Penn State beats San Diego State 37-21
We got even for all that Montezuma’s revenge crap when the mighty Penn State Nittany Lions (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) defeated the Aztecs of San Diego State (1-3, 0-0 MWC) 37-21 on Saturday in a poorly attended game in Beaver Stadium. The weather was clear, the track was fast, but people just ain’t coming to see the Lions play cupcakes like they used to. Announced attendance was just over 95,000, but it looked a lot sparser than that.
What the offense giveth, the special teams taketh away, but forsooth, the defense loomed large enough to cover for mistakes on special teams and injuries on offense.
Until the injuries to Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch, the offense was proceeding in typical fashion as has been the usual case on Saturdays of late — inconsistent and run-oriented. The occasional big play from Barkley or Lynch would alleviate the boredom of watching this dull offense. However, once the rushing game was nullified by those two crucial injuries, Christian Hackenberg was forced to create his offense through the air. He did a damn decent job of it, finishing the day with 296 yards passing, completing 21 of 35 attempts with three touchdowns and no interceptions. This was his first 200-yard passing day of the season, which is now one-third over. Meanwhile, Penn State averaged less than one yard per carry rushing in the second half after the injuries, but overall, wound up with 72 net yards rushing on 34 attempts. Barkley was the leading rusher with 62 yards on 8 carries, while Lynch had 18 yards on 10 carries.
The wacky-sacky Aztec defense bothered Hack to some extent, rushing him a few times and recording two sacks. He didn’t succumb to the pressure as was evident in the numbers I spouted off above. His short passes sucked somewhat, but he was able to stretch the field with some long passes to Chris Godwin (32 yards), Saeed Blacknall (46 yards), Kyle Carter (35 yards) and Saquon Barkley (22). He hit Godwin, Barkley, and Mark Allen for TDs.
Alas, the special teams’ progress over the first third of the season hit a bit of a snag, with the kicking team giving up a 100-yard return to Rashaad Penny right after Penn State’s first touchdown. That suuuuuuuuucked. Joey “Big Toe” Julius had one field goal blocked and further ugliness ensued as DeAndre Thompkins muffed a punt, turning over the ball back to San Diego State at the PSU 21 yard-line. However, the bright spot is that the punting game continues to improve with Chris Gulla doing the kicking. He averaged 42 yards, with a long punt of 51 yards.
Fortunately, the Penn State defense was up to the task of shutting down the Aztecs for the most part, and they made a scoring contribution or two of their own. The play of the day came early in the fourth quarter after SDSU had reached the Penn State 24 yard-line on a 31-yard pass play from Max Smith to Mikah Holder while trailing 27-21 PSU DT Carl Nassib knocked the ball out of Smith’s hands on third-and-eleven, and it was snatched by fellow defensive lineman Austin Johnson, who ran with what head coach James Franklin called “perfect running form” 71 yards to pay-dirt to the delight of the Beaver Stadium faithful and us drunks at home. How often do you see a 325-pounder scoring a touchdown? Hell, not since the days of William “The Fridge” Perry of the 1980s Chicago Bears.
The vaunted Penn State defense held San Diego State to 101 yards rushing and 141 yards passing. SD State scored one touchdown rushing, one passing, and one on special teams. The Aztecs maintained their perfect record of scoring each time they reached the Red Zone; however, they got there only twice. The defense undoubtedly won the game for Penn State, as 21 of the 37 points scored by the Nittany Lions could be attributed to turnovers.
Yea, verily, it was another sloppy game, with the Aztecs fumbling four times and losing three, while the Lions coughed up one to their opponents. The third-down situation still hasn’t improved for Penn State, which ended the day 4-15 converting third down plays. San Diego State was equally bad, with 5 of 17. The good news is that PSU converted all five of its Red Zone opportunities to scores.
Here in the Cave, we enjoyed steaks and Caesar salad, along with an Aztec-inspired dessert provided by Jackstand consisting of chocolate cake (yeah, chocolate was a Mayan invention, but what the hell, close enough) and Goldschläger (in honor of the Aztec gold pillaged by el conquistador Cortés). Our pre-game toast to the Lions and their opponents was the very hip Negroni cocktail, consisting of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. The game wine was provided by RD, who kept our glasses ever-full.
K. John got the Penn State point total correct, but he figured three field goals instead of three touchdowns for SDSU. So, he half-wins the predictions this week.
As the clock wound down someone here asked the question, “If you’re James Franklin, what do you tell the team after a game like this.”
My response: “Great win, guys! Let’s celebrate now and then we’ll get back to work on Monday. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Yeah, they sure as hell do. The big question is going to be what happens if Barkley and Lynch are out for an extended period. The Five Traffic Cones don’t provide much run game support for the star runners, let alone whoever their replacements might be. PSU is not particularly deep at the position. The sad rushing statistics of the second half tell the story, and without a running game, the Big Ten schedule is imperiled. So, we hope to hell those guys Barkley and Lynch return to the fray soon.
I’ll be back later in the week with a look at our next opponent, the Black Knights of Army.