Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley spark No. 2 Penn State to rout of No. 19 Michigan

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley catches the football for a 42-yard touchdown against Michigan on Saturday.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The record “White Out” crowd at Beaver Stadium waited for Saquon Barkley to do something spectacular Saturday night, and Barkley made sure they didn’t have to wait too long to see it.

Penn State’s Heisman Trophy frontrunner took a snap in the Wildcat formation on the second play of the game and dashed 69 yards for a touchdown to spark an early flurry that propelled the second-ranked Nittany Lions to a 42-13 victory over No. 19 Michigan before a record crowd of 110,823.

Barkley added another touchdown run from 15 yards out to give the Lions (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, and added a juggling 42-yard catch of a pass from Trace McSorley in the fourth quarter. It marked Penn State’s 16th win in its last 17 games since suffering an embarrassing 49-10 loss at Michigan 13 months ago.

The Wildcat was a new wrinkle for Barkley, who ended the game with 108 yards on 15 carries and amassed 176 all-purpose yards as the Nittany Lions got off to a good start in their stretch of three games against ranked teams in a three-week span.

“I like doing anything that Coach puts me in a position to do like blocking, catching, running the ball, the wildcat,” the 230-pound junior said. “Obviously we have a quarterback that can run the ball. But I don’t mind it. I like it. I’m willing to do whatever coach tells me to do to help the team.”

McSorley added three touchdown runs and led an offense that gained 506 yards against the No. 1-ranked defense of the Wolverines (5-2, 2-2), who came into the game yielding 223.8 yards per game to opponents. The Nittany Lions posted season highs for points and yards gained against Michigan.

McSorley finished 17 of 26 for 283 yards with one interception, and rushed 11 times for 76 yards.

“I think just the fact is that we were able to show some different looks that we hadn’t shown,” head coach James Franklin said. “Lining up in empty (backfield) and staying in empty, we hadn’t really showed that. Being able to disguise which side Saquon was one with the motion across, or the motion across and back.

“The Wildcat … we did a great job of it because we didn’t show it. So instead of lining up and putting the quarterback out wide, we’re able to shift to it at the last minute so they can’t go to a wildcat check.  So we had some wrinkles in there.”

The Penn State defense also grabbed a share of the spotlight, outplaying the more publicized unit of the Wolverines. The Lions limited Michigan to 269 total yards and sacked quarterback John O’Korn seven times.

The Wolverines rallied from two touchdowns behind to close to within 14-13 on Ty Issac’s 6-yard run with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the first half, but Penn State answered on McSorley’s 3-yard run with 53 seconds left until halftime. Michigan did not score in the second half.

Middle linebacker Jason Cabinda, the Lions’ leading tackler with 13, said he wanted to show that his defense was worth the hype, too.

“I think it definitely played a factor in how we played with a chip on our shoulder, without a doubt,” Cabinda said. “Everyone is talking about their defense, their defense, their defense. So we had to come out and make a statement, and I think we did.”

Barkley was the catalyst of an electrifying opening five minutes for Penn State. On the second play of the game, Barkley took a snap out of the Wildcat formation for the first time this season, started right, darted left and scored on a 69-yard run just 43 seconds into the game as the stadium shook with noise.

The Lions got the ball back after a Michigan punt and needed four plays to score their second touchdown. McSorley sparked the march with a 23-yard run and a 35-yard completion to tight end Mike Gesicki before Barkley took a pitchout and covered the last 15 yards to the end zone.

Barkley contributed another highlight in the fourth quarter when McSorley found him behind linebacker Mike McCray. Barkley juggled the catch but held on for the score.

 

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley catches the bobbled football for a 42-yard touchdown against Michigan on Saturday.