James Franklin often says game speed is far more valuable to him than track speed. Starting receiver DeAndre Thompkins has both.
The Hubert, N.C., native nearly kept pace with Saquon Barkley’s ridiculous two-touchdown outing, racking up 156 all-purpose yards of his own. Thompkins, a redshirt junior psychology major, looks so much more comfortable out there it’s almost unreal.
He finished Penn State’s 52-0 drubbing of Akron with two catches for 29 yards and four punt returns for 127 yards, including his third career touchdown to open the scoring. Thompkins should also make a major impact when Joe Moorhead calls for deep shots this season.
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His 61-yard punt return touchdown was the program’s first since Derrick Williams at Wisconsin in 2008. James Franklin said he was thoroughly impressed with Thompkins’ performance Saturday, highlighting his experience and ability to change the game in a few different areas despite the lackluster weather conditions.
“To see our special teams, and to see DeAndre Thompkins specifically get a punt return for a touchdown is awesome,” Franklin said. “I thought he looked really confident today.”
Franklin said Penn State’s commanding win to open the season was the “most complete” of his tenure in State College.
“We wanna make great decisions, but then we wanna be aggressive in all three phases,” Franklin said. “For us, [special teams]has been an area that’s probably magnified that we haven’t been as explosive or as productive as we’d like to be.”
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jarvis Miller, who co-led Penn State’s defense in tackles alongside Manny Bowen and Tyrell Chavis with five, wasn’t surprised at all to see Thompkins blow by the Zips.
“DeAndre was trapped in a bottle ready to explode,” Miller said. “We knew if we executed all of our blocks, he’s easily going to take it to the house. It was just great to see him in the end zone and have that confidence back.”
In his first start at receiver, Juwan Johnson had Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton next to him to take the pressure off. Johnson took advantage of that extra time to create separation and lead the offense with 84 receiving yards on four grabs.
“When he went through the seam, I wasn’t surprised,” Johnson said of Thompkins. “It was just like Buffalo two years ago. That’s just something that he carried on and he finally broke one loose.”
Even though running backs Mark Allen and Josh McPhearson were listed ahead of him on the depth chart, starting strong safety Troy Apke logged a punt return late in the game for 3 yards.
“I thought Apke had a chance to break one there in the second half as well,” Franklin said. “He got grabbed by his baby toe and taken down.”
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Thompkins will only continue to have the game slow down for him. Pitt’s defense better take careful notes on No. 3 while watching film ahead of next Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff on ABC.
Amani Oruwariye’s second career interception came in the season opener yet again, while redshirt sophomore defensive end Ryan Buchholz paced Penn State’s defense with 1.5 tackles for loss, including a sack.
Who was today's breakout player?
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