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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State (3-0, 0-0 B1G) hits the road for the first time this year, traveling to Iowa (3-0, 0-0 B1G) to open its 25th season of Big Ten football Saturday.
Traveling to Iowa City for the first time since 2012, the Nittany Lions head into unfamiliar territory in a second consecutive outing under the lights, with kick off slated for 7:30 p.m. inside Kinnick Stadium.
Penn State punctuated its nonconference slate with its second shutout of the season last week, taking down Georgia State 56-0 to mark the first time the Nittany Lions have registered a pair of shutouts in a single season since 2007.
Running back Saquon Barkley continued to impress, totaling 142 receiving yards against the Panthers, including an 85-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Trace McSorley. With the second-most receiving yards by a running back in a game Penn State history, Barkley etched his name into the record books with 804 career receiving yards.
From defense to special teams, the Nittany Lions have continued to execute in all three phases. Having surrendered just 14 points to date, Penn State enters the weekend with a 19-1 touchdowns scored to touchdowns allowed ratio.
"On special teams, I just think we have been fantastic," Franklin said. "Our coverage units and our drive start differential from our offense compared to our opponent's offense has been a dramatic factor in games. Pleased with what's going on."
Turning the focus toward the Hawkeyes, the Nittany Lions are focused on the imminent challenge.
"That place is going to be rocking Saturday night," Franklin said. "Their sidelines are very tight. Their fans are going to be right up against you. We want to get our players prepared for that.
We've got to get ready for the noise."
Outside of an unknown atmosphere, Penn State isn't overlooking history either.
"Coach Ferentz, during his tenure, has one of the more consistent teams in all of college football," Franklin said. "You look at what they have been able to do not only against Penn State in our last 10 games but also against ranked opponents. You're talking about a blue-collar team that takes a lot of pride in their fundamentals, their techniques, being sound and playing hard. Really, in some ways, similar to our history and our traditions."
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Barkley Nearing
Seemingly every week Barkley's name has been found in the same sentence as the phrase, record breaking. Following a career-high performance against Georgia State, Barkley is now 196 yards shy of 1,000 career receiving yards and just 121 yards from eclipsing 3,000 career rushing yards. Should he reach both marks, Barkley would be the first Nittany Lion in program history with the pair of milestones. Earlier this week, Ferentz noted he was well aware of just how many different types of challenges containing Barkley would present.
"They use him in a multitude of ways," Ferentz said. "He's very, very tough to contain, run or pass. We're going to have to really work at it, and it's going to take a great team effort to get that done. He's one of several guys that you have to really be concerned about. They've got good balance."
2. McSorley Still
McSorley enters Saturday's matchup tied for the second-longest active streak in FBS with 18 consecutive touchdown passes, dating back to 2016. With nine touchdown passes on the year, McSorley is ranked second in the Big Ten, having also thrown at least two or more touchdown passes in each of the last six consecutive games.
Ranked third in FBS in turnover margin and second in scoring defense, there's no denying that Penn State's defense is executing at a high level. This week though, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions are giving up a few too many yards, which could present a real challenge Saturday.
"I think [running the football] is what Iowa prides themselves on and being really physical up front," Franklin said. "Coach Ferentz is one of the more well-respected line coaches in the country from his NFL time, and his teams have always been great up front. It's a little bit different. You're not facing a team that's a spread team or an RPO team. They are more of a traditional offense, like a Michigan, like a Michigan State, like a Stanford. Iowa is going to get up and they are going to line up and they are going to try to pound you from multiple personnel groups."
What to Watch For -
1. Stanley at Quarterback
Leading the Big Ten with 10 touchdown passes on the year is Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, slotted just ahead of McSorley in the standings. With 10 touchdown passes in the last three games, Stanley's streak is the best 3-game stretch for the Hawkeyes since 1987.
2. Leader of the
Both Franklin and special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff noted that Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell is the commanding leader and presence among the Hawkeye defense.
"He has a knack for seeing things before they happen, he has a knack for being in the right place," Huff said. "Obviously, he has played a lot of football in this league and the things that you see on film, you can see his veteran prowess kind of take over in games."
