Well, it was close for the first 20 minutes — but the No. 14 Nittany Lions pulled away on Saturday afternoon.
Penn State defeated Rutgers 35-6 at a blustery Beaver Stadium, sending the announced Homecoming crowd of 107,531 back to their tailgates with an expected win.
There was some concern early on. Rutgers actually led the Nittany Lions 6-0 into the second quarter.
But in the end, it didn’t really matter. Penn State showed why it was 31-point favorites.
Player of the game
Trace McSorley: It wasn’t an eye-popping statistical day for McSorley, but he was effective. The redshirt junior completed 16 of 21 passes for 214 yards, rushed for 44 yards on 13 attempts and accounted for three touchdowns.
He was decisive when the Nittany Lions needed him to be, too. With Penn State trailing 6-0, he faked a handoff to Saquon Barkley and weaved his way through the Rutgers’ second level for a 20-yard touchdown run. Realistically, Rutgers wasn’t going to pull out a win. But it was a startling start for Penn State offensively, and McSorley’s score helped settle any upset stomachs around Beaver Stadium.
The quarterback’s 22-yard touchdown pass to DaeSean Hamilton was pretty, too, and his 16-yard toss to Mike Gesicki added insurance in the fourth quarter.
Oh, and he made history, too. With his second-quarter scoring run, McSorley passed Daryll Clark for most touchdowns responsible for in Penn State history.
Not a shabby afternoon for McSorley.
Failed fake: Rutgers needed something, anything, to jump-start its fading chances at an upset. But Penn State snuffed it out.
Down 21-7 in the third quarter, the Scarlet Knights tried a fake punt run on fourth-and-2 at their own 48-yard line. Tight end Jerome Washington’s rush attempt was shut down by Jason Cabinda, who was in on Penn State’s punt-safe defensive set.
Cabinda’s stop set up the Nittany Lion offense, which put together an incisive four-play, 46-yard touchdown drive in two minutes to put Penn State up 28-6.
Juwan Johnson: The star of the spring, Johnson showed up after a few dormant weeks.
The redshirt sophomore wideout — a 6-foot-4 New Jersey target — bodied Rutgers’ cornerbacks all afternoon, racking up 78 yards on five receptions. Four of his catches went for first downs.
It’s a confidence-booster for Johnson, who justified his offseason hype with a game-winning touchdown grab at Iowa back in September. Since that game, he’s averaged 38.4 receiving yards per game. He’s really disappeared the past few weeks, totaling only 86 total yards against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State.
But on Saturday, Johnson — a critical piece of the offense not only this season, but also in the future — was back.
The hook-and-hurdle: More than a couple times at Penn State practice this year, reporters have been on-hand to see Joe Moorhead’s wild wrinkle: a wide receiver tunnel screen, followed by a pitch to the running back.
College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit kind of let the cat out of the bag during ABC’s broadcast of the Penn State-Michigan game, mentioning the secret play off-hand when the Nittany Lions were up big.
Well, it seems Rutgers missed that on-air nugget.
Penn State showed it in a game for the first time Saturday and ran it to perfection. On third-and-9 at Rutgers’ 15-yard line, McSorley threw it out to DaeSean Hamilton. The senior wideout ran three yards upfield before completing the hook-and-ladder, flipping it to Barkley who was looping around him toward the Scarlet Knight sideline.
Barkley raced 10 yards and hurdled a Rutgers defender down to the 1-yard line, bringing the south end zone student section to its feet.
And rightfully so. That play was crazy.
Home finale: After disposing of Rutgers, the Nittany Lions have two games left on the regular-season slate — and Senior Day is next week.
Penn State’s final home tilt is against struggling Nebraska, which likely isn’t going to make a bowl this year.
The last time Penn State faced Nebraska was 2013, when Bo Pelini’s Cornhuskers defeated Bill O’Brien’s Nittany Lions 23-20 at Beaver Stadium.
The kickoff time and television details have yet to be announced.