of the last three years. As Franklin mentioned following the Akron opener, along with Christian Campbell, moving Grant Haley the nickel position has allowed for the Nittany Lions to utilize Amani Oruwariye on the field. Add in experienced safeties in Marcus Allen and Troy Apke and the five have combined for 24 of 99 rushing tackles and 12 of 40 passing tackles on the year, grabbing three interceptions (ranked first in the Big Ten) across two games.
"It's important that these guys want to make a new for themselves," Smith said. "We hear we're LBU and the wild dogs up front, well our guys want to make a name for themselves and that's what they've done the first two games. It's a long season so the third game is up and we're preparing for us to be able to make some plays when the play is presented to us."
3. Gesicki Approaching
Mike Gesicki heads into the third game of the season looking to match the Penn State single season record for touchdowns by a tight end that he originally tied in 2016 with five. Yes, in just two games, Gesicki has multiple touchdown grabs in back-to-back games (4 total), having also recorded a touchdown catch in each of the last five consecutive games. That's not the only Nittany Lion record he'll look to eclipse in game three. With 10 career touchdown receptions, Geskick i just one shy of matching Jesse James' (11, 2012-14) program record for a tight end.
What to Watch For -
1. Talented Wide Receivers
In his weekly press conference, Franklin noted that Georgia State's wide receivers jumped right out to the staff in pregame planning.
"They are a spread offense, mostly 11 personnel team," Franklin said. "They will mix in some other things, as well. They are an RPO team. They like to run the stretch and the pin-and-pull play, which we saw a lot of last week, so we have got a little bit of a head start on that."
Among the group, seniors Glenn Smith and Todd Boyd are the veterans of the group. Noted as not only a receiver but a target in the run game and in the return game, Smith ranks third on Georgia State's career all-purpose yards record list with 2,069 yards, as the first Panther in program history to reach 500 yards on the ground and through the air. Alongside Smith and Boyd is Penny Hart, a redshirt sophomore returning from a season-ending injury in 2016 who led the way with 84.5 receiving yards per game in his rookie season.
2. Solid Secondary
Franklin also noted that he and the staff have identified Georgia State's corners as their top players, presenting a possible challenge for the Nittany Lions. Filled with veterans, Georgia State's senior cornerbacks Jerome Smith and Chandon Sullivan have 57 starts between the two. Combined with B.J. Clay, all three have accounted for 13 career interceptions, grabbing nine in 2016.
3. A Bit More on
Georgia State's defense is loaded with upperclassmen who bring valuable experience. While it's in the past, it's worth noting that inside linebacker accounted for eight tackles, including seven solo stops when Georgia State and then-No. 9 Wisconsin met last year. This year, Payne is second on the team with eight tackles, with one tackle for loss and Georgia State's lone sack on the year.
Final Word -
Penn State's ability to capitalize on explosive plays has been pivotal in its surging success. With 18 long plays on the year, the Nittany Lions have only built on last year's thrilling consistency with an even larger arsenal of offensive options. Saturday's matchup will position Penn State against a Georgia State team that has allowed two plays of 50-plus yards in their last 13 games, something Franklin addressed early this week as one of the big challenges come gameday.
"You have a number of ways of creating explosive plays - that's throwing it over their head or that's breaking tackles," Franklin said. "To me that states that they are one of the better tackling teams in the country because typically that's where a lot of explosive plays come is you break a tackle and now you're able to take off for another 40, 50 yards, whatever it may be. I think that's going to be one of the better storylines in the game."