With a team-high 28 tackles on the year, the AP Preseason First Team All-American ranks third in the conference, having previously led Iowa in the category in each of the last two consecutive seasons. Jewell also leads the Hawkeyes with two sacks on the year, slotted second on the team with 2.5 tackles for loss.
3. A Potential Game-Wrecker
Earlier this week, Franklin named senior running back Akrum Wadley as one of the better running backs in the country. Although Wadley and running back James Butler both left the game early in Iowa's most recent outing against North Texas, there's no doubting Wadley's impact in particular. With 258 rushing yards and an average of 4.3 yards per carry in 2017, Wadley is coming off of a 1,000-yard rushing season in 2016, with 2,021 career rushing yards to date.
The Final Word -
Penn State heads to Iowa set to play its second consecutive night game since 2014. Under Ferentz's direction, Iowa owns a 9-3 record under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. Among the three losses in the record though, the Nittany Lions are the most recent team to come away with a win, having topped the Hawkeyes, 38-14, at night in 2012.
Aside from the night games though, the Hawkeyes also enter Saturday's matchup with wins in three consecutive home outings against top five teams.
"You think about last year and after they came and played here, the next week was a night game," Franklin said. "I remember watching it last year and they upset over Michigan, who I think was No. 5 at that point. It's going to be a tremendous challenge, there's no doubt about it, and we're looking forward to it."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff joined this week's assistant coaches conference call to talk Penn State football during Iowa week.
Catch up on a few notes from the media session and listen in on the call.
On running back Saquon
For Huff, when it comes to individual honors, awards and watch lists for Barkley, there's certainly, but it's not exactly those types of recognition that are the most rewarding.
"I think it's more pride in the work that he has put in this offseason," Huff said. "He worked his tail off this offseason, as all of the guys have, but he took it as a kind of personal goal to work harder than he ever has on and off the field, in the classroom, in the weight room, on the field doing drills and those things. The pride comes when you see a young man put in the work and you see him reap the awards from the things he sowed this offseason."
Owning a Spot on
Huff echoed Franklin's previous point that he and the staff had challenged the Nittany Lions, starters in particular, to own a spot on special teams. While Huff certainly detailed the process with Barkley on kick returns, he also noted that Barkley wasn't the only starter reaching out to secure a special teams spot.
"Jason Cabinda is another young man who people may not see because he doesn't touch the ball, but he asked as well," Huff said. "He said, hey coach I want to be on kick return. Actually, in the Georgia State game, we were going to replace him with another young man, just giving guys opportunities and he came to practice on a Wednesday and said, coach I am starting on kick return. When you get that type of buy in and guys want to be a part of it, I think it says a lot about your program, it says a lot about your leadership from the top down."
On Iowa's Josey Jewell
With the road trip to Iowa drawing closer, Huff was asked if Hawkeye linebacker Josey Jewell compared to any NFL or collegiate player.
"The guy that he reminds me of, and I'm not comparing the two from a physical attribute perspective, I'm comparing them from a leadership, awareness, efficiency in movements, a complete understanding of the game and the defensive scheme, is a guy like Mike Hull when we first got here," Huff said. "Obviously I think they are two different type players, but Mike Hull had an unbelievable ability to see things happen before they did. He was an unbelievable leader, he understood the defense and that's kind of what I see in him [Jewell]. He's kind of their leader, he has a knack for seeing things before they happen, he has a knack for being in the right place. Obviously, he has played a lot of football in this league and the things that you see on film, you can see his veteran prowess kind of take over in games."
Update on Journey Brown
Huff noted that true freshman running back Journey Brown has made huge strides since he first arrived on campus.
"When he first got here, you were kind of like okay, he's a track guy, he's fast, but he has a ways to go with football and now you're starting to see things from a football perspective that make you say okay, this kid has a chance to be really good," Huff said. "Now with that being said, he probably had the widest gap to close than some of the other guys, he was a little raw when we recruited him, just because he was a multi-sport athlete, he played basketball, he played track, he played football so there was never really time that he devoted to develop as a football player, he was constantly developing as an athlete."
