Nittany Lions make all sorts of gains in rout
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — “That’s a big number,” running back Saquon Barkley said of the point total.
The biggest for Penn State, in fact, in eight years.
And it happened in a hurry.
The Nittany Lions obliterated Purdue on Saturday, 62-24, pouring on 45 points in the second half to break away from a knotted score of 17-all. As crazy as it sounds, the Boilermakers actually led late in the first half, 17-14, but got destroyed the rest of the way before a tiny crowd of 33,157 at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Last week’s stunning upset of No. 2 Ohio State showed how much progress Penn State has made in a short time this season, and Saturday’s thumping proved the team is capable of doing big things even when it doesn’t necessarily play a complete game.
“We put up 62 points, and we started off so slow,” Barkley said. “We’re a so much better team than we were last year.”
Forget about last year. The Lions (6-2, 5-1 Big Ten) are so much better than they were just last month.
They’ve won four in a row, and with six wins, are now bowl eligible.
“Coming into my college career, this is the only year I thought that I would have a bowl game,” said center Brian Gaia, referencing the NCAA sanctions. “But it’s a blessing to have it the past two years, and we’re going to keep climbing to get the best bowl we can get.”
Barkley ran for 207 yards on only 18 carries, including an 81-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that was predicted by offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Long before that, however, the game changed dramatically thanks to one player who was in the right place at the right time, even though he wasn’t supposed to be there.
Purdue (3-5, 1-4) got the ball to start the third quarter with the score tied at 17. Linebacker Brandon Smith was a surprise starter in the second half for PSU, since Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda are both back from injuries.
“I wasn’t supposed to be in that series, and something was wrong with Jason’s helmet,” Smith said. “So I’ve got to give thanks to him for letting me in there that play.”
That play, as he called it, turned out to be a huge interception on Purdue’s third play of the half. Smith played coverage over the middle on third-and-3 from the Boilermakers’ 42, hung back and picked off the pass from David Blough.
Smith didn’t even know he would be on the field until 30 seconds before that series.
“Right before the kickoff, (Cabinda) said, ‘B, you might have to go in because something’s wrong with my helmet,'” Smith said.
Smith, a married walk-on player who has made the most of his opportunity to play this season, not only got the interception, he fought off tacklers and returned it 22 yards to the Purdue 24.
“My wife asks all the time if I’m going to score a touchdown this week,” he said. “It’s very hard, and I wasn’t able to get in, but I tried my hardest.”
Barkley carried for 9 yards on back-to-back runs after the interception, then for 5 more before Trace McSorley hit Chris Godwin for a 1-yard touchdown.
Penn State was pretty much unstoppable after that, scoring 24 points in the third quarter and 21 more in the fourth.
“I don’t want to say we’re a second-half team because we’re trying to change that …. but today it helped us, coming in and telling the guys, ‘Don’t worry, stay with the plan,'” PSU coach James Franklin said.
Purdue’s Bilal Marshal fumbled a punt that the Lions recovered at the Boilers’ 24. Following a 20-yard run by Barkley, Andre Robinson took it in from 6 yards for a 31-17 lead with 8:17 left in the third.
A Tyler Davis field goal made it 34-17, and Purdue’s last gasp came on a 62-yard TD from Blough to DeAngelo Yancey.
For some strange reason, Boilermakers interim coach Gerad Parker then called for an onside kick, which backfired in a big way. The ball went out of bounds at the 40, and PSU needed just three plays to reach the end zone and kill any momentum Purdue might have gained.
Miles Sanders caught a pass in the flat and turned it into a 21-yard TD for that score, and following a quick three-and-out by Purdue, Barkley turned in the highlight of the day,
Just before Penn State’s offense took the field at its own 19-yard line, Moorhead gathered the players and made a prediction.
“He said, ‘We’re going to run this, Saquon’s going to pop it for an 81-yard touchdown,'” McSorley said. “And he looked at Coach Franklin and said, ‘Can we go for 2,’ and Coach Franklin was like, ‘No.'”
Sure enough, Barkley took the handoff to his right, bounced it outside and raced down the sideline for the 81-yard TD.
“He called the play, and he told the O-line, ‘Block it right and 2-6 will take it for 80,'” Barkley said of Moorhead’s prediction.
As he ran for the long score, Barkley noticed that offensive lineman Ryan Bates was running close to him and keeping pace way down the field.
“When I got out, I saw something that I thought was a Purdue defender, but it was Ryan Bates,” Barkley said. “(He) was just running down the sideline with me. People joked around and said Ryan was faster than me.”
Barkley thought for a moment about turning his own highlight-reel play into something truly unique.
“I thought about pitching it back (to Bates),” he said. “I don’t think Coach Franklin would have been too happy about that, or Joe-Mo.”
The long run gave Barkley his second 200-yard game in the past three contests. He had 202 against Maryland on Oct. 8. Penn State finished with 257 yards rushing, despite having only 34 in the first half.
The Lions kept pouring it on as Mark Allen scored from a yard out and Robinson found paydirt from 19 yards with 2:25 left to get over the 60-point plateau. It was the first time PSU scored at least 60 since the 2008 opener against Coastal Carolina (66-10), and first time against a Big Ten opponent since a 63-10 thrashing of Illinois in 2005.
“This is a good statement game for our offense, kind of break through that threshold and put a ton of points up on the board and do it in a variety of ways,” McSorley said.