Nittany Lions Rip Akron, 52-0
By BILL ALBRIGHT
EasternPAFootball.com/WesternPAFootball.net Senior Writer
State College — If Saturday’s non-conference meeting at Beaver Stadium between Akron and Penn State would have been an election, the best way to describe it might have been a huge landslide of immeasurable proportions.
Right from the opening kickoff to the final play, the Nittany Lions took control of matters as they demolished the Zips by the final of 52-0 much to the delight of 101,684 rain-soaked fans.
“Overall, I thought it was probably the most complete football game since we’ve been here – offense, defense, and special teams,” said PSU head coach James Franklin. “It is very rewarding to me that we’ve been investing in special teams and in a lot of different ways, times, resources and to see our special teams perform well, and to see DeAndre Thompkins specifically get a punt return for a touchdown, it is awesome.”
The two teams traded possessions to begin the game when the Zips failed to move the chains before PSU quarterback Trace McSorley tossed an interception.
Unable to generate anything offensively, Akron was forced to punt and Thompkins provided a little lightning to the PSU effort when he returned the kick 61 yards for the score with 8:13 left in the first quarter.
On the heels of Thompkins scoring effort, it was the Nittany Lion defensive unit that again flexed its muscles when Amani Oruwariye picked off a Thomas Woodson aerial to set up Mike Gesicki’s 13-yard TD reception from McSorley to give the Lions a 14-0 lead at the first turn.
“I thought our defensive line was disruptive all day long, said Franklin. “I thought the interception that Amani [Oruwariye] had was really good. He stayed connected, was confident and comfortable turning and locating the ball in the air. That is a difficult fundamental to learn, and I thought that was very impressive. And I thought our d-line was very disruptive, so that was great.”
“I thought he looked really confident today and that was a combination of a lot of things, continued Franklin when asked about where Oruwariye is at this point in his development. “I think he’s a much more experienced player at this point in his career. I think Terry Smith has done a great job with those guys.”
With Akron unable to get much of anything going at any time during the first half, the Lions kept the offense in high gear when McSorley scored on a 4-yard keeper. The McSorley score was set up by an 80-yard jaunt by Saquon Barkley who appeared to have scored, only to have stepped out of bounds at the Zip 7-yard line.
Not finished yet, Barkley capped off his outstanding first half with a 30-yard run to paydirt for his second TD to give the Lions a 35-0 lead at halftime and they never looked back.
After virtually among the missing in the first quarter, Barkley electrified the crowd in the second period to finish with 145 yards and the pair of scores.
“As a head coach I felt that we probably need to get Saquon Barkley more touches,” said Franklin. “But with the offense we run, you know they (the Zips) were putting us in a position to not put the ball in Saquon Barkley’s hands and if you do that, we have a number of other guys that can hurt you. So you look at Saquon Barkley’s stats, and obviously he had a great game, he was very, very productive, but I love the fact that we got quarterbacks that can beat you. We’ve got tight ends that can beat you. And we’ve got receivers that can beat you. And when you’re one dimensional in any phase you can be stopped and when you can have so many different people and so many different phases that can be explosive and make plays, then you’re going to be difficult for people to game plan against.”
With the Lion defense continuing to dominate all aspects of the game, the only scoring of the period was a 47-yard field goal by Tyler Davis and a 2-yard TD completion from McSorley to Gesicki.
“When the ball is in the air, that’s the only thing I’m worried about,” said Gesicki. “There could be three guys around me (and it) doesn’t bother me. I’m just worried about the ball, worried about making the play, fulfilling this role on my team. I really appreciate Trace putting that one up. I always tell him that I’d rather (have) it there than anywhere else. I’d rather it be up high to let me go make a play, and that’s exactly what he did. We were able to execute that and put six on the board.”
With only the final score to be determined, the two teams traded punches until backup quarterback Tommy Stevens set the final with a 5-yard TD jaunt with 10:20 left in the game.
The domination by the Lions was quite evident in the team statistics as they held a 24-12 edge in first downs, 247-73 in yards rushing and 322-86 in passing yards to give them an overall margin of 569-159 in total offense.
Individual leaders for the Lions were Barkley with 172 yards on 14 carries good for two scores, Gesicki with six catches for 58 yards and two scores, Juwan Johnson with 4 balls for 84 yards and McSorley, 18-for-25 for 280 yards and two scores.
“It felt really good just to be back in the stadium in front of our home fans playing again,” said McSorley. “It’s been a long seven, eight months, however long it’s been. I think it’s actually been about eight months to the day since we played in the Rose Bowl, so it definitely felt really good to get back out there, start playing again and really show that we’re still explosive.”
Next in line for the Lions will be state rival Pitt Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Kickoff for the PSU-Pitt fray is set for 3:30 p.m. The Panthers also enter the game 1-0 following their 28-21 overtime win over Youngstown State.
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