Penn St. pushes for of­fense

The Detroit News - - College Football - As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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