Penn State 37, San Diego State 21: Hackenberg’s 3 TDs help make up for banged up running game


Christian Hackenberg throws for nearly 300 yards as Nittany Lions prevail past San Diego State

Quick Hits

Penn State’s defense forced three fumbles and turned those turnovers into 21 points. It doesn’t get much better than that. Defensive lineman Austin Johnson picked up one of the fumbles from San Diego State and returned it 74 yards for a defensive touchdown any big man in college football would respect. It could not have come at a better time either, as visiting San Diego State was driving and looking to seize momentum, with Penn State clinging to a six-point lead and the Aztecs moving effectively on offense. The Johnson fumble return gave Penn State a much more comfortable 34-21 lead, and San Diego tate was unable to score the rest of the way.

For the first time this season Penn State’s offensive gameplan included throwing the ball down the field. It paid off at times, as Christian Hackenberg threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns in the win. The resurgent running game witnessed in the past couple of games had a rough afternoon, and it was not necessarily because of the play of the offensive line. Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch each had to leave the game for unspecified injuries. Head coach James Frnaklin did not share any injury news after the game with the media, but did ssay it would be routine to have those types of injuries evaluated on Sunday. The injury to Lynch did not look promising considering the help he needed getting off the field with a leg injury.

Fortunately for Penn State, Hackenberg and the passing game were having a good afternoon. Hackenberg had his highest passing total in a regular season game since throwing for 309 yards in last season’s early Big Ten contest at Rutgers. His three touchdowns were the most thrown ina  regular season game since September 6, 2014 against Akron. Saeed Blacknall led all players with 101 receiving yards, including a nice 46-yard gain for the longest offensive play of the game for the Nittany Lions. Chris Godwin added 78 yards and a touchdown. Hackenberg also completed touchdown passes to Mark Allen and Barkley, who once again showed off some solid moves once he got his hands on the football.

Penn State’s special teams did not have a stellar performance. Punter Chris Gulla had some consistency issues and had two punts into the end zone for a touchdback. San Diego State’s Penny Rashaad had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and another kickoff return for 37 yards. Penn State’s field goal team also had a 55-yard field goal attempt blocked, but Joey Julius was perfect on his other three attempts, including a 40-yard kick in the first quarter.

Player of the Game: Anthony Zettel, 7 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 fumble recovery

A day after losing his father to a battle with cancer, Penn State defensive lineman Anthony Zettel played to his usual level against the Aztecs. Zettel led the team in tackles and tackles for a loss. He also recovered a fumble and broke up a pass and was credited for half a sack. After the game James Franklin said Zettel’s family has been going through a tough few weeks with his father’s health declining, and it was Zettel’s decision to continue playing.

“There has been no pressure for him to play the last three weeks,” Franklin said. “That was completely up to him. It felt like that is what his family and his dad would have wanted him to do. Anthony is a special kid.”

Play of the Game: Austin Johnson fumble return



Potent Quotables

“He can move; everybody knows he can move. He can track running backs, wide receivers down with a good angle. So I wasn’t that surprised, but it was funny.”

– Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell on Austin Johnson’s fumble return.

What’s Next?

Penn State looks to go 4-1 this weekend when the Nittany Lions welcome Army to Beaver Stadium for Military appreciation Day. Army is a run-heavy team, so the defensive front should be prepared for a long and grueling afternoon. This is typically the case when a team faces a service academy, which Penn State did a few years ago with Navy. Army’s running game means they are one-dimensional, and that does not typically bode well against programs from power conferences. Penn State should have more than enough offense to pick up a fourth straight win this week before getting into Big Ten play the following week.

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