By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nearly halfway through the season, the Nittany Lions are slotted No. 3 in the latest NFHCA Coaches Poll, with a 7-1 record on the year.
A valuable asset on Penn State's side is its offensive attack, something the Nittany Lions are well-known for, in both conference and nonconference games. Any fan in the stands can see it, as Penn State takes the field in shape, fit, confident and fierce. High-intensity play and stamina is a crucial component of their training, thanks to head coach Char Morett-Curtiss.
"What I've seen since preseason is our ability to play the play up out of backfield," Morett-Curtiss said. "With the midfielders using each other a little bit more, we've been really good about getting numbers up against our opponents, and executing some counter-attacks."
With some challenging matches
ahead, and a heavy Big Ten conference slate, taking place mostly on the road,
Morett-Curtiss aims for strong cohesion on the attack, and she's pleased to
have seen the team's cohesion elevate.
"Our focus is working on our connectedness and really just playing our passing game," Morett-Curtiss said. "We did a really nice job with that against Iowa, so just keeping the composure and knowing we want to put a priority on the possession."
Penn State's momentum has continued to crank up notch with every game, with an impressive uptick in penalty corners and goals. Between a strong forward line and a resilient defense, Penn State has put its opponents defensive lines to the test, exceeding their contenders in shots on goal in nearly every match, in addition to registering shutouts in four of seven games.
It's hard for Penn State's line of attack to lack that high momentum with a roster composed of explosive offensive players, including Aurelia Meijer, Gini Bramley, Maddie Morano, Katie Dembrowski, and Moira Putsch, who currently leads the team with six goals and seven assists on the year.
While there's no doubt to the fans in the stands that the Nittany Lions have a certain spirit about them, what's truly admirable is Penn State's growing connectivity on and off the field. Junior Katie Dembrowski, who didn't back down her aggressive playing style during a tough game against Delaware, owes her successes in the circle to her fellow teammates.
"Something pushing us through the season is definitely our connectedness," Dembrowski said. "We're all really close, and I think that shows on the field. We're all there to support each other, both passing and vocally."
The Nittany Lions have been keen with striking on penalty corner opportunities this season, an important element of pressing on goal for Morett-Curtiss.
"We want to have our forwards more engaged with opportunities when the backs can get them the ball," Morett-Curtiss said. "We're hoping for more penalty corners."
On the offensive line, Dembrowski has been a key player in slamming shots at the goal and finding openings, currently tied for second on the team with five goals alongside Bramley.
"We've also been really good at drawing corners, which is how we've been getting some great shot opportunities," Dembrowski said. "We had really good ball movement coming up the field, so we've been able to find those openings by getting the ball up quickly and once you get the ball in the circle, taking a shot."
With two home games approaching, and the remainder of the season predominantly on the road, the Nittany Lions have nowhere to go but up with their tempo on the attack. The competition is only getting tighter, with conference teams already vying for a Big Ten title ahead of the Big Ten Tournament.
"We really need to get Gini [Bramley] involved in the attack, she's been nursing an injury, and she's healthy now," Morett-Curtiss said. "What we've talked to the forwards about is really being ready for shots, and being ready for rebounds. Not waiting for the perfect shot, get the ball in the back of the cage."The Nittany Lions host Northwestern Friday, Sept. 22, at 5 p.m. before closing out the weekend hosting Michigan at noon Sunday, Sept. 24 at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Wednesday evening following practice, along with offensive lineman Andrew Nelson.
Full preparation for the upcoming Big Ten opener on the road at Iowa is now underway. The Nittany Lions and the Hawkeyes meet Saturday under the lights in Kinnick Stadium.
Franklin noted earlier this week that the Nittany Lions would be prepping for the atmosphere inside Kinnick Stadium in any way possible, especially when it comes to pumping in crowd noise and even a few unfamiliar fight songs.
