Penn State Cruises Past Nebraska on Senior Day
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions closed out the 2017 home season on senior day in convincing fashion. Penn State blew out the lowly Nebraska Cornhuskers, 56-44.
The 23 seniors honored before the game were a special bunch. They were the first recruiting class for head coach James Franklin and the win over Nebraska gave the class a victory over each Big Ten opponent. Safety Marcus Allen, linebacker Jason Cabinda, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki were some of the notable 23.
The Nittany Lions’ victory was their 14th straight home win, having won each home matchup the last two seasons. This was the first victory over Nebraska in the last four matchups, the last time Penn State lost 23-20 at home under coach Bill O’Brien in 2013.
It was a very up and down start in the first quarter for the Blue and White. Doak Walker Award finalist Saquon Barkley busted a 65-yard touchdown down the sideline on the third play from scrimmage. Just when it seemed to be all Penn State, they committed some critical mistakes to let Nebraska get competitive.
On the Huskers’ first punt, the Nittany Lions’ return team fumbled by touching the ball inadvertently and Nebraska recovered in Penn State territory. That resulted in a field goal. Then, punter Blake Gillikin shanked his first punt off his foot for just 18 yards and Nebraska turned that into a short yardage touchdown. Quickly, it was 10-7 Nebraska near the end of the quarter.
Then the Nittany Lions caught fire. They thrived off big plays, especially long runs from Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley. Nebraska came in ranked worst in the conference in run defense and it showed, as they allowed 180 total rushing yards and four touchdowns in the first half.
Barkley then tagged two short yard touchdowns through the next 17 minutes and broke the school career rushing touchdown record with 39 career scores. He broke Lydell Mitchell’s longtime record. Barkley also became just the second Nittany Lion back to record three seasons with 1,000 rush yards, joining Evan Royster. The Penn State offense took full control, owning time of possession and racking up 439 total yards. McSorley got involved with 259 passing yards and two touchdowns, one to Gesicki and one to DeAndre Thompkins.
The defense put great pressure on Cornhusker quarterback Tanner Lee, holding their offense to just 77 total yards and four first downs. Penn State put up their second most points in the first half since 2005. They finished the half up big, 42-10.
The second half got off to slow start for both teams, with each squad moving methodically down the field. Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon broke off a 24-yard score to open the second half scoring. Nebraska tacked on another touchdown shortly after to make the score 42-24, but then the starters in their last real drive took over. They went on 10 plays and got Gesicki his second touchdown catch of the season.
Eventually, the starters were pulled on both sides of the ball and went up against the Nebraska first team. Tanner Lee began picking apart the defensive backups and threw for two fourth quarter touchdowns. The Nebraska offense never quit for a second in the final quarter, fought very hard and was able to put up 44 total points.
In the end, the hot Penn State first half and effective drives in the second half were too much, the Nebraska offense took too long to wake up and the Husker run defense failed miserably and allowed 263 total rushing yards. The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions came alive for their seniors and rolled to victory.
It was a historic day for Penn State. On top of Barkley’s 1,000 mark and breaking Lydell Mitchell’s record, Gesicki set new touchdown and receiving yard records in Penn State tight end history. McSorley also threw a touchdown in his 26th consecutive game and it was his eighth career game with a passing and rushing touchdown in the same game.
“We were able to get a win against one of the most storied programs in the country,” Franklin said after the game.
One of the biggest questions coming into the game was if this was Barkley’s last home game of his career. He has one year of eligibility left but has huge NFL stock. Franklin didn’t want to get too into it.
“He’s just been awesome,” Franklin said. “I’m very proud of him and his development.”
Of course, Franklin was very proud of his seniors and had only great things to say about them.
“You’re emotional but also very proud because they have great futures,” said Franklin on his 23 soon-to-be-graduates.
Nebraska moved to 4-7 (3-5) with the loss, eliminating them from bowl contention with just one game left in the season. Riley moved to 19-18 as the Cornhuskers coach and his job remains in jeopardy.
Penn State moved to 9-2 (6-2) and are in prime position to finish with double digits wins for the second consecutive season with a victory over Maryland next weekend. Kickoff at Maryland is scheduled for 3:30 on Saturday.
Matthew Harvey is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.