Penn State pounded Nebraska on Saturday, capping a second straight unbeaten season at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions cruised to a 56-44 victory over the Cornhuskers and haven’t lost at home since November 2015.
Nebraska jumped to an early 10-7 advantage, but Penn State scored 35 unanswered points before halftime to push the game beyond reach. The Nittany Lions are 9-2 this season, while the Cornhuskers fell to 4-7.
What it means for Penn State football
It’s a second straight dominant win for Penn State since suffering a pair of Big Ten defeats that dashed the program’s College Football Playoff hopes. The Nittany Lions finished a 7-0 home schedule by outscoring Nebraska and Rutgers 91-50 during its final two home matchups.
Penn State, No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, may be primed to compete in a New Year’s Six bowl if it can finish the season 10-2. However, a Big Ten championship repeat is out of reach. Ohio State clinched the conference’s East Division title on Saturday with a blowout win over Illinois.
The Buckeyes will battle unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, while Penn State awaits its postseason fate.
5 things we learned about Penn State vs. Nebraska
1. Saquon Barkley put on a show in his probable Beaver Stadium sendoff. The Nittany Lions star surged past recent struggles to deliver an outstanding performance. Expected to depart school after his junior season for the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley provided an appreciative Penn State home crowd with its likely last look at his explosiveness. Barkley burst for 65 yards to the end zone on his first carry of the game, providing the Nittany Lions with a lead 57 seconds into action. He tallied 208 offensive yards and 3 touchdowns before halftime, reaching multiple milestones in the process. Barkley has topped 2,000 all-purpose yards and 1,000 rushing yards this season. He is the second Penn State player to gain 1,000 rushing yards in three different seasons and became the program’s all-time leader with 39 rushing touchdowns.
His 39th career rushing TD just set the program record: pic.twitter.com/BfUwjwsJqX
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 18, 2017
2. Mike Gesicki cemented his Penn State legacy during final home game. The senior tight end continues to compile program records, and he capped his Beaver Stadium career with another highlight. Gesicki went high to snag a contested pass, pulling in a 9-yard touchdown toss in the second quarter. He added a 17-yard score in the fourth quarter, giving him 13 career touchdown receptions. That total surpasses Jesse James (11) for sole possession of the Penn State positional record. Gesicki again proved how difficult he is to deal with in one-on-one coverage, which bodes well for his career outlook beyond State College. He also will depart Happy Valley as the most-productive Penn State tight end in terms of receptions and receiving yards.
3. Juwan Johnson is putting together a strong close to his sophomore season. The Nittany Lions receiver earned rave reviews from teammates and coaches during spring and summer camp, establishing lofty expectations for his sophomore campaign. Johnson managed only 7 receptions during the first 3 games this season before matching that total Sept. 26 at Iowa, where he caught the game-winning touchdown as time expired. He reached 5 receptions only once in the next 5 games, surpassing 45 yards just once. However, he logged 5 catches against both Rutgers and Nebraska, headlined by a 105-yard effort vs. the Cornhuskers. Johnson extended a fourth-quarter scoring drive that gave Penn State control for good by plucking a pass with one hand before running out of bounds. He has 42 catches for 572 yards through 11 games, and will be counted on to step up even more next season after the departure of all-time Penn State receptions leader DaeSean Hamilton.
Juwan Johnson with a ridiculous catch pic.twitter.com/tfIZE5H9sZ
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) November 18, 2017
4. Beaver Stadium has been a brutal place to play for visitors lately. These past two seasons have featured several memorable moments for Penn State on home turf. An upset win over Ohio State in October 2016 and a 42-13 drubbing of Michigan this October stand out during a 14-game winning streak at Beaver Stadium. Penn State has provided plenty of fireworks, surpassing 30 points in every game. Along the way, the Nittany Lions set a stadium crowd record with 110,823 fans in attendance for the 2017 matchup vs. Michigan. The Nittany Lions have established a substantial home-field advantage, and that’s a big deal in attempts to compete for College Football Playoff inclusion on an annual basis.
5. Nebraska appears pretty rudderless at this point. The Cornhuskers have tremendous football history and a large, prideful fan base. Through 11 games in 2017, things have gone from uneasy to queasy in Lincoln, as Nebraska has lost five of its past six games. The Cornhuskers are 4-7 and have surrendered 50 points in three of their past four Big Ten losses. At this point, there’s little doubt coach Mike Riley will be out after this year, perhaps before he leaves the stadium following the regular-season finale against Iowa.
Player of the game
Saquon Barkley. He was simply sensational early, churning up 111 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns before intermission. Barkley finished with 224 total yards on 23 offensive touches. This was a big rebound game for Barkley after struggles in the run game vs. Rutgers and Michigan State. It should ensure him a spot at the Heisman Trophy presentation next month.
Play of the game
Saquon Barkley’s tone-setting 65-yard touchdown. Barkley put Penn State on top less than a minute into the game and provided a boost for a struggling ground game. His breakaway speed was on full display here, as he added to an expansive Penn State highlight reel.
Saquon Barkley with the 65-yard rushing touchdown!pic.twitter.com/9tsOLr03wn
— PlayerPlug (@PlayerPlug) November 18, 2017
Penn State hits the road for its final game of the regular season. Maryland hosts the Nittany Lions next week in a game that will begin at either 3:30 p.m. or 3:45 p.m. Penn State can put itself in excellent position for a New Year’s Six bowl by picking up its 10th win of 2017. It would be the program’s first back-to-back double-digit win seasons since 2008-09.