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2016 Gameday - Lions, Spartans Set for Regular Season Finale

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Gameday Central | Gameday Live Blog  Game Notes Press Conference Roundup Wednesday Practice Updates FEATURE: A Class of Resilient Leaders Monday Notebook Nittany Lions in the NFL

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 7 Penn State Football is set to wrap up the 2016 regular season at home, hosting Michigan State Saturday in a Senior Day matchup at Beaver Stadium.

The Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1) and the Spartans (3-8, 1-7) are set to meet for the 31st time in program history in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.

"We're playing a good football team," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "They're talented. They're well-coached. It's going to be a real challenge for us. We're going to need this place rocking on Saturday."

Ranked within the top 10 for the first time since 2009, Penn State has won its last seven consecutive games, including a 39-0 win on the road at Rutgers last week. The Nittany Lions will also look to extend their home winning streak, entering the matchup with a 6-0 mark at Beaver Stadium this year, with wins in 12 of the last 13 games at home. 

Last week, the Nittany Lions limited Rutgers to just 87 yards of total offense on the way to their largest road shutout since joining the Big Ten Conference in 1993.

Quarterback Trace McSorley led the way with 265 yards of total offense, completing 17-of-33 attempts for 210 yards through the air and one touchdown. The Nittany Lions were also productive on the ground, totaling 339 yards and three touchdowns.

Kicker Tyler Davis also logged a career-high performance, logging four field goals and three extra points for 15 of Penn State's 39 points to earn Big Ten Co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

The Spartans are led by head coach Mark Dantonio, who is in his 10th season at the helm.

"We're playing the defending Big Ten championship team," Franklin said. "We're also playing a team the last two weeks that has played really well. They played the No. 2 team in the country and lost by one point. The week before they scored a bunch of points and shut people out."

Michigan State enters the matchup coming off of a 17-16 loss to second-ranked Ohio State last weekend. The Spartans secured their lone Big Ten victory the week before, shutting out Rutgers 49-0 at home.

The Spartans own a slim advantage in the all-time series against the Nittany Lions at 15-14-1, having won last year's regular season finale in East Lansing. Michigan State has claimed wins in each of the last three meetings, including a 34-10 win in the Spartans' last trip to Happy Valley in 2014.

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Pregame Reading -

What To Watch For: Penn State
1.  Led by quarterback Trace McSorley, Penn State is averaging 35.8 points per game, which ranks third in the conference. Within the Nittany Lions' seven-game winning streak, Penn State is averaging 39.7 points per game, having scored in each of the last 17 consecutive quarters. McSorley is at the helm of the offense, as he enters the week ranked first in the conference and second in the FBS national standings with 15.57 passing yards per completion.

2. Another key to Penn State's potent point-scoring offense is running back Saquon Barkley, who leads the conference with 139.8 all-purpose yards per game, also atop the league standings with 1,205 rushing yards on the year and 109.5 per game. Barkley's 16 total touchdowns on the year are ranked 10th nationally and first in the conference, slotted as the most by a Nittany Lion since Larry Johnson had 20 in 2002.

3. Postgame at Rutgers, James Franklin noted that although he prefers not to make it a signature part of the program, the Nittany Lions have been tremendously successful in the second half. On the year, Penn State is outscoring its opponents 140-40 in the second half, with the the Nittany Lion offense ranked tied for third in the FBS in second half scoring (21.73) and fourth in fourth quarter scoring (12.91).

What To Watch For: Michigan State
1. Franklin stressed earlier this week that the Spartans have been playing some of their best football in the last few weeks leading up to Saturday's matchup at Beaver Stadium. That's not unusual for the Spartans though as Dantonio has guided his teams to a 25-9 record in November. With the shutout against Rutgers and a near victory against No. 2 Ohio State, Michigan State has won 19 of its last 25 games in the month of November.

2. The Spartans have rejuvenated their ground game in the second half of the season having totaled more than 200 rushing yards in four of their last five games. Most recently, Michigan State rushed for 207 yards against the Buckeyes led by a career-high performance from LJ Scott, who scored on a 1-yard run to put the Spartans within one, 17-16, with less than five minutes to play.

