To say Penn State picked up right where it left off after last season’s impressive offensive scheme throttled opponents would be an understatement.
The Nittany Lions, who routinely put up 400-yard outings of total offense and averaged 37.6 points per game, posted 569 yards of total offense in the 52-0 win against Akron — a figure which would have been good for the team’s second-best total last season.
Junior Heisman Trophy contenders Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley were at the helm of this offensive surge, both last year and Saturday.
McSorley broke five school records in 2016 — single season passing yards, total yards, passing touchdowns, 300-yard games, and consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Based on his performance against the Zips, the second-year starter could be in place to break all those records once again.
Before getting pulled early in the fourth quarter, McSorley had 328 total yards, 280 of which were in the air, and three total touchdowns, including a run and two passes to senior tight end Mike Gesicki.
“I think we played pretty good,” McSorley said. “We came out real strong in the first half and were able to move the ball. We had the one turnover on the first drive that stalled that out, but other than that we were able to move the ball and put points on the board.”
Alongside him in the shotgun set, Barkley has become the nation’s face of the running game.
Barkley rushed for 174 yards in the win, including his 80-yard run, which was just one yard shy of his career record.
The rushing figure was good for his sixth-best performance in his three-year Penn State career despite receiving just 14 carries, less than the usual 20-plus carries he receives a game, because Akron shifted its focus toward him.
“With the offense we run, they were putting us in a position to not put the ball in Saquon Barkley’s hands,” head coach James Franklin said. “We’ve got quarterbacks that can beat you, running backs that can beat you, wide receivers that can beat you.”
“We have a number of other guys that can hurt you.”
Despite not always getting his shot during drives, Barkley believes patience in games like these give him the opportunity to have this type of breakout performances.
“I just stay locked in the game and stay focused on the game,” Barkley said. “Something that coach wants me to focus on is being patient, and when your opportunities come, you’ve got to take full advantage of it.”
It isn’t the team’s plan to use Barkley as a decoy, but with experienced and skillful players surrounding him, less is more for the Nittany Lions’ use of the star.
“We’re legitimately trying to get [Barkley] the ball, but the reads on it, they’re taking him away,” McSorley said. “If teams want to do that, kind of what Coach Franklin said, earlier, we’ve got five or six other guys that defenses have to worry about.”
Playing like this, the hype train for this duo is not going to die out anytime soon. Heading into the team’s matchup with Pitt next weekend, it is going to take a renewed focus from the pairing for the Nittany Lions to continue to roll and avenge last season’s loss to the Panthers.