No. 4 Penn State (2-0) dominated the field position battle with strong defense and special teams and Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki scored a pair of touchdowns each in a 33-14 victory over Pittsburgh (1-1) in non-conference football action Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions led from their first score to the end, never allowing Pitt within single digits after building a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Penn State was also aided by its seventh-largest crowd ever and the largest since 2009, as 109,898 packed Beaver Stadium and helped the Nittany Lions extend their home winning streak to nine, which is tied for the longest active streak in FBS.
Penn State’s average drive start was at its own 37, while Pitt’s average drive start was inside its own 18, and the Nittany Lions took advantage with four touchdowns and safety, while Pitt reached the end zone just once despite a pair of 15-play drives. On special teams, Penn State held the Panthers inside the 20 twice and four of Blake Gillikin’s six punts landed inside the 20, with his last setting up a safety to put the game out of reach. Safety Marcus Allen made the safety stop and led the Lions with 12 tackles.
Barkley amassed 183 all-purpose yards, rushing 14 times for 88 yards and a touchdown, catching four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, and returning two kicks for 50 yards. Quarterback Trace McSorley completed 15-of-28 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, with his lone interception coming on an end-of-half Hail Mary play. Gesicki matched Barkley’s four receptions and totaled 39 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, linebackers Jason Cabinda and Koa Farmer followed Allen in the tackles ledger with eight apiece, Defensive backs Grant Haley and Troy Apke – whom both had parents attend Pitt – hauled in an interception each and defensive end Shareef Miller had two of Penn State’s five sacks.
Mike Gesicki’s surpassed 1,000 career receiving yards, with his 39 on the day. He is the 25th Nittany Lion to accomplish the feat.
RB Saquon Barkley – Barkley was held to just 25 yards on five carries in the first half, but totaled 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and hauled in a career-long 46-yard touchdown reception in the second half. He added 50 yards on a pair of kick returns, including a 32-yard return on a free kick following a safety in the fourth quarter. Barkley finished with 183 all-purpose yards including 88 rushing on 14 carries.
QB Trace McSorley – McSorley threw three touchdown passes and completed 15-of-28 passes for 164 yards, while rushing eight times for 65 yards, including a career-long 36-yard rush on a designed run. McSorley has now thrown a touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games, extending his Penn State record.
TE Mike Gesicki – Gesicki posted his second-straight week with two touchdown receptions, and finished with four catches for 39 yards. He now has 10 career touchdowns, which is one shy of the Penn State tight end record held by Jesse James.
CB Grant Haley – Haley setup Penn State’s first score with an interception on the third play of the game, returning it a career-long 42 yards to the Pitt 8. He then registered his first career sack and made four tackles.
S Marcus Allen – Allen led the Nittany Lions with 12 tackles, including nine in the first half and nine solo. He also broke up a pass and made a stop in the end zone on a pass play out of the back field for Penn State’s first safety since Devon Still recorded a sack in the end zone against Minnesota in 2010.
DE Shareef Miller – Miller recorded a game-high 2.0 sacks and also assisted on a stop in the backfield for a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss. The Lions totaled five sacks and nine tackles for loss.
PR DeAndre Thompkins – Thompkins totaled 31 yards on Penn State’s three punt returns, including a long of 16.
P Blake Gillikin – Gillikin placed four of his six punts inside the 20 for a career high, averaging 43.2 yards on each with a net of zero punt return yards.
Special Teams – Pitt netted zero yards on its three punt returns to Penn State’s 31, and Pitt was limited to 16.5 yards on its two kickoff returns, while Penn State averaged 25.0 yards on its two returns. In the punting game, Penn State averaged 43.2 net yards per punt, with four inside the 20 to Pitt’s 38.2 net yards per punt with just one inside the 20.
LB Oluwaseun Idowu – Idowu was the Panthers’ leading disrupter, leading the team in tackles (8) and tackles for loss (3.0) and forcing a fumble.
RB Qadree Ollison – Ollison led all rushers with 96 yards on 15 carries, with a long rush of 32 yards. He also caught two passes for 30 yards.
WR Jester Weah – Weah led all receivers with six catches for 65 yards.
QBs Max Browne and Ben DiNucci – Browne completed 19-of-32 passes for 138 yards and two interceptions, while DiNucci scored the lone Pitt touchdown on a 3-yard run after Browne was forced to leave the game by rule after his helmet came off on a rush play.
First Half (Penn State 14, Pitt 3)
Trace McSorley and Mike Gesicki teamed up to give Penn State a two-touchdown lead at the start, with some help from Grant Haley, but Pitt was able to use a ball control offense to keep the Nittany Lion offense off the field in the second quarter.
Penn State could not have asked for a better start, intercepting Pitt’s fourth play from scrimmage on defense and scoring on the ensuing offensive possession. On the game’s first drive, Pitt quarterback Max Browne overthrew his intended target on first-and-10 from the Pitt 29 and found Penn State’s Haley instead at the 50. Haley retuned the pick 42 yards to the Pitt 8-yard line, setting up a short toss to a wide open Gesicki on Penn State’s first offensive play.
Both teams traded three-and-outs and then Pitt earned its first first down on a 22-yard completion from Browne to Rafael Araujo-Lopes out to the Pitt 38. The Panthers would only gain one more yard before Haley struck again, sacking Browne for a loss of nine to force a punt.
The Lions took over at their own 38 after a 16-yard punt return by DeAndre Thompkins, and McSorley engineered a six-play, 62-yard touchdown drive over the next 2 minutes, 43 seconds. McSorley broke free for a career-long 36-yard run on third-and-2 to key the drive. Later on a third-and-2 from the 10, McSorley found Gesicki on a screen and he slipped inside the pylon for his second score with 5:20 remaining in the quarter.