3. A sophomore running back, Scott has been the highlight of the Spartan rushing attack this year. Entering Saturday's matchup just 65 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark this season, Scott has 935 yards on 168 attempts with a team-high six rushing touchdowns on the year. He closed out his career-high effort against Ohio State with 236 all-purpose yards, including 160 rushing yards and a career-long 64-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. 

The Final Word -
When the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993, the conference established the Land Grant Trophy between Penn State and Michigan State, presented to the winner in what was each school's yearly regular-season finale up until 2010. The Land Grant Trophy honors both programs for their unique place in history as pioneer land-grant institutions in the United States.

The Land Grant Trophy is one of two conference trophy games the Nittany Lions have played this season, having claimed the Governor's Victory Bell following a 29-26 overtime win against Minnesota in early October.

Nittany Lions in the Community During Thanksgiving Week

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Penn State Football IN THE COMMUNITY

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football student-athletes have a lot to be grateful for on a special holiday like Thanksgiving. 

With a week off from classes due to Thanksgiving break and an early morning arrival from the Rutgers road trip, the Nittany Lions certainly did not spend their entire Monday off-day resting this week.

Rather, the team came together to show their gratitude for the tremendous support they've received throughout the community since arriving at Penn State.

The Monday off-day brought the perfect time for nearly 70 Nittany Lions to serve the community. Dividing into groups, Penn State football student-athletes spread out into the community to give back. 

One group of nearly 30 Nittany Lions traveled to the Centre County Youth Service Bureau for a fun-filled afternoon of games, and even a little dancing with Centre County youth in the area. 

From air hockey to checkers, to foosball and board games, the Nittany Lions spent time interacting with students after school Monday afternoon. 

Located right in Centre County, the Youth Service Bureau serves children, youth and families with a variety of different residential, family and community based programs, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters all throughout the area. 

Another group of just over 40 Nittany Lions traveled to The Village at Penn State. There, the Nittany Lions shared pizza for lunch, while also taking photos and visiting with the elderly members of the Village community.  

Penn State is set to host Michigan State in the 2016 regular season finale Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. kick at Beaver Stadium. 

Practice Updates - Michigan State Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football is set to host Michigan State in the regular season finale Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. matchup at Beaver Stadium. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin and long snapper Tyler Yazujian took time to meet with members of the media following practice Wednesday evening at Holuba Hall. 

Check in with Franklin and Yazujian for updates from practice during Michigan State week. 

James Franklin

Tyler Yazujian

A Class of Resilient Leaders

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Like those who have recently come before them, the 2016 Penn State Football senior class is unique to many nationwide in a variety of different ways. Through adversity and uncertainty, this class has proven that in the end, perseverance truly does win out.

Near the top of a short list of college football's program's with the fewest number of senior-eligible players, this group of individuals are certainly not lacking in size when it comes to leadership and chemistry.

Forever embedded in the fabric of a historic program, these seniors will leave Penn State with an unbreakable bond of brotherhood, leaving behind a legacy of leadership and commitment. 

Though small in size, the close-knit group is as diverse as they come, having forged their own path in the wake of some of Penn State's most tumultuous times.    

Arriving at different times among differing circumstances, the class was ultimately faced with with the hardships of a program that most collegiate student-athletes could never even imagine. 

Through sanctions and bowl bans, this collection of young men stayed true to their commitment, in some cases, to multiple different coaching staffs along the way. 

Despite all of the circumstances, each unique story leads back to the simple passion to put on the Blue and White every Saturday in the fall in front of a community filled with family and friends who have supported them faithfully throughout their entire journey.

For some, the constant drive was the true knowledge of the resilient group of individuals who came before them and their decision to stay true to a commitment.

"I committed to Joe Paterno and then again to Bill O'Brien," safety Malik Golden said. "But I think kids really commit to the players on the team. It was definitely the guys that were in the locker room that kind of kept me around that I could never leave or disrespect them in any way."

