Penn St. pushes for offense
Penn State needs more out of its offense or the 21st-ranked Nittany Lions might not get much more out of their season.
The team started the year with Big Ten championship and playoff hopes and had averaged 49 points over a 24-3 stretch. But the Nittany Lions have hit a wall with Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) up next.
Penn State (6-3, 3-3, No. 20 CFP) will try to erase last week’s humiliating loss in Ann Arbor where its offense was held to single digits for the first time since 2014.
“It’s going to be very important that we find a way to establish the run game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “So there’s not so much on the shoulders of Trace McSorley.”
The Nittany Lions averaged 252 yards rushing through the first six weeks of the season and had 200-plus on the ground in nine straight games, dating to last year. They’ll take to Beaver Stadium on Saturday looking for a spark after averaging just 120 rushing over the last three games.
Running back Miles Sanders has remained diligent. He said the backs paid a visit to the offensive line room this week to let the linemen know they have faith in them.
Franklin does, too.
He’s seen them crack open holes for Sanders, whose patient approach can quickly become big plays – like a 48-yard touchdown sprint through multiple tacklers against Michigan State four weeks ago.
But those chunk runs have been rare, especially as McSorley, the other cog in the twoheaded rushing attack, has dealt with a sore right knee.
“Miles has shown that he can be a big-play back in this conference and that he can carry the load and get you the tough yards, as well as the big plays,” Franklin said.
The Badgers have one of those star backs, too. Jonathan Taylor leads the nation in rushing with 151 yards per game and is a critical facet for the Badgers’ slow-burn offensive approach.
Minnesota seeks rebound
Favorable field position has meant little for Minnesota this season, as huge gains against the Gophers have piled up as if opponents are playing a video game.
This will be an especially difficult week for the defense to try to stem this tide of long touchdowns, with Purdue’s offense possessing as much quick-strike ability as any team in the Big Ten.
“Explosive players everywhere,” said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith last weekend after a 55-31 loss at Illinois.
Minnesota (4-5, 1-5) has allowed an average of 43 points per conference game, with 32 touchdowns by their foes covering a staggering mean distance of 35 yards. Thirteen of those touchdowns are plays of 40-plus yards, including eight of 60 yards or more.
With fifth-year quarterback David Blough thriving under the direction of coach Jeff Brohm and wide receiver Rondale Moore emerging as one of the nation’s most impactful freshmen, Purdue (5-4, 4-2) has already produced 22 offensive plays this year that netted 40 yards. The Boilermakers are 13th in the FBS with an average of 486 yards per game.
Utah to start freshman
The big question facing Utah when it hosts Oregon is whether Jason Shelley can pick up where Tyler Huntley left off.
Shelley, a redshirt freshman, will make his first career start Saturday against the Ducks in place of Huntley, who broke his collarbone in the third quarter of Utah’s 38-20 loss last week to Arizona State.
Shelley struggled after being thrown into action against the Sun Devils. He threw for 59 yards and an interception on 4of-11 passing. With a full week of taking reps as a starter in practice, and having the game plan adjusted to fit his individual strengths, Utah’s coaches are confident Shelley can produce better results against the Ducks.