STATE COLLEGE — Even though no exhibition games exist in college football, Penn State just completed about as close to a preseason schedule as you can find, defeating two hapless opponents and a subpar Pitt team to the tune of 141-14.
The real season starts next weekend when the defending Big Ten champion Nittany Lions, who moved up from No. 5 to No. 4 in the new Associated Press top 25, open conference play at Iowa. Their initial road game, under the lights at the always loud Kinnick Stadium, figures to be a lot more competitive contest than what they’ve experienced so far.
In their 3-0 start, the Lions have posted two shutouts — the first time since 2007 they’ve shut out two opponents in the same season — and allowed just one touchdown. They also have claimed nine turnovers, including five in Saturday night’s 56-0 win over Georgia State, and have a margin of plus-seven.
Nagging concerns: While head coach James Franklin called Saturday victory “a complete game,” he found some nagging areas where improvement is needed, especially in the rushing attack and the defense against the run.
“I think [one area is] consistently being able to stop the run, create a little bit more three-and-outs,” Franklin said. “The turnovers were huge [Saturday]. Whenever you get five turnovers on defense and you don’t turn the ball over on offense, that’s a recipe for success. But I’d like us to be a little bit more physical stopping the run.
“It’s hard to be critical of a shutout. Overall, we played well. People are getting the ball out of their hands pretty quickly against us, kind of throwing the ball into the flat or into the seams real quick. You’d love to see more sacks again, but that’s the style of offense that we’re seeing.
“On offense, I think we’ve got to consistently be able to run the ball a little bit better, sustain our blocks longer. Then, special teams, I think we’ve got to continue to refine what we’re already doing.”
Trouble getting off field: The defense has allowed 305 rushing yards in the last two weeks. Georgia State’s Taz Bateman rushed for 100 yards in 29 carries on Saturday night, the first triple-digit ground performance against Penn State this season.
Despite the lopsided score, getting off the field continues to be a problem for the defense which, for the second straight week, played more than 38 minutes. Georgia State converted 11 third-down plays in 20 opportunities and had 81 offensive plays.
The Panthers’ game plan on defense obviously was to contain Saquon Barkley, who had a 33-yard run but gained just 14 yards on his other nine carries. But Barkley got loose in the passing game, rolling up 142 yards on four catches, including an electrifying run that finished off an 85-yard touchdown reception from Trace McSorley.
McSorley set a program record for most passing yards in a half with 258, and finished the night 18 of 23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns, plus a TD run. The Lions’ eight touchdowns were scored by eight players.
On to Big Ten play: That’s in the past, though. Now it’s on to the Big Ten season.
“We’re going against tougher opponents so you’ve got to bring your big-boy pants because it’s the Big Ten,” said Shareef Miller, the Lions’ defensive end from George Washington High. “But we’re going to be up for the task. We’re going to be ready. We believe that if we follow the game plan and listen to our coaches, we’re going to be fine, whoever we play.”