STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Juwan Johnson had one of his best games in his first full season as a starting wide receiver for Penn State on Saturday, mainly because his confidence has increased “tremendously,” he said, as the year has progressed.
“I know at the beginning at the season, I was really nervous going into the Akron game,” the Glassboro High School graduate, said after catching five passes for a career-high 105 yards in the Nittany Lions’ 56-44 victory over Nebraska.
“Then the nerves started to go away slowly throughout the season. I feel like now, I feel like I have a lot of confidence going into the games, knowing that I can do these things and make plays when they need to be made.”
Johnson made a couple of big plays in the game. He caught a midrange pass over the middle that went for 43 yards after he broke a tackle and took off down the right sideline, a reception that set up Penn State’s second touchdown. He made a one-handed catch and got one foot down before going out of bounds on a 16-yard pass from McSorley that helped lead to another score.
“The exciting thing about Juwan is, I think he’s going to continue to get better,” head coach James Franklin said. “You’re really starting to see him play with his size. You’re talking about a wideout that is 6-4 and 230 pound. He can run and now he’s breaking tackles and making one-handed catches. He’s a guy you can depend on.”
The record count
It was a day of records for Penn State.
Saquon Barkley’s three touchdowns gave him 39 rushing TDs for his career, breaking the program record of 38 held by Lydell Mitchell. He also tied Evan Royster with his third 1,000-yard season of his career. With 158 yards in 17 carries, Barkley finished the game with 1,057 yards.
Senior tight end Mike Gesicki caught four passes for 47 yards and finished the day with 1,384 career receiving yards, breaking the record for most yards by a tight end previously held by Ted Kwalick. He also broke Kwalick’s record for most TD catches by a tight end in a season, picking up his sixth and seventh on Saturday.
Emotions are flowing
Senior day usually is a tough day emotionally for those who are playing their last game in Beaver Stadium. For linebacker Jason Cabinda, however, it had more of a delayed reaction.
“I just couldn’t believe it was really here,” he said of the pregame ceremony, when 23 seniors were introduced. “I don’t think it really hit me during the senior day presentation.
“I don’t think it hit me really until I ran out of the tunnel like, ‘Dang, this is really the last time, wow,’ just jogging over to the other end zone. That’s when I felt like, ‘Jeez.’ Obviously, it was real bittersweet, but grateful for the times that we had here, what we did here and being able to have the opportunity to play at Beaver Stadium week in and week out.”
Cabinda said the fact that Penn State got off to a 42-10 lead settled down the emotions.
“I think you take that one to two minutes [before kickoff] to really soak it all in and then it’s back to business, back to game-time, just getting the W,” he said. “The way we came out in that first half was huge.”