Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead peered over to head coach James Franklin with an unfathomable sense of confidence.
The Nittany Lion offense, sitting at their own 19-yard line after a Purdue punt, was getting set to trot out to the field.
Moorhead turned to Franklin.
After this 81-yard touchdown, do you want to go for two or kick the extra-point?
Franklin couldn’t believe his ears.
“I kind of looked at him like he was crazy,” Franklin said.
Sure enough, Moorhead’s call was money.
Penn State superstar running back Saquon Barkley broke off an eye-popping, back-breaking touchdown run, exemplifying his ridiculous afternoon and Penn State’s second-half resurgence in a 62-24 throttling of Purdue on Saturday afternoon at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The No. 24 Nittany Lions (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) are bowl-eligible for the third-consecutive year under Franklin, and recorded their first win as a ranked team since November 2011.
They did it in style, too.
Penn State’s offense, which totaled 511 yards, scored its most points against a Big Ten opponent since hanging 63 points on Illinois in 2005.
Barkley racked up 277 all-purpose yards (207 rushing, 70 receiving) and two touchdowns, while Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley completed 12 of 23 attempts for 228 passing yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.
The Nittany Lions rattled off 45 second-half points, controlling the game for the final two quarters, and when Barkley jogged off the field and looked up to see 62 points on the scoreboard, he couldn’t help but be excited.
“That’s what we want to get back to,” Barkley said. “We wanted to let people know that we’re here, and we’re going back to Penn State football. We’re going back to dominating teams.”
Despite the lopsided score, it wasn’t all Penn State all day. Like their road contest last weekend at Nebraska, the Boilermakers gave all the Nittany Lions could handle in the first half.
After leading the No. 9 Cornhuskers by four at halftime last Saturday in Lincoln, Purdue was tied with Penn State 17-17 at the break at home.
Penn State couldn’t have asked for a better start to the afternoon, scoring a touchdown on its opening drive for the second time in the last three games. Barkley scored his first touchdown on a 3-yard run, capping an 85-yard scoring drive in which he tallied 62 yards himself.
Penn State looked to roll early, but the Boilermakers responded.
A Markell Jones touchdown tied it at 7-7, then an early second-quarter touchdown pass from David Blough to Cameron Posey gave Purdue a 14-7 lead.
McSorley connected with Chris Godwin for a 38-yard touchdown, a short crossing pattern that the wideout housed, and then the two teams traded field goals before heading into the locker room.
Penn State, two-touchdown favorites, was tied with Purdue.
Franklin wasn’t worried. He knew Purdue hung with the Cornhuskers seven days ago, but he was confident that his Nittany Lions would be able to wear down the Boilermakers.
“I didn’t have a sense that we weren’t in the right mindset,” the coach noted. “I didn’t feel like that was an issue.”
He had reason to be self-assured. Penn State came out and looked like a completely different team.
The Nittany Lion defense, gassed and gashed with arm tackles left and right in the first half, was stout and opportunistic.
On Purdue’s first drive, former walk-on middle linebacker Brandon Smith dropped back into coverage and picked off a pass from Blough, who was significantly pressured. The interception led to Godwin’s second touchdown grab of the game.
Minutes later, Penn State recorded another takeaway, recovering Purdue returner Bilal Marshall’s muffed punt. Naturally, the Nittany Lions, taking advantage of the ball being at Purdue’s 24-yard line, eventually punched it home with a 4-yard Andre Robinson touchdown run.
In total, the Nittany Lions forced four turnovers and capitalized with 28 points as a result.
The Penn State offense, which clicked on the game’s first drive but really stalled out as the first half progressed, had new life.
Good field position helped — with the Smith interception, muffed punt and an onside kick booted out of bounds, all three of Penn State’s third-quarter touchdown drives started in Purdue territory.
But it wasn’t just that they were getting some extra help. The Nittany Lions were explosive.
The Boilermakers, after holding Barkley to only 34 rushing yards in the first half, continued to stack the box in the second half.
So the Nittany Lions threatened down the field. McSorley connected with Saeed Blacknall for 42 yards to set up one of Tyler Davis’ two field goals, and later a holding on Purdue on a would-be deep touchdown pass started to soften the Boilermakers’ front-seven.
“They were forcing us to throw it over their heads,” McSorley said. “It loosens them up, and let’s them know that we will take those shots, and we will eventually complete a couple of those down the field.”
That’s when Barkley got some breathing room. After averaging only 3.4 yards per carry in the first two quarters, the sophomore tailback had 173 rushing yards on eight carries in the second half (21.6 yards per tote).
The 81-yarder certainly helped, but thanks to consistent right-side dominance by tackle Brendan Mahon, Barkley had a field day.
“He’s the type of player we would all admit that has the chance to break one every play,” Franklin said. “That’s why he’s one of the better backs in college football.”
McSorley said he could sense Barkley begin to hit his stride in the latter stages of the game.
“When he starts feeling it, he gets in that groove,” the quarterback said. “You see it in his eyes.”
It was obviously a showcase performance for the Coplay native, the second time he’s rushed for more than 200 yards in a game in the last three weeks (202 against Maryland).
His 207 rushing yards is also the most ever for a Penn State sophomore and the highest total by a Nittany Lion running back since Shelly Hammonds’ 208 yards against Boston College in 1990.
To Barkley, though, it’s not all about him.
He had self-assurance at halftime despite the 17-17 tie because of his confidence in the offensive and defensive leaders.
He knew that they had the talent and resilience to earn Penn State’s first true road win since 2014, and he’s convinced the Nittany Lions can build on this momentum before hosting Iowa next weekend.
“We put up 62 points,” Barkley said, with a brief pause, “and we started off so slow. We’re such a better team than we were last year, and we’re starting to believe that. We’re making strides.”