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Penn State’s Defense is No. 1 in the Nation for Points & Turnovers; Barkley is No. 2 for All-Purpose Yards

by on October 08, 2017 1:30 PM

In the latest NCAA major college football rankings released on Sunday, Penn State’s defense is No. 1 in two major categories:

Fewest points allowed (9.0 per game).

Most turnovers collected (17 overall — 8 fumbles, 9 interceptions).

Overall, halfway through their 6-0 season, as a team the Nittany Lions are ranked in the NCAA’s Top 10 in 14 different categories. Seven are on defense, three on special teams, three for the overall team and one on offense.

Individually, Penn State has five different players who rank in the Top 10 in a key statistical category, led by Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley, who is near the top on four lists.

Barkley dropped to No. 2 in the country for all-purpose yardage — a combination of rushing yards (649), receiving yards (395) and return yardage (258 KR). Passing yards — Barkley has one toss, a 16-yarder for a touchdown to DaeSean Hamilton vs. Indiana — don’t count toward all-purpose yards.

Barkley was held to just 84 yards on Saturday against Northwestern — 75 rushing on 16 carries (including a 53-yard TD) and 9 receiving on one catch. He is averaging 217 yards all-purpose yards per game. Rashard Penny of San Diego State is first (220.8 yard per game), while Stanford’s Bryce is third (209.8) and Maryland’s Ty Johnson (177.2) is fourth. Penn State finishes its regular-season schedule at Maryland on Nov. 25.

Barkley also ranks No. 6 in the country for total touchdowns, with 9 (1 KR, 2 rec., 6 run, including 2 vs. Northwestern); No. 7 for kickoff returns for a TD, with his 98-yarder for a score to open the game against Indiana two weeks ago; and No. 9 for kickoff return average, at 32.3 yards per return.

Other top-ranked Penn State players are:

DeAndre Thompkins, WR/PR — No. 4 in punt return average (17.1 yards) and No. 4 for PR touchdowns (a 61-yarder in the season-opener against Akron).

Christian Campbell, CB — No. 8 in passes defended, with 1.7 per game.

Amani Oruwariye, CB — No. 9 in interceptions, with 3. He’s had a pick in each of the past two games, and the interception against Northwestern on Saturday had special personal significance. He Tweeted after the game:  “3 years ago today I lost my father (Alfred) ... I KNOW he was watching over me today.”

Trace McSorley, QB — No. 9 in points responsible for, with 102 this season. That’s on 4 runs and 13 TD passes. Against Northwestern, he had a 5-yard scoring run and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Stevens.

Over the past two weeks, while defenses have keyed on Barkley — he's had 36 carries for 131 yards, a 3.6-yard average — McSorley has upped his game. Against Indiana and Northwestern he was 47 for 70 (67.1%) for 560 yards passing, with three passing TDs and two running TDs, and just one pick. His season completion percentage of 67.0% (130 of 194 for 1,597 yards) is a big jump from his 57.9% overall in 2016.

DEFENSE LEADS NATIONAL RANKINGS

Credit defensive coordinator Brent Pry and head coach James Franklin for the Nittany Lions’ defensive success, especially after the team finished the 2016 season by giving up 31 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and 52 to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Franklin cut to the chase on Saturday following Penn State's 31-7 win over Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. — with the Wildcats’ TD coming with 102 seconds remaining — when summarizing the play of Pry’s defense.

“…the most important thing,” said Franklin, “is that we keep people out of the end zone and we create turnovers.”

Here’s where Penn State ranks in the Top 10 in 2017:

No. 1 — Scoring Defense, 9.0 points per game. Georgia is second (10.0), followed by Washington (10.2), Alabama (10.3) and Clemson (11.3). It’s not a coincidence that No. 3, 4 and 5 this year all made the College Football Playoffs last year, and Clemson and Alabama squared off in the title game, won by Clemson.

No. 1 — Turnovers Gained, 17 in six games. This was a point of emphasis for Penn State through the offseason and summer practice. The Nittany Lions had just 21 turnovers gained in 14 games in 2016.

No. 1 — Winning Percentage, 1.000 and a 6-0 record. Thirteen FBS teams are undefeated. Penn State is on a 15-1 run, one of its best streaks since joining the Big Ten in 1993. PSU won 18 straight in 1993-1995. From mid-2006 through early 2009, it had a 19-1 run.

No. 1 — Blocked Punts Allowed, 0. This is a big club; 99 other teams have not yet allowed a blocked punt.

No. 2 — Turnover Margin, plus-2.0 per game. A complementary ranking. Penn State’s defense has gained 17 turnovers, while the offense has coughed up only five (1 lost fumble, 4 interceptions). Penn State’s plus-12 turnover margin for the season is tops in college football, tied with Alabama. South Florida is third, at plus-11.

No. 2 — Kickoff Returns, 30.89 yards per return. Barkley is ranked No. 9, with a 32.3 average on eight KRs, while Miles Sanders has one for 20 yards.

No. 3 — Red Zone Defense, 60%. In 2017, Penn State’s opponents have made only 10 trips to the red zone and have scored on just six of them.

No. 3 — Fumbles Recovered, 8. Penn State has forced 10 fumbles and recovered 8, a very high recovery rate. In 2016, they were 11 of 22. Safety Marcus Allen and D-end Shaka Toney each have two forced fumbles; Toney had his second vs. Northwestern. Eight different players have recovered a fumble in 2017, including Ryan Buchholz on Saturday. Good insight here from linebacker Koa Farmer on Saturday: “We all really run to the ball well together. I think that makes us better and says a lot about the team speed.”

No. 5 — Team Tackles for a Loss, 8.5 a game. Penn State’s defense swarms, and quick D-ends like Toney and Shareef Miller are tough to stop off the edge. Toney had 2 TFLs for 17 yards on Saturday.

No. 5 — Team Passing Efficiency - Defense, 92.91. What this means: PSU is tough to pass against, especially deep. Teams are completing just 53.7% of their passes against Penn State, for 5.1 yards per attempt. Plus, the Nittany Lions have those 9 picks. On Saturday, Northwestern’s QBs had an incredibly skimpy 16.1 rating against Campbell, who was targeted 7 times and yielded just 3 catches, plus he had an interception.

No. 6 — Fumbles Lost, 1. That’s everybody doing everything — pass, run, run after catch, PR, KR — while holding onto the football. Last season, Penn State lost 11 fumbles.

No. 8 — Fewest Penalties Per Game, 4.0. Indicative of maturity, discipline, savvy and coaching. Shows Penn State is a veteran ball club. In 2016, Penn State had 7.2 penalties per game.

No. 9 — Passes Intercepted, 9. Oruwariye leads with 3, followed by Grant Haley (2). Allen, Campbell, Troy Apke and Tariq Castro-Fields each have 1.

No. 9 — Net Punting, 42.37 yards. Props here to punter Blake Gillikin and Penn State’s gunners. Gillikin is ranked No. 26 in the country, at 44.2 yards per punt, while the Nittany Lions are No. 14 at punt return defense, allowing just 1.29 yards per return — a total of nine yards on only 7 returns through the first six games. Crazy.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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