For Golden, it was those whose actions had already spoke louder than their words, that have left a lasting impression on him as continues to build on the legacy of leadership. 

"I try to be a positive example for the younger guys," Golden said. "I had some great leaders when I was a freshman and a sophomore like Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and Glenn Carsons, so I just try to take from the things they've given me and pass it on."

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For linebacker Brandon Bell, it was also those who had already stayed true to their commitment during the uncertain times that inspired him to do the same. 

"It was definitely my family and the teammates that I knew I would be around because I wasn't here yet, I was committed here in 2013," Bell said. "In just the few visits that I had, I knew this was kind of the place where I could fit in and be myself." 

Taking just a brief moment to look back in the midst of his final season, his decision is something he'll look back on with pride. 

"I think I'll be most proud of sticking around and staying true to my commitment at the time," Bell said. "To be honest, a lot people from back home were saying to me, 'what are you doing, why would you still go there' and now it's kind of changed to, 'wow, you've really made such a good decision.'"

Nittany Lion center Brian Gaia, like Golden, also originally committed to Joe Paterno before suiting up for both Bill O'Brien and James Franklin, even switching from defense to offense along the way. When faced with the challenges, Gaia chose to take them in stride. 

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"In talking to my dad, he said that in life, things aren't going to be easy and things aren't going to be the same so I just saw it as a way prepare for life after football and in the real world," Gaia said. 

As one of three senior captains along with Bell and Von Walker, Gaia has channeled adversity into leadership with no regrets. 

"It's been awesome," Gaia said. "I wouldn't have wanted it to go any other way. My time here has been exactly what I've expected if not more." 

For someone like senior tackle Paris Palmer, who arrived a little later to the Nittany Lion senior class, being at place like Penn State is the fruition of a different kind of perseverance and hard work, as well as the same gratitude. From a working in a peanut factory to Lackawanna College, all before putting on the Blue and White, Palmer is constantly grateful for his opportunity. 

"I used to always sit in the locker room and be the last one out because it's like, I'm really at Penn State," Palmer said. 

Whether a longtime recruit, run-on, transfer student, or third-generation Nittany Lion, the ups and downs have brought this unique class together in way that few other senior classes may ever experience.

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While most of the 2016 senior class committed under uncertain times, a few of them also made a promise at a time where an opportunity to attend a postseason bowl game was non existent.

"The most exciting thing has definitely been coming here with the mindset that you're only going to be able to go to maybe one bowl game and then going to two so far and having the chance to really rise from the bottom to being a top team in the country," Bell said. 

This year, the 2016 season will extend for at least another month following the Michigan State game, with the postseason on the horizon. Bringing forth the luxury of extra practices, these leaders will continue to help shape the future of a young team.

From 2012 on through 2015 these seniors have helped the Nittany Lions compile a 29-21 record, with four consecutive winning seasons before adding on yet another winning record in 2016 following the 41-14 win against Iowa. 

On October 23, on the heels of a comeback win against then-No. 2 Ohio State, Penn State entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since the fifth week of the 2011 season. The next week brought a No. 23 ranking in the USA Today Coaches' poll, before earning its first ranking the College Football Playoff rankings since the CFP's inception in 2014.  

Through all of the obstacles, Penn State's 2016 season is already a testament to the perseverance of a group of young men who refused to give up, shaped by the resiliency of those who came before them.

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"I know we've been through some tough times and nobody put their head down, they kind of kept their head high and carried the Penn State tradition and legacy proudly," Golden said. 

So much more than wins and poll positioning, this year's senior class of has not yet decided that it's time to look back, as it's simply something they've managed to completely put out of their minds since the day they decided to play for the pride that's Penn State.  

"My favorite Penn State memory is what we're about to create in the next few weeks and months ahead," Golden said. 

2016 Tuesday Press Conference Roundup - Michigan State

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Transcript: Franklin Transcript: Players VIDEO: Michigan State Player Q&As

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 8 Penn State football is set to host Michigan State in the regular season finale Saturday on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. 

The Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1) and the Spartans (3-8, 1-7) will square off in a 3:30 p.m. matchup on ESPN. As he does every week, Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media to wrap up the Rutgers win before turning the focus to Michigan State. 

Taking a look back to reflect on the win at Rutgers, Franklin was pleased with Penn State's ability to battle through challenging weather conditions for the team win, as well as the undying Nittany Lion fan support in the stands at High Point Solutions Stadium.

"The fans stayed and supported us," Franklin said. "It was just unreal. I'm just really proud of our guys. That was a mental toughness game, a physical toughness game. Great team win overall."

Prior to kickoff Saturday, the Nittany Lions will honor the contributions of the 2016 senior class, recognizing the individuals and their families in a special ceremony. Though small in size, the close-knit group of seniors is near the top of a short list of college football's program's with the fewest number of senior-eligible players.  

"They're special guys," Franklin said. "I think they're going to be remembered as the class that really kind of held this place together and also left out of here by making sure the program was headed in the right direction before they walked out the door."

Looking toward Michigan State, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions have a sense of what to expect as the Spartans bring both talent and toughness. 

"We're going to have a team coming in here that's going to play with a tremendous amount of pride, passion," Franklin said.

For one final time this season, the Nittany Lions will have the added advantage of the electric Beaver Stadium crowd, which has been instrumental in guiding Penn State to a 6-0 mark at home this season. As Franklin has noted throughout the season, the enthusiastic home crowd has made all the difference.

"We're going to prepare like crazy all week long," Franklin said. "We're going to need that stadium jumping on Saturday, once again, so we can all support one another and do everything we possibly can to find a way to get a positive result on Saturday."

On The Quote Board
-  On the legacy that Brandon Bell wants to leave behind. 

"I think the legacy that I want to leave behind is that the circumstances never mattered to myself, my teammates, and this group of seniors that I came in with and have played with for the last four or five years. The circumstances never mattered to us and I think that's one of the reasons why we came to Penn State, to show that - and I think that's what I want my legacy to be."

- James Franklin on the impact and role Parker Cothren plays on the team and on the defensive line. 

"He's the guy that's going to do 90% of the dirty work that most people don't see. He's in there holding his gap. He's in there taking up double teams. He's going to make some plays, as well as some tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, things like that. Those guys are just so valuable, those defensive tackles, especially the nose who has a tough job."

- Evan Schwan on what has meant to him to become a leader on the team.

"It's been awesome. I feel like I've taken a few of the young guys under my wing and just kind of showing them what it means to be a Penn State football player, a blue-collar, hard working guy that goes to class, works hard in the classroom to get a degree that will be with them for the rest of their life, which means so much."

- Saquon Barkley on what the senior class has meant to the team. 

"Those seniors mean a lot to us. They're the rock of this team. They're the reason why this program was able to stay over. They were here when times were bad for us. Looking up to those guys in the recruiting process is a big reason why I wanted to come to this school. Underclassmen want to play hard for them, send these guys out on a high note."

- James Franklin on defensive end Evan Schwan and how he has come to be a representative of the team.

"He comes into this year, hadn't had a sack up until this year. Had played a decent amount of time as a backup. This was kind of his year. He put a lot into it in the offseason - really had a great attitude. He's had a great attitude for three years." 

- Saquon Barkley's thoughts on what it means to be at Penn State.

"We got something special going right now. We know that. We're aware of that. I'm just happy that I'm able to be part of that. Like I said, I'm so thankful that I'm able to play at this school. Coming to this school was the best decision of my life." 

- How does Franklin prepare his Thanksgiving plate of turkey?

"Needs to be gravy, a small portion of gravy on the turkey, a small portion of mashed potatoes, and a small portion of stuffing all in the same bite. Kind of like a cornucopia of flavors."

VIDEO: Michigan State Week Player Q&A

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -No. 8 Penn State football is set to host Michigan State in the regular season finale Saturday on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. In preparation for the upcoming matchup against the Spartans, Penn State seniors Brandon Bell and Evan Schwan and sophomore Saquon Barkley took time to talk the 2016 season.

Check out updates from the Q&A session below. 

