Well, it wasn’t perfect — Penn State had a slow start and a so-so rushing performance — but a Big Ten win on the road is a Big Ten win on the road, and the No. 4 Nittany Lions will take it.
Penn State trounced an overmatched Northwestern 31-7 on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field, keeping its undefeated season alive.
The Nittany Lions’ defense locked down the Wildcats, Saquon Barkley showed a late burst, and Trace McSorley was effective.
Player of the game
Trace McSorley: Outside of choosing Barkley after the Iowa game, this is the easiest selection of the season.
McSorley was absolutely cooking. The Northwestern defense sold out — successfully — on stopping Barkley in the run game, but No. 9 made the Wildcats pay.
For most of the afternoon, he had all the time in the world to choose an open receiver, and there were plenty of options. Penn State seemingly had at least two pass-catchers open on every snap, and McSorley tossed darts to them.
The quarterback — who finished with 245 yards while completing 25 of his 34 attempts — connected on 15 straight passes from the game’s second drive to the middle of the third quarter. After three incompletions on Penn State’s opening series going into the wind, McSorley closed out the first half with nine consecutive hookups, and he took that form into the third.
The redshirt junior, who’s taken a little heat for jittery performances early on this season, was near-perfect on Saturday.
With Barkley effectively neutralized, Penn State couldn’t have asked for a better showing by McSorley.
Shaka Toney: Penn State has a crowded cluster of defensive ends. Even after Torrence Brown was lost for the season, the group has shined. Shareef Miller is scaring opponents, and Ryan Buchholz has been an unsung hero all season. All the while, Shane Simmons, Colin Castagna and even true freshman Yetur Gross-Matos have received some praise.
But when Shaka Toney gets in on obvious passing downs, he’s been a handful to deal with — and he proved as much on Saturday.
The redshirt freshman halted Northwestern’s offense in the first quarter, fully extending his left arm into left tackle Blake Hance’s throat and driving him backward into his quarterback. Toney used his free right hand to rip the ball from Clayton Thorson’s hands, and Kevin Givens recovered. The Nittany Lions used the extra possession to put their first points on the board, a field goal by Tyler Davis. And it was all thanks to Toney.
Barkley’s breakthrough: It took him his 13th carry, but Barkley finally did Barkley things.
The Heisman Trophy candidacy lost a bit of luster through pretty much three quarters at Ryan Field. Barkley was kept totally in-check, managing only four yards on his first 12 carries. In fact, after a one-yard leaping score, he had more touchdowns (1) at that point than rushing yards (0).
But he was due.
Barkley corralled the handoff from McSorley, hesitated at the line of scrimmage and hit the turbo button. A quick burst through the second level caused two Wildcat defenders to dive simultaneously — and miss. Barkley hit the sideline and that was that, off to the races. The back made safety Kyle Querio look awfully slow, dusting him to finish off a 53-yard touchdown.
The play put the Nittany Lions up 24-0 and silenced those doubting his Heisman campaign.
Barkley’s dash: See above — that play by Barkley solidified Penn State’s road win.
The Wildcats were punchless on offense and really didn’t pose a threat to come back down 17-0. But the back’s 53-yard score secured a conference road win in the third quarter.
That’s not often the case, especially at Ryan Field.
A quick breather: The bye week is here, and Michigan is on the horizon.
After a win on Saturday at Northwestern, the Nittany Lions are 6-0 heading into their lone off-week this season.
But the highly-anticipated White Out game against Michigan is closing in quick. The No. 7 Wolverines have a reasonable shot at being undefeated when they meet Penn State. Michigan hosts Michigan State on Saturday night and travels to Northwestern next weekend.
Penn State-Michigan has plenty of Big Ten East and College Football Playoff implications — but in the meantime, the Nittany Lions have a week to rest up and get ready.