"As you can see, we're working in the end zone where the speakers are," Franklin said. "I think it's louder, I know it's louder than what it is in Beaver Stadium so trying to get our guys as prepared as possible, playing the same types of music, all of those things, crowd noises and those types of things. I think we handled it pretty well, but we've also done it from the beginning of camp. We didn't wait, we've been doing this since the beginning of camp."
Per Franklin, just the music alone comes blaring typically around 97-98 decibels, with just crowd noise pumping through the speakers as high as 105 decibels. That's enough to make anyone's head hurt from time to time and Franklin noted that it's certainly not a piece of practice that coaches, staff and players are thrilled about.
"It's one of those things - you don't like conditioning," Franklin said. "You don't like morning workouts but all of these things are important for us to be prepared and be ready to go into these venues."
On The Playlist
Nelson also provided a sneak peek into Penn State's practice playlist. Among the highlight, "Throwback Thursday, Turn up Tuesday and Salsa Saturday." All playlists a pivot from what Nelson said was "all rap," in the past.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When sophomore cornerback Zech McPhearson committed to Penn State, his mother, Kim, cried.
It was April 18, 2015 and McPhearson and his parents were in Happy Valley visiting older brother, Josh, then a sophomore on the team, for Penn State's annual Blue-White game in Beaver Stadium.
Making his way back to his bedroom that afternoon, Josh paused at the sight of a single tweet appearing on the screen of his phone. Class of 2016 defensive back Zech McPhearson has committed to Penn State.
"I didn't really know for sure what his decision was going to be, but I told him to do his best," Josh said. "It felt good though to know that I was going to be playing with my brother and that he was going to be a part of Penn State Football with me."
are eight children in the McPhearson family.
"Zech is the youngest boy and my mom has seen all her sons go to college, so it was it was a special moment for her, but she cries even when we leave home to come back to Penn State, so I was expecting it," Josh said with a wide smile.
Eldest brother, Gerrick Jr., played football at Maryland and was a 2006 NFL Draft pick in the seventh round by the New York Giants. Then there's Derrick, who played football at Illinois, and next in line is Emmanuel, who played football at New Mexico. Then there's Jeremiah, who played football at Indiana (Pa.), followed by Josh, a now senior running back at Penn State, Matthew, who was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2013, and then there's Zech. Although Zech is the youngest of seven boys, sister, Kimberly, is the youngest of the eight. She is set to play soccer at the Division I level in January.
For Zech, Penn State had always been a top choice. With a longstanding family relationship dating back to Penn State head coach James Franklin's tenure at Maryland with Gerrick Jr. on the team, even before Josh arrived, Penn State was on his mind.
"My first memory of Coach Franklin, was at a testing day at Maryland when they ran the 40 and I don't remember it clearly, but he remembers it, it was all my brothers, we all hopped out of this Yukon, there were like six of us, and he just started busting up laughing because there was a bunch of us hopping out of the car to go watch my brother run the 40," Zech said.
Despite none of the McPhearson brothers ever playing on the same collegiate football team together, Josh was adamant on letting Zech make his own decision, even though the idea was always something he knew would make his parents, Kim and Gerrick Sr., proud.
"Josh wanted me to explore a little and see other things I liked and I did that, talked to some players at other schools and I just really didn't have the same feel as I had at Penn State," Zech said.
Four years older than Zech, for Josh, there wasn't always time for brotherly bonding growing up.
Per Christmas tradition, when the McPhearson brothers would outfit themselves in plastic helmets and shoulder pads from toy stores with NFL jerseys pulled on over top, Josh recalls Zech watching one of the year's biggest games from the windows, too small to join.
The older McPhearson brothers would let him join in for a backyard outing from time to time, where Josh recalls giving Zech the ball with the whole family cheering as he ran past his brothers with ease.
"We couldn't really tackle him because he was so small, he would cry if we hit him," Josh said with a laugh.
Together, Josh and his other five brothers would often speculate on the type of individual their youngest brother would grow up to be.
