Heading into Saturday’s Big Ten opener vs. Rutgers at Beaver Stadium, Penn State coach James Franklin said his team was focused squarely on its own business and not on the train wreck of a program RU has become.
It showed on the field.
After a bit of a slow start, the Nittany Lions (2-1) erupted for 21 second-quarter points to effectively end it. The final was 28-3, as PSU saw two backs break the 100-yard barrier and finished with 330 yards on the ground.
The Scarlet Knights? Well, they looked like a program whose head coach (not to mention multiple players) had been suspended.
Here’s how things played out.
MEN OF THE HOUR: Penn State’s offensive line finally got its act together, and man did it look good. It opened huge holes in the second quarter, when the Nittany Lions blew open the game. It allowed no sacks for the second straight week.
CLOSE SECOND: Freshman running back Saquon Barkley carried 21 times for 195 yards and two scores. A lot of those yards came after contact. He gets the nod over Akeel Lynch (10 carries, 120 yards, one score) based on the power running.
CLOSE THIRD: Wearing No. 5 in honor of injured teammate Nyeem Wartman-White, safety Jordan Lucas finished with nine tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
UNSUNG HEROES: Penn State punter Chris Gulla and kicker Joey Julius (along with their cover men) took explosive Scarlet Knight return man Janarion Grant out of the game. He had minus-1 yard on one punt return and eight yards on one kickoff return. This was Gulla’s first start of the young season.
TURNING POINT: Penn State scored on back to back long drives near the end of the second quarter — a 90-yarder that covered 3:27 and a 75-yarder that covered 10 seconds (Lynch had a 75-yard run).
SOLID STRATEGY: The staff is doing a nice job of mixing and matching the veteran Lynch and the rookie Barkley. Establishing the running game has been big, too. Watch how that opens things up for Christian Hackenberg and the passing game moving forward.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State rushed for 330 yards. RU rushed for 43 (on 32 attempts).
BUSINESS AS USUAL: The PSU defense finished with five sacks and nine tackles for loss. All five sacks came in the second half, three of them on consecutive plays.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Nick Scott took the opening kickoff and raced to the 34-yard line. It helped establish early field position for the Lions.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• Rutgers kicking a field goal while trailing 21-0 early in the fourth quarter. Sure, it was fourth-and-14. But RU was not getting back in it on three-pointers. Then no onside kick? Clearly playing to avoid the shutout. Yuck.
• Penn State allowing RB Josh Hicks to avoid a safety and rush for 19 yards in the fourth quarter. Yes, we’re nitpicking. But a couple of Lions had a shot at him in the end zone.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: WR DaeSean Hamilton finally shook out of the doldrums. He had five catches for 86 yards, including a 48-yarder.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• LT Andrew Nelson was out with a heavily wrapped left knee. He was replaced again by juco transfer Paris Palmer, who played well.
• LB Brandon Bell was back after missing the Buffalo game with an undisclosed injury and played well (nine tackles). He also brought energy to the defense.
• CB Grant Haley returned after missing the first two games with an undisclosed injury. He picked off a pass in the second quarter.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Was Penn State that good or Rutgers that bad?