The recipe for victory in overtime for the Penn State Nittany Lions was simple: a single shot of Saquon Barkley and a 25-yard rush to the end zone for six points.
Barkley had 38-yards on the ground through four quarters of football early Saturday evening, but his 25-yard touchdown on Penn State’s first play in overtime gave the Nittany Lions the score they needed to beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 29-26.
“I think this is something our players needed. Everybody needed,” said head coach James Franklin.
Minnesota dominated the first half of the game, but Penn State, on the shoulders of quarterback Trace McSorley, came back with a vengeance in the third quarter with a 17-point scoring output to put the Nittany Lions on top going into the fourth quarter. But a Minnesota touchdown and a field goal in the fourth quarter put Penn State down three points with only 52 seconds left in the game.
McSorley promptly found Chris Godwin on only Penn State’s second third down conversion of the game for a 20-yard completion. DeAndre Thompkins caught a seven-yard pass from McSorley before the quarterback scampered 26-yards to the Minnesota 22-yard line to put the Nittany Lions in position for the 17th consecutive field goal made by kicker Tyler Davis with two seconds left in the game.
The Penn State defense had the most impressive stand of the game on the only possession the Golden Gophers had in overtime. Forcing Rodney Smith to a one-yard rush on first down, the Nittany Lions then sacked quarterback Mitch Leidner on the ensuing play. Leidner’s pass on third down fell short and, as a result, the Golden Gophers were forced to settle for a field goal.
On the first play from scrimmage for Penn State, McSorley gave the ball to Barkley, and the rest was history as the running back shed two tackles en route to the end zone for his lone touchdown on the day.
“I’m so proud of Saquon. You never see bad body language from him. He keeps persevering,” Franklin said.
McSorley continues to impress
The first-year starter for the Nittany Lions got off to a rough start in the first half against the Golden Gophers. However, in the second half, McSorley came out firing. McSorley found Irvin Charles for an 80-yard touchdown pass to get the Nittany Lions within three points of Minnesota. On the next drive, McSorley found tight end Mike Gesicki for a 53-yard completion to set up a six yard scamper to the end zone for the quarterback.
The redshirt sophomore finished with 335-yards passing on 19 completions in his fifth game as starter for the Nittany Lions. McSorley’s ability to open up the field with his arm and his legs allowed those big plays to develop down the field. The 408-yards of total offense McSorley racked up put him third behind Zack Mills and Christian Hackenberg for most in a single game.
Defense comes up big under pressure
Brent Pry’s defense — in particular the linebacker unit — has struggled with injuries throughout the season. Saturday was no different as both Jake Cooper and Brandon Smith were tended to on the sidelines by the trainers.
“We’ve got seven linebackers that are out. Seven,” Franklin said.
Through all of the injuries and adversity the defense went through in the game and thus far in the season, Penn State came ready to play in overtime. The sack in overtime by Evan Schwan was only the second in the game, but it changed the momentum on the drive for the Golden Gophers.
Third down offense still struggling
The Nittany Lions converted only three third down conversions (out of 13 opportunities) during Saturday’s game. A point of emphasis for the Penn State offense of late struggled mightily.
For Franklin, the ability to convert lies in the ability for the offense to be consistent with the ball.
“We’re not consistent running the ball, and we’re not consistent protecting.” Franklin said.
For Penn State to continue to win games during Big Ten play, the ability to convert on third down will play a huge factor in the team’s success.
Maryland comes to Happy Valley next Saturday for a kickoff at noon EDT. The Terrapins are coming off a 50-7 drubbing of Purdue. In their last game at Beaver Stadium in 2014, Maryland came away with a 20-19 victory.
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