No. 6 Penn State throttles Akron
Penn State has a big target on its back after a surprising 2016 season. But a 52-0 home win over Akron on Saturday afternoon was about as easy as they come.
“Probably the most complete game we’ve played since we’ve been here,” PSU coach James Franklin said.
The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (1-0) led 35-0 at halftime as their offense, defense and special teams all contributed to the blowout at rainy Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.
DeAndre Thompkins began the onslaught with a 61-yard punt return touchdown midway through the first quarter, the first of two scores in the opening period that also included a 13-yard pass from junior quarterback Trace McSorley to senior tight end Mike Gesicki.
McSorley was intercepted in the end zone on Penn State’s first drive before rebounding to throw for 280 yards on 18-of-25 passing and two touchdowns. He also ran for 48 yards and a TD, giving him more than 300 yards of total offense for the sixth time in his career and fourth in the past six contests.
The Nittany Lions’ first offensive points were set up by their defense as junior cornerback Amani Oruwariye intercepted Akron’s Thomas Woodson at the Penn State 25-yard line. The Nittany Lions responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by Gesicki’s score.
Gesicki, who had five touchdowns in 2016, caught two scoring passes from McSorley and finished with six receptions for 58 yards.
Junior running back Saquon Barkley had two second-quarter touchdown runs and finished with 172 yards on 14 carries, adding three catches for 54 yards. He was robbed of a third scoring run that would have gone for 87 yards had he not been ruled out at the 7-yard line, but two plays later McSorley found the end zone on a designed draw from 4 yards out for a 21-0 lead midway through the second period.
“It starts up front, every single game ... every single possession starts up front,” Barkley said.
Akron (0-1) dropped its fifth straight game after losing the final four of 2016 en route to a 5-7 record. The Zips didn’t cross into Penn State territory until the first drive of the second half and ended up with just 159 yards of offense while allowing 569.
“You don’t let (this result) define you, you learn from it,” Akron coach Terry Bowden said. “We played hard, we just didn’t play great.”
Woodson struggled in his first game since offseason surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder. The senior was 12 of 23 for 71 yards with an interception and was sacked twice.
“I think our defense is in a good place,” Franklin said. “I thought we were dominant up front, especially inside.”
Akron’s run game managed only 73 yards on 34 carries, with 27 coming from Ohio State graduate transfer Warren Ball and 39 from freshman quarterback Kato Nelson in relief of Woodson.
NOTES: WR DeAndre Thompkins’ punt return TD was Penn State’s first such score since Derrick Williams brought one back 63 yards against Wisconsin in 2008. ... Akron fell to 1-29 all-time against the Big Ten, its only win coming against Ohio State in 1894. ... QB Trace McSorley has thrown a touchdown pass in 16 straight games dating to the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia. ... Penn State K Tyler Davis, who was 22 of 24 on field goal attempts last season, missed a 39-yard attempt in the first half but rebounded with a career-best 47-yarder in the third quarter. ... Akron has lost four straight games against power-conference opponents, getting outscored by a combined 171-20.