Penn State coach James Franklin sized up his team’s season-opening win over Kent State at Beaver Stadium Saturday in the following way:
“Overall we’re definitely happy with a win,” he said of the 31-13 victory. “I think we could have been cleaner.”
What did he mean by cleaner?
Well, there was plenty to like about the Nittany Lions new no-huddle offense. It produced 354 yards and just one turnover. First-year starting QB Trace McSorley accounted for 256 total yards, and RB Saquon Barkley piled up 122 total yards. Six different receivers caught passes.
The one turnover was a fumble that was returned for a score. McSorley completed just over 50 percent of his passes. And PSU scored only two TDs on five red-zone trips.
Defensively, the unit allowed only six points while creating three turnovers. The Lions had seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
PSU allowed the Golden Flashes to break contain numerous times. Kent State actually gained 219 yards on the ground, but its net rushing total was only 150 yards thanks to all of those tackles for loss.
So there is still plenty on which to work heading into next weekend’s short road trip to Pitt.
But … before looking ahead, let’s take one last look back at the Kent State game.
MAN OF THE HOUR
We’re going to go with Barkley. He did not have a monster game, but was patient as KSU loaded the box. Some of his best runs were the short ones where he made multiple would-be tacklers miss. Even on an average day (for him), the guy looks special.
True freshman punter Blake Gillikin showed everyone why we had been raving about him throughout the preseason. He AVERAGED 47 yards on six kicks. He is a gigantic addition to a program that has not had a solid punter since 2011.
Defensive end Garrett Sickels personified the work of that entire side of the ball, making six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
PSU held a 16-13 halftime lead. But on the third play of the second half, Lion backup CB Amani Oruwariye picked off Justin Agner’s pass and raced 30 yards for a touchdown.
New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead could have had McSorley dink and dunk Kent State’s defense to death with the short passing game. The Golden Flashes simply could not crowd the box AND stop PSU’s terrific receivers. But Moorhead did not go the easy route. Instead, he allowed the running game to get much needed work, because once Big Ten play gets here (and perhaps earlier), there will be times the Lions must be able to run the ball.
Both teams ran 69 plays. But PSU had the edge in total yards (354-279) while KSU had the edge in time of possession (32:56 to 27:04)
BUSINESS AS USUAL
WR Chris Godwin had seven catches for 67 yards.
A shout-out to PSU K Joey Julius for doing a great job as a kickoff specialist. He had six touchbacks and made a solid hit on one kick that was brought out by return man Kavious Price. It was a tough offseason for the Big Toe, so it was nice to see his return to the field go so well.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• The Lions giving very little playing time to their backup receivers. We’ve heard so much about these guys, so it was kind of surprising.
• PSU going for two after its first TD of the game, in the opening quarter. A little early in the season to be getting cute.
• The Lions allowing Agner to rush for 16 yards out of a muddle huddle formation in the first quarter.
• Some spotty tackling at times by Penn State.
• WR Saeed Blacknall allowing a McSorley pass to bounce off his facemask.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
After struggling last season, TE Mike Gesicki needed a strong game and came through with three catches for 49 yards and a score. Good sign.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• PSU rotated four players — starters Derek Dowrey and Ryan Bates, as well as Wendy Laurent and rookie Connor McGovern — at the offensive guard positions.
• The Lions subbed very frequently on the D-line. That clearly helped wear down KSU’s offensive line. When a backup D-end like Shareef Miller is in on two sacks, it speaks well of the depth.
• DE Evan Schwan and DT Kevin Givens both left the game with injuries. It was not clear what happened to Schwan. Givens appeared to be having cramping issues.
• Juco tranfer DT Tyrell Chavis saw spot action. But surprisingly, it was at the three technique rather than the one.
• Converted CB Nick Scott and rookie RB Mile Sanders split KO return duties. Scott (two tries for 52 yards) ran with more confidence than Sanders (two tries for 36 yards).
• CB John Reid handled punt return duties. He proved to be fearless in returning four boots. He had a long one wiped out by a penalty.
How much of the Lions’ new offense was kept under wraps with the game against the Panthers (who opened with a 28-7 win over Villanova) looming?