Brandon Bell

Evan Schwan

Saquon Barkley

Monday Notebook: Defense Relying on Preparation

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State head coach James Franklin was asked postgame if he'd ever been a part of an outing where his team had held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards of total offense in game, he wasn't sure if he had.

Saturday evening at High Point Solutions Stadium, the Nittany Lions held the Scarlet Knights to just 87 yards of total offense, marking the fewest yards surrendered in a Big Ten game in program history. Holding Rutgers to nearly 150 yards below Penn State's previous single game low this season, the Nittany Lions also gave up just five first downs, marking another program first in conference action.

Acknowledging the unpredictable nature of the weather, Franklin was quick to direct credit to the leadership of Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who has guided the defense through times of adversity and uncertainty to remarkable success to date.

"This team, tonight was a mental toughness game and physical toughness game and that's where we've been all year long," Franklin said. "There's been some adversity that's hit with the linebacker unit and o-line unit. It's been a next man in mentality with no excuses. We're going to make a way or find a way, and I'm really proud of the guys handled all those things."

Through preparation and execution, the Nittany Lion defense was on display once again Saturday, setting the tone early as safety Malik Golden took down Rutgers running back Josh Hicks for a loss of seven yards before defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Curtis Cothran halted quarterback Gio Rescigno on third-and-17 all on the first Scarlet Knight drive of the game.

With the Nittany Lions leading 3-0 in the opening quarter, linebacker Brandon Bell followed with a strip sack on third-and-3, forcing his second consecutive fumble to date. Although Penn State didn't recover the fumble, the Nittany Lions forced the second of 11 total Scarlet Knight punts.

In total, the Penn State defense matched a season-high mark with 11.0 tackles for loss, marking the Nittany Lions' fourth game with double figure tackles for loss this season. In the national FBS standings, Penn State is ranked fifth in team tackles for loss and second in the Big Ten conference.

Penn State's success on the defensive side of the ball hasn't been random though, as an increased focus on game week preparation with extra film sessions are now all part of the routine. 

"It's a routine and every guy knows, after class, when you get your school work done we need to get in the film room and get this extra stuff done," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "We're in there and any time we have questions we leave them on the board for our coaches, asking questions about the offense even before we get a game plan. It's awesome the kind of things that guys are doing and how guys are trying to do everything they can, put so much effort in to make sure that we're 1-0 each week."

Mike Gesicki's Record-Setting Performance
With a team-high five catches against the Scarlet Knights, tight end Mike Gesicki broke the Penn State record for tight end receptions with 42 on the year. With the mark, he surpassed Penn State's Andrew Quarless who had 41 in 2009. 

Gesicki highlighted the opening quarter with a 26-yard grab from quarterback Trace McSorley, landing on one foot just inside the line before nearly hurdling the Rutgers defense for the Penn State first down on fourth.

Tyler Davis Earns Big Ten Weekly Honor
Following a career-high performance at Rutgers, Penn State place kicker Tyler Davis earned Big Ten Co-Special Teams Players of the Week honors, making him the ninth Nittany Lion to earn a conference weekly honor this season.
 

Davis enters the week ranked second in the conference and 11th nationally with a .909 field goal percentage. He's atop the conference standings and sixth nationally in the FBS standings averaging 1.82 field goals per game. 

More on his impact in the shutout victory at Rutgers here.

A Quick Look at Michigan State
Penn State is set to host the Spartans Saturday at Beaver Stadium in a 3:30 p.m. kick on senior day. Michigan State enters the matchup coming off of a close 17-16 loss to second-ranked Ohio State. It came down to the final five minutes as the Spartans missed a 2-point conversion, giving the Buckeyes the win at home in East Lansing.
 

At 3-8 on the year and 1-7 in Big Ten play, absolutely no Nittany Lion is counting out the Spartans, as Franklin noted postgame Saturday that the staff would be grading out the Rutgers film before arriving home in Happy Valley to focus solely on Michigan State.

"They're a tough team and have been a tough team for a long time," Franklin said. "Coach Dantonio has done a great job for a long time and they have talent. We're going to have to have a great week of practice."

