STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It’s entirely possible, Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday, that last Saturday’s 21-19 victory at Iowa took years off his life.
“I started out that game at 45 years old,” he joked, “and I finished the game at 55.”
The No. 4 Nittany Lions marched 80 yards in 12 plays in the final 1:42, culminating in Trace McSorley’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson as time expired.
“I think if you look at any really good season, there’s always one game like that,” Franklin said, “where you have to gut it out and find a way to win. And our team’s gritty and we found a way to do it.”
The Lions, 4-0 heading into Saturday’s home game against Indiana (2-1), have won 13 of their last 14 games, dating to last September. Their only loss in that span was a 52-49 thriller to USC in the Rose Bowl.
“We know how special we can be,” offensive tackle Ryan Bates said. “I think after Iowa, after last Saturday, we know what we can do. We know what the season can be for us.”
Bates added that the Lions believe they boast “the best offense in the country,” while acknowledging there is always room for improvement.
“We know our potential,” he said, “and we know the sky’s the limit with us.”
That’s especially true of running back Saquon Barkley, a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy.
Barkley was named the Maxwell Award Player of the Week after accumulating a school-record 358 all-purpose yards against the Hawkeyes, including 211 rushing yards on 28 attempts. He leads the FBS in all-purpose yards per game (253.3). He is 11th in the nation in rushing at 129.5 yards per game.
Barkley also has 23 receptions for a Big Ten-leading 335 yards.
“Can’t imagine there’s a better player in all of college football,” Franklin said.
The Hoosiers beat Georgia Southern 52-17 last week, as freshman Morgan Ellison ran 25 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns, and J-Shun Harris returned a punt for a touchdown for the second straight week.
“It was a game where we were supposed to win,” said Indiana first-year coach Tom Allen, “and I felt like our players prepared and played in a manner that you expect them to.”
Allen held out wide receiver Donavan Hale, running back Mike Majette, guard Simon Stepaniak and cornerback Rashard Fant, mostly for precautionary health reasons, but the coach did not commit on Monday to any of them returning this week.
Four others players — quarterback Richard Lagow, cornerback A’Shonn Riggins, defensive tackle Nate Hoff and safety Marcelino Ball — suffered unspecified injuries against Georgia Southern. Lagow is expected to play this week, while the other three are questionable.
IU is last in the Big Ten — and 102nd among 129 FBS teams — in rushing defense, allowing 196.3 yards a game. The Hoosiers are next-to-last in the conference in total defense (428.3) and third from the bottom in scoring defense (27.7).
They have yet to log an interception this season, but linebacker Tegray Scales has recorded a team-leading 26 tackles, 2.5 for loss. Last year he generated an FBS-leading 23.5 tackles for loss among his 126 stops.
The Nittany Lions enjoyed a 579-273 yardage advantage against Iowa but struggled to finish drives. They were inside the 15 on four occasions before the decisive march, and came away with a single touchdown.
“When you get into the red zone, all the details are magnified because you’ve just got less field and you’ve got less space,” Franklin said. “We’ve just got to do a better job with those things, which I know we will.”
McSorley has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times.
Penn State also leads the FBS in scoring defense, having allowed an average of 8.3 points a game, including shutouts of Akron and Georgia State. Safety Marcus Allen has recorded a team-high 24 tackles, as well as a sack and an interception.
“It’s a tremendous challenge for our program,” Allen said.
“You know, you get to points in seasons when you want to be healthy. Sometimes you are; sometimes you’re not. And other young men to have rise up and play to a level that you expect them to. You look across the country and other teams are dealing with the same thing and you have to pony up, as we say.”