STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State’s Saquon Barkley proved once again Saturday night that you dare not leave your seat for refreshments when he’s on the field.
On third-and-12 from his own 15, Barkley caught a short check-down pass from Trace McSorley and turned it into an electrifying 85-yard touchdown reception that sent the Beaver Stadium crowd of more than 100,000 into a frenzy and gave the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The 5-foot-11, 230-pound junior showed breakaway speed after taking the pass from McSorley just past his own 25. One Georgia State defender appeared to have an angle on him at the Penn State 45, but Barkley ran past him and then he outraced two other defenders to the end zone to complete the play.
It was Barkley’s second play of 80 yards or longer this season. He had an 80-yard run in the season opener against Akron before stepping out of bounds at the 7. He also had an 81-yard touchdown dash last season against Purdue.
Counting his touchdown Saturday night, a 44-yard reception in the second quarter that started the Nittany Lions’ third touchdown drive, and a 33-yard run late in the period, Barkley already had nine plays of 20 or more yards from scrimmage this season in 2½ games.
He sat out a few series in the second quarter to be checked out by the Penn State training staff but still finished the half with 222 all-purpose yards.
Penn State made a change in the starting lineup along the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Will Fries moved in at left guard for his first career start. Steven Gonzalez, who started the first two games at left guard, switched to right guard.
Brendan Mahon, who has the most career starts – 31 – of any Lions offensive lineman, including two this year, warmed up with the offensive line but did not start. He did not see action in the first half.
The Nittany Lions quickly erased any fears their fans might have had that they would come out flat after an emotional win over Pittsburgh last week and prior to the opening game of their Big Ten season next week at Iowa.
The Lions scored on their first, third, fourth, sixth and seventh possessions of the first half against Georgia State for a 35-0 halftime lead, with Trace McSorley throwing three TD passes and running for one.
“I expect us and I plan for us to be playing at a peak level each week from a focus and from a preparation standpoint,” head coach James Franklin said. “But to me, if you set really high standards and then you just miss those standards, you still have a chance to play pretty well and execute pretty well and prepare pretty well.”
McSorley ran in from 8 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, making nine games in his Nittany Lions career in which he has passed for at least one touchdown and run for at least one score.