Balanced Penn State defeats Army 20-14
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State's offense is explosive, albeit in very small spurts, and the Nittany Lions did just enough to beat Army with one such stretch on Saturday.
Christian Hackenberg passed for 156 yards - with 82 of them and his lone touchdown coming on a 3-play, go-ahead third-quarter sequence - and Penn State's defense foiled a late Army drive to hold on for a 20-14 win at Beaver Stadium.
Nick Scott ran for a touchdown, Mike Gesicki caught one and Joey Julius kicked two field goals for the Nittany Lions (4-1).
Backup quarterback A.J. Schurr ran for two touchdowns for the Black Knights (1-4) but seven fumbles - three lost - kept Army's triple-option offense grounded.
Penn State's offense was largely ineffective without running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch, who are out with injuries, and receivers struggled to get open downfield against an opponent that was nearly a four-touchdown underdog.
"Not where we need to be," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "There's no doubt about it."
Playing its third home game in heavy rain, Penn State opted to keep the ball on the ground for much of the afternoon and struck first with an 11-yard run up the middle from Allen. But when Hackenberg had to throw, he often had to get rid of it without an open option. He completed just 10 of 19 passes.
"We were inconsistent at times," Hackenberg said. "But I thought we executed pretty well when we needed to."
That time came late in the third quarter.
Schurr, who absorbed a hard hit to the midsection and spent the last few minutes of the first half throwing up on the sideline, led an 8-play, 76-yard drive and scored on a 3-yard run to pull the Black Knights within six points. Penn State punted on its next possession and fans in waterlogged bleachers began to get restless, booing as the offense trotted off the field. But Penn State finally got big plays from its passing game on its next possession.
From his own 18, Hackenberg found wide out Chris Godwin running deep in single coverage and dropped a pass into the diving sophomore's hands for a 49-yard gain. On the next play, Hackenberg hit tight end Mike Gesicki down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown that gave Penn State a 20-7 lead as the quarter expired.
"It was kind of a kickstarter to get our offense moving," Godwin said. "To have those two plays back-to-back was really awesome for us."
But Schurr, who started in place of injured starter Ahmad Bradshaw, wasn't finished.
He, John Trainor, Nicholas Black and Drue Harris split carries in all directions to back Penn State's defense up to midfield. From his own 44, Schurr faked another handoff and zipped up the middle, eluding tackle tries from defensive backs Jordan Lucas and Grant Haley for a 56-yard touchdown. It cut Penn State's lead to 20-14 with 10:59 left.
Schurr finished with 74 yards on 24 carries but was more concerned with his four fumbles - two lost that turned into Penn State points. He mishandled the snap on Army's first play, and dropped to throw just twice. He completed his only pass - a 32-yard hookup with Edgar Poe that set up Army's first touchdown, but was sacked on his other attempt. The Black Knights ran 10 plays to get to Penn State's 43 in the final 6:48. But Schurr was sacked by Jason Cabinda on fourth-and-5 and Penn State killed the remaining 1:22.
"We've got to do a better job of protecting the football and giving our team a chance to win," Schurr said. "I've got to throw the ball and give us a chance. Can't take a sack."