"It's really cool to see him in practice sometimes when I'm standing on the field," Josh said. "It's really cool to see his development. Me and my brothers would always ask each other how he would be when he got older because growing up he was spoiled because he was my mom's last boy. It's really cool when you have a family member on the team with you because you can really see where that person was and where they are now, and it's a good feeling."
When Zech arrived on campus he can recall calling Josh often even for the smallest of things. From campus tours and visits to drop off medicine when his youngest brother wasn't feeling well, Josh was also there when times got tough on the field.
"My first training camp, it was tough," Zech said. "One practice, I was not in the mood to go out there. I was really sick, I did not want to go out to practice."
So Josh marched over to Nittany Hall before practice to find Zech in his room.
"He came to talk to me and told me that this is my time, that I have to go out there and prove what I have and it really got me motivated to get up and go out there to practice," Zech said.
For Josh, it's simply what his older brothers had done for him growing up - what family does for each other.
"I had older brothers before me who always set the example for me, so I took it upon myself to be there for him and be able to give him what he needs and give him a helping hand in whatever he needs me to be there for," Josh said.
As Josh recounts, it's his older brothers who taught him to do things the right way the first time, so nobody has to tell you anything.
"I remember my older brother saying those words to me when I was doing dishes, he would tell me to do the right thing so mom and dad don't have to tell you anything," Josh said. "That's what I try to do with Zech, I try to do what's right and lead by example so he won't have any questions to ask, he will just look at my actions and that will be all he really needs."
It's now those actions that define Josh's work ethic, something Zech leans on the most.
"His work ethic is what I try to model my craft after," Zech said. "His work ethic is pretty unbelievable. I'm pretty sure anybody in the program would say that. I feel like that helped me this upcoming camp to really work hard and go get a spot on the depth chart."
While Zech is close with all his brothers, it's Josh who he says is the funniest, the one he goes to when he's in need of a good laugh.
For Josh, his relationship with Zech is different because he's the youngest brother - but also the brother that he says is actually the funniest.
About the same height and only about 15 pounds different in weight, Zech describes himself as a more mellow, laid back guy, unlike Josh of course.
"Josh is always bringing the juice wherever he goes," Zech said. "In the locker room he's always hyped up, always the loud one getting everybody hyped up."
While Josh would agree, he still insists that although Zech is quiet and reserved, he knows truly who his brother is and together, it's the bond they share that's truly unique."It's really special because we came from the same struggle," Josh said. "He knows what our family went through, all of the hard times and the good times and there's a lot joy in knowing that we're at the same place. We put in the same amount of work and same amount of time working on our craft, so it's great to be at the same midpoint in our lives."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin hosted his weekly Tuesday press conference ahead of the Nittany Lion Big Ten opener on the road at Iowa. Linebacker Brandon Smith and wide receiver Brandon Polk joined the weekly availability for a pair of media sessions previewing the upcoming road trip.
Among highlights from last week's final nonconference outing of the season, Franklin noted that quarterback Trace McSorley earned offensive player of the week honors picked by the staff, with Marcus Allen earning defensive player of the week honors and Tyler Davis and Blake Gillikin as special teams picks.
Franklin also noted how impressed he and the staff have been with Polk, who highlighted the 56-0 shutout with is first touchdown catch of the season.
"We are very pleased with his overall development and how he's playing right now - his enthusiasm for his teammates and the effort he's playing with," Franklin said. "If you watched that play with Saquon Barkley, we all know how fast Saquon is. Watch Brandon Polk, he's on the opposite side of the field, he sprints down, catches Saquon and gets in front of a defender, and then goes into the end zone and celebrates, and he's as happy as or happier than Saquon is. I'm very pleased with him."
As Penn State prepares to make its first trip to Iowa since 2012, adjusting to the unfamiliar certainly a priority during the week.
"I'm sure the coaches will have the speakers way up in practice this week for the offense, being able to communicate and make adjustments and things like that with noise," Smith said. "Whether they are really loud or a crowd that isn't that big and isn't that into a game, you know, each can have their own challenges, but we have our standard. We're just going to step up to the challenge and have our own energy, have our own standard, regardless of what the crowd is doing."