Pitt assembled a lengthy drive over the remainder of the first quarter and into the second quarter, eating 8:02 on 15 plays, but only gaining 31 yards before punting. Qadree Ollison converted a fourth-and-1 at the Penn State 36, but a 7-yard sack by Shareef Miller and an illegal procedure penalty moved Pitt back to the 44, where a pair of incomplete passes forced a punt to give the Nittany Lions the ball back with 12:18 to go in the half.
Penn State was forced to punt on the ensuing possession and abbreviated Pitt’s next drive with an interception by Troy Apke, but a sack of McSorley on third-and-8 from the Penn State 43 forced another punt, and Pitt reclaimed the ball at their own 13 with 6:42 remaining in the half.
Pitt assembled another 15-play drive to wind the clock down to 1:12, converting a 28-yard field goal after advancing 77 yards.
Penn State was able to get in range for a Hail Mary pass attempt before the break, but it was deflected twice and intercepted by Dane Jackson near the goal line.
Third-Fourth Quarter (Penn State 28, Pitt 6)
Penn State started on offense from its own 25 and quickly reached midfield on consecutive Barkley rushes of 17 and 11 yards, respectively. McSorley ran for four yards before the Lions were forced to punt, but Blake Gillikin’s punt was fair caught at the Penn State 5 and the Nittany Lion defense only yielded eight yards before forcing a three-and-out.
Thompkins returned the ensuing punt 14 yards to the Pitt 46, and it only took the Nittany Lions one play to score, as McSorley found Barkley over the middle for a career-long 46-yard touchdown reception and 21-3 lead.
Pitt answered with a nine-play, 59-yard field goal drive. Ollison moved the Panthers to the edge of the red zone with a 32-yard rush to the Penn State 21. Pitt was able to get first-and-goal at the Penn State 5, but Jason Cabinda bottled up the first down play at the 3, and Shareef Miller and Nick Scott pushed the Panthers back three yards on the next, leading to an incomplete pass on third down. Alex Kessman’s kick from 24 yards out was good to make it a 21-6 game.
Both teams traded punts before Penn State put together another touchdown drive. Starting at their own 22, the Nittany Lions quickly crossed into Pitt territory as Barkley rushed for 22 yards, and them 15 more were added on a horse collar tackle penalty to spot the ball at the Pitt 41. Barkley rushed for 11 more to the 30, and after McSorley called his own number for two yards, he connected with Brandon Polk on an 18-yard completion to the 10 for first-and-goal. Barkley rushed for two yards to end the quarter, and then punched it in from eight yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Finish (Penn State 33, Pitt 14)
Pitt answered the Barkley score with its first touchdown, driving 75 yards on nine plays. Ollison ignited the drive with 30 yards on a shovel pass to the Penn State 33, and Browne connected with Darrin Hall for 13 yards to the Penn State 20. The Panthers chipped their way to the Penn State 3, and on third-and-goal, backup quarterback Ben DiNucci ran around the left end for a touchdown. DiNucci stayed in the game for the two-point conversion and hit Ollison on a shovel pass to make it 28-14, but that was as close as Pitt would come.
A 23-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton on third-and-11 during Penn State’s next possession moved the Nittany Lions to midfield. The drive stalled out a yard shy of a first down at the Pitt 46, but Gillikin placed a 42-yard punt at the Pitt 4. On second down, Penn State iced the game with a safety, as Hall was stopped for a loss on the goal line by Allen on a pass play.
Barkley returned the free kick 32 yards to the Penn State 45, and Davis capped the drive with a 24-yard field goal with 3:34 remaining for the final margin.
PSU – 12:53 – TD – Mike Gesicki 8 yd Pass from Trace McSorley (Tyler Davis kick), 1 play, 8 yards, 0:04, 7-0
PSU – 5:20 – TD – Mike Gesicki 10 yd Pass from Trace McSorley (Tyler Davis kick), 6 play, 62 yards, 2:43, 14-0
UP – 1:12 – FG – Alex Kessman 28 yd Field Goal, 15 plays, 77 yards, 5:30, 14-3
PSU – 10:32 – TD – Saquon Barkley 46 yd Pass from Trace McSorley (Tyler Davis kick), 1 play, 46 yards, 0:09, 21-3
UP – 6:03 – FG – Alex Kessman 24 yd Field Goal, 9 plays, 59 yards, 4:29, 21-6
PSU – 14:54 – TD – Saquon Barkley 8 yd Run (Tyler Davis kick), 6 plays, 78 yards, 2:32, 28-6
UP – 10:09 – TD – Ben DiNucci 3 yd Run (Qadree ollison pass from DiNucci), 9 plays, 75 yards, 4:45, 28-14
PSU – 5:53 – SAFETY – by Marcus Allen 4 yd, 30-14
PSU – 3:34 – FG – Tyler Davis 24 yd Field Goal, 7 plays, 34 yards, 2:11, 33-14
Penn State concludes its non-conference slate with its first night contest, a 7:30 p.m. kick against Georgia State televised on BTN.
Single-game tickets for the 2017 Penn State football season presented by PSECU are available for four home games (Georgia State, Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska). For information on joining the Nittany Lion Club and purchasing new 2018 season tickets, as well as club seating in Beaver Stadium, fans can visit www.PSUnrivaled.com, call 1-800-NITTANY weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or visit the Bryce Jordan Center ticket office weekdays from 9 a.m-4:30 p.m. More than 9,000 new season tickets have been sold and the season ticket allotment for 2017 has been exhausted.