It was not pretty at times, and there were certainly some nervy moments around the Penn State fan base, but the Lions found enough offense, and and a large person touchdown, to win 37-21 against a pesky San Diego State team.
The tenor of the game certainly changed after Saquon Barkley went down with an apparent ankle injury, followed up shortly after by what appeared to be a serious knee injury for Akeel Lynch. On the defensive side, PSU was forced to go with two backup safeties for essentially the whole game.
San Diego State used a kickoff return, and an explosive jet sweep to take a 14-13 lead in the second quarter, but the Lions were able to respond with two touchdowns before the break, going up 27-14 at halftime. The Aztecs pulled within six after a DeAndre Thompkins muffed punt, but Austin Johnson iced the game, pouncing on a Carl Nassib strip sack, and returning it 70 yards for a very large person touchdown, and the final score.
Three Things to Know
1. Penn State's depth is much better than it was a year or two ago, but injuries can and will take a toll on this team. Jordan Lucas did not even suit up today, and fellow safety Marcus Allen left early in the first quarter. Saquon Barkley did not return after appearing to roll his ankle in the first half, and Akeel Lynch may have suffered a serious knee injury on the following series. Suddenly the Lions went from a very good group of starting safeties, with plenty of experience, to two players seeing their first significant playing time in Malik Golden and Troy Apke. The loss of Barkley clearly sucked the air out of the offense, and with Lynch's injury, PSU was forced to go with Mark Allen and Nick Scott. Both of whom saw their first significant action as well. Long term injuries to any of those players could be an issue going forward.
2. As great as Penn State's special teams were a week ago, they struggled for most of today's game. San Diego State's first score came on a 100 yard kickoff return, while another was set up by a muffed punt. Joe Julius was 3 of 4 on field goals, and 4 of 4 on extra points, but he also put a kickoff out of bounds. A week after a dominant punting performance, Chris Gulla struggled for most of the day as well. PSU relies on plenty of talented players on their special teams units, but today could be a very clear sign of the amount of youth on those units as well. The ability is there, now they must find some consistency.
3. For the first time all season, Christian Hackenberg appeared to finally find something of a rhythm in the passing game. Was he perfect? No, there were a couple near misses on throws downfield, but when the Lions receiving corps created space, and he had time, he was as good as he has been in four games this year. With the injuries in the backfield, and inexperience at running back, it was the type of day Penn State needed from their junior quarterback.