On The Quote Board -
- Franklin on Iowa's pink colored visitor locker rooms.
"Obviously one of the kind of cooler, historical things in college football from a tradition standpoint is their pink locker room. I think it's awesome. I'm not going to make a big deal out of it with our guys. I'm actually going to talk to our guys about it being a really, really nice gesture by the University of Iowa to welcome Penn State, since our original school colors are pink and black, and how wonderful it is and what a wonderful gesture it is that they painted their locker room pink for us."
- Smith on his decision to ultimately pursue a career as a doctor.
"I really value people and I value life, and I think I can really be a part of the solution in the health industry. I'm studying health policy and administration now, and just seeing from the other perspective, the administrative perspective, some of the problems our country is facing with healthcare. I think I could be a doctor who is part of the solution to that."
- Polk on the pride he takes in blocking this year.
"I take a lot of pride in that because I know the people out there who are blocking for me, they are going to give everything they can. I don't care - they don't care how big, how small they are. They are going to give everything they can. So for me, even being a smaller guy, I'm going to give everything I can for them. And if I don't give them the best block, then I'm frustrated and mad at myself because I know that if they were put in that situation, they are going to do their best for me."
- Franklin on evaluating his team in different situations, especially related to last Saturday.
"I remember when I was a young coach listening to some old ball coaches who'd been doing it a long time, they said one of the great ways to tell what type of team you have is to watch the fifth or sixth field goal block - or PAT and see if your team still going as hard on the sixth PAT field goal block as they are earlier in the game. That's a great sign of the type of team you have, and I think the same thing shows up on kickoff."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State Football has turned its complete attention toward the upcoming Big Ten opener. Following a 56-0 shutout against Georgia State, the Nittany Lions are set on Iowa.
Saturday marks Penn State's ninth trip to Iowa City in program history and the first since 2012, when the Nittany Lions captured a 38-14 win on the road. While Penn State has won its last three consecutive meetings against the Hawkeyes, including last year's 41-14 decision at home, Iowa has won four consecutive night games at Kinnick Stadium, in addition to all five of its last Big Ten openers.
Penn State has won two of its three Big Ten openers under the direction of head coach James Franklin, having last opened its conference slate at Iowa in 2010.
Before diving into Iowa week, take a look back at a few remaining Georgia State highlights and how they shaped positioning in this week's NCAA stats release.
Punt Returner DeAndre
Penn State's special teams improvements have been without a doubt exciting to watch. From Saquon Barkley on kick returns to DeAndre Thompkins' resurgence as a punt returner, fans are finding their way to the edge of their seats in anticipation for what either one of these two will do next.
"I couldn't be more pleased," Franklin said postgame. "Obviously having Saquon [Barkley] as a return man on kickoff was a great way to start the game and then obviously, DeAndre [Thompkins] has just been fantastic as a punt returner, even tonight, where their scheme was to use the low angle punt, which are hard to get returns on."
Against Georgia State, Thompkins returned three punts for 44 yards including a 27-yard return in the third quarter. On the year, Thompkins is averaging 20.2 yards per punt return, which ranks seventh in FBS and second in the Big Ten. Bolstered by Thompkins' 202 punt return yards in 2017, Penn State's punt return unit is averaging 17.92 yards, good for ninth in FBS and second in the Big Ten.
Penn State grabbed three interceptions against Georgia State for the first time since notching three at Maryland in 2015. Stretching its streak, Penn State has secured at least one interception in three consecutive games for the first time since the middle of the 2015 season (vs. Maryland; 3, vs. Illinois; 1, at Northwestern; 1).
Ranked fifth in FBS and first in the Big Ten with six interceptions on the year, Grant Haley is leading the way with two on the year. New to the group was senior Marcus Allen and true freshman Tariq Castro-Fields, who both recorded their first career interceptions.
"I feel like it's my birthday," Allen joked postgame. "I've been working on this for a long time. I always try to just be myself and I know that getting interceptions is something that helps my team. That's why I work so hard on it. It's an accomplishment for me and my team."
