EVANSTON, Ill. — Trace McSorley had no idea he was on a school-record run of completions. He just knew he was making the right reads and strong throws.
McSorley threw for 245 yards and a touchdown, Saquon Barkley ran for two scores in the second half, and No. 4 Penn State beat Northwestern 31-7 on Saturday.
McSorley completed 15 straight passes to break Kerry Collins’ previous mark of 14 at Minnesota in 1994 and was 25 of 34 overall. He threw a 10-yard touchdown to backup quarterback Tommy Stevens in the second quarter and added a 5-yard TD run in the fourth.
“I felt good,” McSorley said. “Woke up today feeling great. Came out in warmups, was feeling really well. Our receivers were doing a great job ... finding those voids and sitting in them. Our line did a great job.”
As for breaking Collins’ record?
“It’s pretty cool,” McSorley said.
Barkley scored on a 1-yard leap and 53-yard dash in the third quarter to make it 24-0. The Heisman Trophy candidate finished with rushing after being held to minus- the first half.
Shaka Toney had two sacks, and the balanced Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) came away with an easy victory. For all the attention their offense got coming off a Big Ten championship, the defense and special teams continue to do their part, too.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” coach James Franklin said. “I think our team is playing with a lot of confidence right now, especially in our secondary and on the defensive side of the ball. We have some things that we’ve got to get better at and we’ve got to improve. But I think we’re in an ideal situation.”
Clayton Thorson threw for 142 yards and two interceptions while getting sacked four times in another rough outing for Northwestern (2-3, 0-2). Justin Jackson finished with 66 yards after rushing for 67 in the first half.
The Wildcats also had two of their top defensive players get ejected for targeting in the second half, with linebacker Paddy Fisher flagged for a hit on McSorley and safety Godwin Igwebuike for striking Miles Sanders.
“I think our defense gave us a chance to win that game and they kept us in the game and we need to fight and we have to respond to adversity,” Thorson said. “We had the ball at the 10-yard line, penalty set us back out of field goal range.”
Barkley flashed his Heisman form in the third and broke open a 10-0 game. He leaped in from the 1 in the opening minutes and scored on a 53-yard run through the middle and up the right side late in the quarter, making it 24-0.
“Saquon’s going to end up popping one off at some point,” McSorley said. “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. That’s kind of how we feel about him.”
Penn State: Barkley showed how dangerous he can be even when he’s being held in check. McSorley delivered another strong performance and the defense again gave an opponent little room to move.
Northwestern: The Wildcats continue to struggle. And Thorson’s shaky play isn’t helping. He struggled again after throwing two interceptions and getting sacked eight times in a loss at Wisconsin the previous week.
Barkley on whether he was frustrated by his slow start: “You’ve got to find a way to continue to win. You can’t get too caught up on one play. You can’t get too caught up on one quarter or one drive because it’s a long game.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on the ejections: “I’m a fan of the call. I think we need to eliminate head-to-head contact. With both guys, I embraced both of those guys after the plays, and I told them, ‘Hey if this is what happened, listen, I love you, and we got to lower the strike zone.’”
Penn State’s Mike Gesicki had two catches for nine yards. Franklin had said he expected his star tight end to play after he left the previous game against Indiana with an upper body injury.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are off next week, then face a tough one-two combo. They host Michigan on Oct. 21 and visit Ohio State on the 28th.
Northwestern: The Wildcats visit Maryland on Oct. 14.