Nittany Lions Run Away From Kent State In 33-13 Win
James Franklin’s Nittany Lions kicked off their season at home for the first time since 2011, playing host to Kent State in an anticipated afternoon showdown in Beaver Stadium. Penn State struggled in the first half but shut out the Golden Flashes in the second half for a 33-13 victory.
How It Happened
Fourth-year head coach Paul Haynes and the Golden Flashes won the coin toss and elected to defer their choice to the second half. Safety Nick Scott took the opening kickoff back to the 25, but the Nittany Lions went three-and-out on their first drive of the season, giving true freshman punter Blake Gillikin his first opportunity to see the field. The Atlanta native showed why he won the job with a 49-yard bomb to pin Kent State well back in its own territory.
The Golden Flashes stalled on their first offensive series as well, but Trace McSorley, who made his first collegiate start Saturday, couldn’t connect with junior wideout Chris Godwin on a deep ball down the right sideline, forcing another Gillikin punt. True freshman quarterback Justin Agner orchestrated an impressive drive his next time out, aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Marcus Allen. The Golden Flashes reached Penn State’s red zone but would settle for a 26-yard field goal from Shane Hynes to make it 3-0.
True freshman running back Miles Sanders made his debut on the ensuing kickoff, setting up Penn State’s first sustained offense of the afternoon. McSorley came alive to lead the Nittany Lions down the field on an impressive nine-play, 79-yard drive that finished with a DaeSean Hamilton touchdown grab from four yards out. Rather than go for the PAT, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead sent McSorley back out for a two-point conversion, but he was stuffed on a quarterback keeper up the middle.
Kent State switched things up at signal caller, bringing in southpaw Mylik Mitchell for a few plays before going back to Agner. The Golden Flashes made it to Penn State’s doorstep yet again after a 28-yard gain from true freshman Kavious Price, but a pair of untimely penalties brought Hynes back on for a 43-yard field goal to tie things up at 6-6 with 11:33 to play in the second quarter.
Saquon Barkley showed his signature washing-machine moves on the following drive by spinning out of a would-be loss to make four yards look spectacular, but the drive sputtered and Gillikin was back on the field. However, true freshman Connor McGovern became the third Nittany Lion to shed his redshirt by rotating in at right guard.
Penn State came up huge with its first turnover of the season, as Malik Golden forced a fumble and his fellow safety Marcus Allen was there to pick it up deep in Kent State territory. Two plays later, Barkley scampered seven yards and dove for the right pylon to score his first touchdown of the year and give the Nittany Lions a 13-6 lead.
Kent State would tie things up on the next play from scrimmage, though, jarring the ball loose from McSorley’s grasp before he could get the throw off. Safety Elcee Refuge would pick up the fumble and run it back for an untouched 20-yard touchdown to make it 13-13 with 6:12 left before the half.
McSorley quickly shook things off by leading a solid drive into Kent State’s red zone, but linebacker James Alexander would pick up a targeting foul on McSorley and be ejected from the ballgame. Penn State would settle for a 29-yard field goal from Tyler Davis to give it a slim 16-13 lead with 1:47 on the clock. The Golden Flashes drove down the field with efficiency before being bottled up by a combined sack from Garrett Sickels and Nyeem Wartman-White after driving down the field into Penn State territory and Hynes’ 53-yard field goal try would come up short. The Nittany Lions would head into the break still holding a three-point advantage.
Redshirt freshman corner Amani Oruwariye turned an excellent offseason into Penn State’s first pick six since Grant Haley’s against Temple in 2014. The Tampa native jumped Agner’s pass with ease for a 30-yard touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a 23-13 cushion less than a minute into the second half.
Penn State’s defense continued its strong play with a three-and-out, allowing Barkley to explode for an ankle-breaking, 38-yard run down the right sideline on the next series. McSorley coughed up the ball on Kent State’s 12-yard line a few plays later, thwarting the Nittany Lions’ chances of going up by three scores, but again, Pry’s bunch bailed them out. McSorley stepped up with a huge 43-yard connection to DeAndre Thompkins, setting up first-and-goal from the five for Moorhead’s offense. Penn State would settle for a 28-yard field goal from Davis to go up 26-13 with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
Brandon Bell picked up Penn State’s third turnover of the afternoon, corralling an interception over the middle to keep the Golden Flashes off the board as time expired in the third. Though the Nittany Lions couldn’t capitalize on Bell’s pick, Gillikin stayed hot with a 49-yard boot to further improve his average (47.6). Both teams traded lackluster drives for the next few minutes before Mylik Mitchell came back in at quarterback for Kent State to lead the charge into Nittany Lion territory. Antoine White and John Reid combined for a six-yard sack before a delay-of-game penalty pushed the Golden Flashes back even further. Penn State put the game firmly out of reach on a 30-yard touchdown from McSorley to a wide-open Mike Gesicki with 1:53 to play, giving the Nittany Lions a 33-13 win.
Player Of The Game
Amani Oruwariye | Redshirt sophmore | Cornerback
Though he finished with only two tackles, Oruwariye’s pick six broke the 13-13 tie and sparked a strong second half from Penn State.
The Nittany Lions will travel to Pittsburgh for an enormous rivalry game against the Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field next Saturday at noon.