Matthew O’Haren/USA Today
It was an afternoon of both highs and lows for the Penn State Nittany Lions football team (3-1), but the squad ultimately emerged with a 37-21 win against the San Diego State Aztecs (1-3) at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
The Lions dominated the stat sheet while out-gaining the Aztecs 400-242, but some crucial injuries and special teams plays kept the game relatively close until its end.
Penn State freshman RB Saquon Barkley has emerged as a rising star this season, and rushed for 62 yards on eight carries while also scoring on a 22-yard reception before leaving the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
The Lions’ veteran running back Akeel Lynch also left the game later in the quarter, leaving Beaver Stadium eerily quiet as the Aztecs held a 14-13 lead at the time.
However, Penn State was able to close the half with a bang, as third string RB Mark Allen scored on a 13-yard screen pass from Christian Hackenberg to give the Lions a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
The Aztecs took the ball down 20-14 with under a minute to play in the first half and fumbled on their first play, leading to another PSU touchdown to close the half when Hackenberg connected to Chris Godwin on an 11-yard strike.
Hackenberg finished the day 21/35 for 296 yards, 3 TD and no interceptions in what was easily his best game of the season so far. He showed poise in the pocket and connected on a couple of nice deep balls in a performance more reminiscent of his excellent freshman year than his disappointing 2014 season.
Penn State’s biggest highlight of the afternoon came in the third quarter. The Aztecs had cut the lead to 27-21 and had the ball following a Lions punt, but QB Maxwell Smith fumbled on a sack by DE Carl Nassib, and DL Austin Johnson ran it back 71 yards to put all the momentum back in the Lions’ favor.
Penn State certainly seems to be improving as the season progresses, but today’s injuries add more question marks with regards to the team’s ability to compete with the conferences better opponents. Barkley’s injury thankfully didn’t seem too serious, as he was dressed, smiling, and mobile on the sideline in the second half despite not re-entering the game. On the other hand, Lynch’s injury seemed more severe, and it appears likely that he will miss several games at minimum.
Hopefully the Lions wont have to rely on either RB in their final non-conference tune up next Saturday against the Army Black Knights. Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. at Beaver Stadium.