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McSorley takes charge as Penn State beats Rutgers
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Establishing a rushing attack, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley said, is not unlike the manner in which a boxer might approach a bout.
“You’ve got to throw the jab, throw the jab, throw the hook and counter, then hit them with a haymaker,” he said.
Barkley has had limited impact in recent weeks, but quarterback Trace McSorley landed the most telling blows Saturday.
McSorley passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as the No. 14 Nittany Lions drubbed Rutgers 35-6.
With the Scarlet Knights focusing much of their defensive attention on Barkley, McSorley hit 16 of 21 passes for 214 yards, and ran 13 times for 44, helping the Lions (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) snap a two-game losing streak.
His TD passes covered 22 yards to DaeSean Hamilton in the second quarter and 16 yards to Mike Gesicki in the fourth. His scoring run was a 20-yarder in the second period.
“We’re always at our best on offense when Trace factors into the running game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
That’s particularly true on a day when Barkley managed a season-low 35 yards on 14 carries.
“If they’re keying in on Saquon, I may be a little bit more aggressive with the (keepers) — really trying to keep them honest,” McSorley said.
Barkley did run for two short TDs in the third quarter, but he has just 141 yards on 49 carries over the last three games, sidetracking his Heisman Trophy candidacy. He betrayed no frustration on Saturday, however.
“You’ve just got to take what the defense gives you,” he said, “and when the opportunity comes you’ve got to take full advantage of it.”
Andrew Harte kicked two field goals for Rutgers (4-6, 3-4), which lost its 11th straight to the Nittany Lions.
“Really, the difference in the game was their skill against our skill,” Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash said. “We struggled to consistently cover their wide receivers down the field and we struggled with our receivers against their (defensive backs).”
RU quarterback Gio Rescigno was just 7 of 20 for 43 yards.
Scarlet Knights kicker Justin Davidovicz hit the opening kickoff short and high, and when no one on Penn State’s return team handled the ball, it was recovered by RU’s Lawrence Stevens at the 21. Four plays later Harte hit a 33-yard field goal, giving the Knights their first lead over Penn State since 2014.
McSorley admitted the Lions were “a little shell-shocked” by that turn of events, and Franklin did not disagree.
“That’s not how you want to start a game,” he said. “After that, I thought we made some plays and played pretty good.”
The Knights also bridged the first and second quarters with a 15-play, 57-yard march that consumed 7:45 and resulted in Harte’s 25-yard field goal.
Rescigno converted a fourth-and-1 from the Rutgers’ 44 with a 3-yard sneak, and later scurried about the pocket before completing a 12-yard pass to Mohamed Jabbie on third-and-9. Gio Edwards also ran five times for 32 yards in the march.
Penn State immediately answered with a McSorley-keyed touchdown march consisting of four plays and covering 65 yards. He completed passes of 19 yards to Gesicki and 25 yards to Hamilton, setting up the quarterback’s 20-yard scoring run.
McSorley struck again after a Knights punt, hitting Hamilton for his TD to cap a seven-play, 74-yard drive and put the Lions up 14-6.
Barkley’s two scoring runs, covering 1 and 4 yards, came in a third quarter in which the Lions extended their lead to 28-6.
His first TD run came two snaps after a gadget play. On third-and-9 from the Rutgers’ 15, McSorley hit Hamilton with a short pass, and he pitched to Barkley, who hurdled a tackler while advancing to the 1.
McSorley’s scoring pass to Gesicki came with 6:52 left in the game.
NOTES: Penn State was without OT Ryan Bates and DE Ryan Buchholz for the second straight week. Both suffered undisclosed leg injuries in the Oct. 28 loss at Ohio State. ... Lions LB Manny Bowen also sat out for what coach James Franklin said was a “violation of team rules.” ... PSU QB Trace McSorley has thrown a TD pass in a school-record 25 straight games. ... The game was marked by numerous special-teams misadventures. Penn State K Tyler Davis knocked two kickoffs out of bounds, and Rutgers K Justin Davidovicz did so once, setting up a PSU touchdown drive. Rutgers WR Janarion Grant also fumbled the second-half kickoff — on a hit by Davis, no less — but the Lions were unable to capitalize. ... The announced attendance for PSU’s homecoming game was 107,531.