Thompkins Catching On
STATE COLLEGE —
No doubt existed where the ball would land as it arched toward DeAndre Thompkins in the first quarter Saturday.
Thompkins understood all the real questions would surround what would happen once it arrived at the destination: His hands.
Against Kent State, things went well. Quarterback Trace McSorley found him striding wide open on the post pattern toward the end zone in the first quarter, delivered his usual strike, and Thompkins dived and stretched to make a sterling catch for a 40-yard touchdown that sent No. 11 Penn State on its way to a thorough 63-10 win over Kent State in its final nonconference game of the season at Beaver Stadium.
In Penn State’s first two games, things didn’t go so well.
The senior didn’t make a catch until Saturday, and it’s not because he didn’t have opportunities. He watched two potential touchdowns go through his hands last week against Pitt, and he put another on the ground in the opener against Appalachian State. Both games played in soggy conditions. Neither, though, providing an excuse.
“Being a receiver, my job is to catch the ball,” Thompkins said. “Rain, sleet or snow, a drop is a drop.”
Thompkins wound up catching all four of his targets from McSorley this time, going for 101 yards in his second career 100-yard game. But, around the Penn State offense, dropped passes have become a bit of an issue.
Junior Juwan Johnson had another drop against the Golden Flashes, as did Brandon Polk. Running back Miles Sanders had a McSorley pass go through his hands, and Kent State safety Elvis Hines intercepted it.
Head coach James Franklin expressed concern, but also confidence that the issues could be cleaned up with the Big Ten opener just six days away in Champaign against Illinois.
“DeAndre Thompkins, who we have all the confidence in the world in, goes down the field, lays out and makes a fingertip catch in the back of the end zone, and that’s a huge play,” Franklin said. “I am just going to keep believing in these kids, keep loving them. We have shown we can be big-time players. We just need to be more consistent.”
History for Clifford
Freshman Sean Clifford’s career as Penn State’s backup quarterback — a run that might end when junior Tommy Stevens ultimately returns from a foot injury — has been pretty good so far.
Against Kent State, he threw for 117 yards and a touchdown.
One of those completions was a 95-yard catch-and-run by true freshman receiver Daniel George, which stands as the longest touchdown throw in Penn State history. The previous long: A 92-yarder against Pittsburgh in 1919.
“The dude’s like 3 for 3 with two touchdowns, so he has done pretty well with (the opportunity),” McSorley smiled.
A bit of history on the record that was broken.
That 92-yard pass came on one of the most famous plays in the early history of college football. Pining for a win over Pitt — a team coached by legendary Pop Warner — Penn State coach Hugo Bezdek devised a way to beat the aggressive Panthers rush on its punt block team. So Bezdek called for the rare fake punt and an even more rare forward pass. Punter Bill Hess took the snap, rolled right in his own end zone, and found
All-American Bob Higgins running in open space for the critical score.
According to a 1965 Sports Illustrated article about the play, Bezdek, after calling for the play, “ducked under the bench and did not come out until an assistant manager assured him that Higgins had scored.”
Penn State’s return game, which entered the third week ranked 13th in the nation in both punt return and kick return average, gave the Nittany Lions another spark.
21 yards on his three returns, and freshman K.J. Hamler brought his first career punt return attempt back for a 33-yard gain. Hamler also had a 52-yard kickoff return.
Mainly because they combined for 147 return yards in the game, the Nittany Lions’ average starting field position stood at their 42 until late in the fourth quarter.
“We have guys now who, when they touch the ball, it’s scary,” Franklin said.
Former Lackawanna College standout running back Jo-El Shaw wound up being the Golden Flashes’ best offensive threat in the fourth quarter, when he carried four times for 17 yards. He had a 10-yard sprint that gave Kent State a first down.
He finished the game with 22 yards on 10 carries.
After his touchdown throw to George, Clifford’s career statistics: 4 for 4 for 175 yards and two touchdowns. ... DE Jayson Oweh, one of the 13 true freshmen who played Saturday for the Nittany Lions, recorded the first two sacks of his career late in the third quarter. He dropped Kent State quarterback Woody Barrett for a three-yard loss, then two plays later, sprinted through the middle and tackled him for a loss of eight. ... Penn State’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, John Cappelletti, served as the game’s honorary captain. He and other members of Penn State’s legendary 1973 squad were honored at halftime.
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