Davis Paces Penn State in Rutgers Shutout

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Whether rain, wind, snow or sleet, Penn State kicker Tyler Davis is as consistent as ever, helping guide Penn State to a 39-0 shutout victory on the road at Rutgers Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1) blew past the Scarlet Knights (2-9, 0-8), notching their first shutout since taking down Illinois 39-0 last year, helped out a career-high four field goals from Davis.

Having already adjusted through the transition to a new holder, Davis faced a different kind of challenge Saturday, with unpredictable whipping winds mixed in with rain and sleet adding extra pressure. 

"The wind is a big thing for me," Davis said. "Really the the rain is bigger for the snapper and the holder to get it back there, catch it and get it down." 

Those challenges all seemed like just another day at the office for Davis and company, as he kicked three consecutive field goals for the Nittany Lions in the opening half, including a season-long 40-yarder on the third attempt. 

Relying on repetition and preparation, Davis calmly explained his process following his first half heroics that kept the Nittany Lions on top early.

"Really what I did, I just picked a spot on the scoreboard - I always look at the scoreboard to see where I'm going to aim my kicks. So I just pick a spot, a little inside the right post or a little inside the left post and just try to hit it."

Penn State head coach James Franklin had nothing but praise for Davis, noting that if he had pick an MVP, he'd select Davis.

"That guy is unbelievable," Franklin said. "He has a real maturity for a guy his age. He handles things really well. We changed the holder situation and a lot of times that can mess up a kicker and he has been great. He basically told me that whoever you put in there, I'll kick it through the uprights however they hold it - upright, sideways, crooked, laces." 

Getting It Done on Third Down
Penn State went 10-for-19 in third down conversions at Rutgers, converting at one of the highest clips of the season. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley led the way with three conversions, opening the game with a 4-yard run to put Penn State in position for the first of three consecutive Tyler Davis field goals.

McSorley certainly wasn't alone, as he was joined by a solid rotation of running backs. At least three different running backs helped the Nittany Lions in key third down situations, with Saquon Barkley running in for the 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter for Penn State's first touchdown of the night. Barkley's touchdown also set a Penn State sophomore program record as his 14 rushing touchdowns rank first first all-time for a Nittany Lion sophomores. 

Penn State also highlighted the evening with a 5-for-5 performance in the fourth quarter, featuring back-to-back 11-yard runs from McSorley early in the frame. Miles Sanders capped off the quarter with a career-long 57-yard run before back up quarterback Tommy Stevens added a 12-yard run on third and-6 in the final minutes of the game.

Running Backs Highlight Offense
Across Penn State's seven-game winning streak the Nittany Lions have seen at least two different running backs score a touchdown in a game on three occasions. Saturday, Penn State saw three different running backs in the end zone for the second time this season.

Following the 1-yard Barkley touchdown, Andre Robinson spelled a sidelined Barkley stepping in for the 2-yard rushing touchdown, his fourth of the season, to push Penn State up 19-0. 

Mark Allen added the final running back touchdown of the night, with a 27-yard touchdown catch from McSorley, dodging at the Rutgers defense with a pair of sharp cuts before finding the the end zone.

Juwan Johnson's Blocked Punt
Franklin said postgame that statistically speaking, a blocked punt has the ability to swing the moment of a game. Juwan Johnson's first career blocked punt did just that for the Nittany Lions as he came barreling off the edge to find Rutgers punter Michael Cintron without so much as a single hand on him. Penn State followed with their first touchdown of the game, sparking the offensive momentum in the second half. 

 

VIDEO: Postgame Players - Rutgers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Several Nittany Lions took the time to meet with members of the media following the road win at Rutgers. 

Catch up with Trace McSorley, Juwan Johnson, Jason Cabinda, Brandon Bell, Tyler Davis and Brandon Bell following the win. 

VIDEO: Postgame James Franklin - Rutgers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football head coach James Franklin met with members of the media following Penn State's 39-0 win on the road at Rutgers.

Catch up with Franklin in his whole press conference below. 

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