STATE COLLEGE — Still a junior, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley wasn’t included Saturday in the Senior Day festivities even though it might’ve been his final game in Happy Valley, too.
If Penn State’s 56-44 victory over Nebraska was indeed it for Barkley — who’ll be coveted by the NFL should he decide to forego his senior season — the Heisman Trophy candidate put on a memorable performance.
Barkley broke Penn State’s career touchdown record with three scores and had 208 of 224 total yards in the first half to lead the No. 13 Nittany Lions to their 18th win in 21 games. Barkley passed Lydell Mitchell for the record with his 39th touchdown.
Trace McSorley ran for a touchdown and threw for 325 yards on 24-of-36 passing with three touchdown passes for Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten). Mike Gesicki caught two scoring passes and became Penn State’s career touchdowns leader by a tight end with 13, and DeAndre Thompkins also had a touchdown catch.
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens added a touchdown pass to tight end Nick Bowers to help the Nittany Lions go unbeaten at Beaver Stadium for the second straight season.
“The first half was probably the best half of football we’ve played,” McSorley said.
Nebraska’s Tanner Lee returned from concussion protocol to complete 26 of 41 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns.
Morgan Stanley Jr. caught seven passes for 185 yards and a touchdown for Nebraska (4-7, 3-5). De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jack Stoll added touchdown catches for the Cornhuskers, who outscored Penn State 34-14 in the second half after trailing 42-10 at halftime.
Devine Ozigbo and MIkale Wilbon ran for touchdowns and Drew Brown added a 23-yard field goal for the Cornhuskers. They will miss out on a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 season.
It didn’t take Barkley long to snap out of a recent rushing funk. The Heisman Trophy candidate broke his streak of three games with 63 rushing yards or less when he galloped 65 yards down the sideline on his first carry.
Barkley gave Penn State the lead for good with a 1-yard plunge late in the first quarter to make it 14-10 and passed Mitchell on an 8-yard run up the middle in the second.
Nebraska took advantage of two short fields to pull ahead 10-7 early.
The Cornhuskers recovered a punt that hit a Penn State player and Brown made a short field goal eight plays later. A shanked Blake Gillikin punt gave the Cornhuskers the ball in Penn State territory again and Ozigbo capped a short drive with a 1-yard scoring run that gave Nebraska a 10-7 lead with 6:17 to play in the first.
Nebraska managed just seven yards of offense the rest of the half and went 3-and-out six times, with five in a row to end the half.
But Lee had plenty left and led five touchdown drives on the Cornhuskers’ final seven possessions.
“The second half, obviously it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, offense and defense,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We didn’t play up to our standard at the end.”
Better than Lydell?
Barkley passed a man who has always been regarded as one of, if not, the best player to wear a Nittany Lion uniform.
Former coach Joe Paterno used to refer to Mitchell, who was an All-American in 1971, finished fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting that season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, as the best player he ever coached.
Franklin could likely say the same about Barkley, who’s put highlight after highlight on tape in his three seasons. Franklin gave Barkley his opinion before the season about what he should do next but wouldn’t reveal that to reporters after the game.
“If I think they should leave early now, then I tell them that,” Franklin said. “If IBM came to our computer engineering department and offered a junior a $12 million contract, they’d be gone.”
Barkley remained mum on his future afterward.
“To be honest, I’m not really thinking about the future right now,” he said.
Wideout duos shine
Until this season, Nebraska never had two receivers reach the 800-yard mark. Stanley and Spielman have ended that drought and should give the Cornhuskers hope that the offense has playmakers on the outside moving forward.
Spielman bounced back from an apparent early shoulder injury to finish with six catches for 96 yards.
Nebraska: The loss knocked the Cornhuskers out of bowl contention and speculation about head coach Mike Riley’s job security will likely ramp up in the coming days. Nebraska has lost five of six and allowed a combined 235 points in those defeats.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions got a confidence boost for what had become a one-dimensional offense lately and delivered a big blow in the series. Their 56 points are the most a Penn State team has put on a Nebraska squad ever, surpassing a 40-7 win in 2002.
Nebraska hosts Iowa on Saturday.
Penn State travels to Maryland on Saturday.