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Penn State handles Kent State in season opener

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Trace McSorely threw two touchdown passes, Saquan Barkley topped the century mark and the Penn State defense tightened in the second half as the Nittany Lions beat Kent State 33-13 on Saturday.

It wasn’t the flashiest of wins, but James Franklin is okay with that.

“I thought overall, we’re happy with the win, but it could’ve been cleaner,” Franklin said. “It wasn’t as clean as we would’ve liked it to be, but we scored over 30 points with a defensive touchdown.”

In its season-opener at Beaver Stadium, Penn State rolled to a 33-13 victory over Kent State on Saturday, starting the year on the right foot, as opposed to last year’s week one debacle against Temple.

A year ago, the Nittany Lions struggled mightily out of the gates, getting outmatched in the most basic facets of the game, such as pass blocking. This year's opening win displayed a Lions squad much more prepared.

After allowing 162 yards and 13 points in the first half, Penn State's defense reemerged in the second half looking like a different unit. In his collegiate debut, lineman Shareef Miller showed outstanding promise, tallying 1 1/2 sacks and 1 1/2 tackles for loss. Fellow linemen Kevin Givens, Parker Cothran, Evan Shwan, Antoine White and Garrett Sickels also spent considerable time in the Golden Flashes’ backfield, combining for 5 sacks, 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 25 tackles.

“I thought we played well on defense, its great to see seven sacks from an inexperienced line,” Franklin said. “It’s great to see a guy like Shareef Miller get in his first game get two sacks. One thing we have to do better is against scrambling quarterbacks because it was either a sack or it was a scramble for a first down, so we have to do better with our rush lanes.”

The Lions initially struggled with the Kent State offense in the first half, as the Golden Flashes excelled playing like a team with nothing to lose, using end arounds and trick plays to romp down the field. After the first two quarters, the Flashes had out-gained the Lions largely thanks to their 127 rushing yards.

But in the second half, the Lions D clamped down, holding Kent State to just 107 yards, including just 23 on the ground.

The talk of the offseason revolved around how the Lions could possibly replace the production of Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson from last year. Sickels, the lone returning starter, used those doubts for motivation.

“I’m really excited for these young guys who came out today and took it personally,” Sickels said. “This offseason everyone was saying that I played in the shadows and stuff like that and what are we going to do without Nassib and Zettel and AJ… so seeing how well we did today really made me proud.”

Along with the contributions from the line, arguably the brightest spot for Penn State in their opener was from the secondary. Holding Kent State quarterbacks to just 129 yards on 14 completions, the Lions secondary snagged two interceptions and only allowed one pass play of more than 15 yards.

After the Flashes appeared to be stealing momentum at the end of the first half, Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye opened the second half with the biggest play of his career thus far. Leaping and snagging a pass across the middle from Kent State quarterback Justin Agner, Oruwariye took his first interception all the way to the end zone to put the Lions up 23-13.

Offensively, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley made his first start and made all the throws he needed to make while minimizing mistakes and showing poise in the pocket. He finished the afternoon 16-31 for 209 yards and two touchdowns. While he wasn’t perfect, exemplified by his 4th-and-1 fumble in the red zone in the third or his lack of touch on deep throws, he showed flashes of his dual-threat ability that will greatly open Penn State’s playbook.

Saquon Barkley, one of the most hyped Nittany Lions in recent memory, opened his 2016 campaign with what Franklin called a “sneaky” 116 yards to go along with a touchdown. Barkley started his afternoon slow, rushing for just four yards on the Lions first two drives, both of which were 3-and-outs. But by Penn State Trace McSorelyhalftime, the magic Barkley displayed last year was in full form as the shifty back juked and darted around Kent State defenders, often turning runs that should’ve been for loss into first downs.

While Franklin was clearly happy to start the season off with a victory, he also recognized how much work his team needs to be ready for next week’s showdown against rival Pitt.

“Overall, I thought we have some really good things to build on,” Franklin said. “But we’ve got a lot of things that we have to get cleaned up. I know people say we’ve got a big game coming up this week, but we’ll clean up the things from this past week and learn from that.”

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