Penn State utilized opportunities to rotate in a variety of new faces throughout its defense against the Panthers. Among several highlights, defensive end Daniel Joseph tallied his first career tackle, tackle for loss, sack and fumble in his second career appearance on the field.
With at least nine tackles for loss in all three games this year, Penn State has totaled at least 10 tackles for loss in two of its last three outings. Against Georgia State, eight different Nittany Lions notched one tackle for loss with two more registering a half of a tackle for loss. In this week's NCAA stats release, the Nittany Lions remain atop the FBS and conference standings averaging 11.3 tackles for loss per game.
Helped out by the pair of shutouts this year, Penn State's defense is also allowing just 4.7 points on the year, good for second in FBS and tops in the league.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football put on a spectacular offensive display Saturday, showcasing its arsenal of options to cruise past Georgia State in its nonconference finale under the lights in front of more than 102,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.
With touchdowns from eight different Nittany Lions for the first time since a 70-24 win against Akron in 1999, Penn State saw records fall as the points piled up.
Let's get right into a few of the highlights.
Following the 56-0 shutout win to mark Penn State's first season with two shutouts since 2007, running back Andre Robinson (who accounted for touchdown No. 8 with a career-long 41-yard run), noted that among the familiar four-quarter team instructions, the Nittany Lions were particularly focused on a finishers mentality headed into game three.
Alongside the always resilient Saquon Barkley though, perhaps no better example of a unique ability to finish, shined through Saturday night in quarterback Tommy Stevens. Stevens, who finished 2-for-4 with 43 passing yards and a touchdown also grabbed two receptions for 19 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown catch.
As the first Nittany Lion with a touchdown pass and reception in the same game since Christian Hackenberg in 2015, Stevens was calm as he smiled postgame, noting he was simply doing what he was asked to do to put Penn State in the best position to win.
"I think my teammates give me a great chance, and the coaches included, give me a great chance to be successful, so I'm doing whatever I can to help the team win," Stevens said.
Insert exhibit one, where Stevens caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trace McSorley out of a two quarterback package that pushed the Nittany Lions out to an early first quarter lead.
Stevens' touchdown of course, was the first of eight for the Nittany Lions, followed then by Barkley's 85-yard catch and run score for the third-longest pass play in Penn State history and the longest Penn State passing play ever at home.
While it's seemingly not to anyone's surprise that Barkley could make as many defenders miss blasting his was to the end zone as he does on a regular basis, it's all part of the details for Barkley.
"It was kind of just a feel," Barkley said. "I kind of thought that Trace was going to lose me and that me sliding would help. I thought Trace did an unbelievable job of using his eyes and coming down to a check-down. It was kind of weird. He looked away from me at first and I thought that he was going to go down field and just naturally turned around and did what we work on. He goes through his reads, his one, two, and three and checks down. It's just something that we work on every single day in practice and he just naturally came down to me. I was able to get one-on-one and find a way to score and get into the end zone. Brandon Polk and all of the wide receivers did an unbelievable job of blocking down field for me."
"The fact that we had eight different players scoring is something that's huge for our offense and for our team," McSorley said. "It really puts the defense in a situation where you can't focus in on one guy and all of the weapons that we have and be able to have success with them, it's something that we feel is a huge benefit for us and we want to take advantage of it as best as we can."
Getting back to Stevens though, exhibit two came in the fourth quarter, when McSorley hit Stevens for a 9-yard grab before the Nittany Lions closed out the drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Stevens to wide receiver Saeed Blacknall to widen the advantage to 49-0.
While Stevens was humble postgame with a business-as-usual type approach, McSorley saw Stevens' impact a critical piece to the Nittany Lion offense.
"You see Tommy being able to come out and be a receiver, be a running threat, be able to take a handoff or throw the ball, it's something that a lot of players in this country aren't able to do," McSorley said. "For him to be that type of player for our team is something that, it gives us a huge option from that package, being able to have two quarterbacks in there. Being able to run our offense but also being able to have those gadget plays getting him the ball in certain situations be able to throw it and run it."
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