For Penn State Seniors & Saquon, There’s No Place Like Beaver Stadium
Brendan Mahon officially committed to Penn State on March 18, 2012.
And he continued to hold that promise longer than any other Nittany Lion, through Rose Bowl thick and sanctioned-rosters thin.
When Penn State’s departing seniors were introduced prior to the team’s 56-44 victory over Nebraska, no one in the group of 23 had committed to Penn State earlier — or longer.
In all, he has Ma(ho)n’d up for 2,071 days.
That’s from the day he first committed to this past Saturday, when Mahon ran out of the south end zone tunnel of Beaver Stadium for the last time. For Mahon, who turns 23 in January, that’s over a quarter of a lifetime.
What the son of Robert and Jeni Mahon of Randolph, New Jersey, starts, he finishes.
After a redshirt season in 2013, he’s been a virtual four-year starter along the offensive line — with 9 in 2014, 11 in 2015, 9 in 2016 and 10 in 2017. Mahon has started 39 games in all, trailing only teammates DaeSean Hamilton (49) and Marcus Allen (44) on the current roster.
For Mahon, though, on Saturday — with a steady and cold rain falling, the skies steel grey, and a hearty and poncho-wearing portion of the announced 106,722 fans on hand — it felt like the very first time.
“It was the same feeling I remember the first day I walked into Beaver Stadium, whenever it was, seven or eight years ago,” No. 70 recalled after Game No. 35 at 1 Beaver Stadium, Porter Road, University Park, PA 16802. “I had butterflies running out of the tunnel. I just took it all in for a second.
“It was identical to the first time it was when I saw it Beaver Stadium.”
Mahon has sandwiched a lot in-between.
He has missed games with injuries, both major and minor. He’s had O-line coaches who were grizzled, growlers and line-growers, from Mac McWhorter to Herb Hand to Matt Limegrover. He’s blocked for a quarterback who, in his Penn State career, got sacked over 100 times and for one who has run (intentionally) for 803 yards. Bill O’Brien recruited him to start his Penn State career; James Franklin hugged him when he ended the home leg on Saturday. Fans and media have been less than positive about him when Saquon Barkley has run for negative yards. Yet Pro Football Focus spotlighted him for his play in the upset of No. 2 Ohio State last season.
“It’s going to be missed,” Mahon admitted Saturday, sitting in a high chair inside the stadium media room, one final time. “But the lessons and things I’ve learned from Penn State…you come in a boy and a teenager. And you leave a man.
“That’s a credit to coaches before us and Coach Franklin. He really puts a high standard on us on and off the field. I will be leaving a man here, and have to thank Coach Franklin and Coach O'Brien and everybody who had a part in that.”
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER
For Mahon & Co., there’s been no place like home. Especially the past two seasons.
After beating Nebraska on Saturday in the home season finale, Nittany Lions are perfect in Beaver Stadium over the past two seasons, going 7-0 in 2017 and 7-0 in 2016. Along the way, they won in overtime (against Minnesota), beat No. 2 Ohio State and pounded Michigan State and Michigan by a collective 87-25.
The last time the Nittany Lions were unbeaten at home in back-to-back seasons was in 1985 and 1986, when they were 6-0 and then 7-0 (with signature wins over Alabama, Notre Dame and Pitt).
At the start of his post-game presser on Saturday night, it took James The Benchmarker just 56 words to home school a crowd of over 200 media members, Penn State staffers, recruits and their families, and assorted hanger-ons on that very point.
“We got an unbelievable environment here,” said Franklin, 20-5 in his last 25 games home and on the road as head coach. “Two years in a row, undefeated at home — that hasn’t happened at Beaver Stadium in 31 years. I think that’s a pretty impressive statistic being undefeated at home, two years in a row. And it hasn’t happened in 31 years.”
Before 1985-86, the last time Penn State had a home unbeaten string like was back in 1971-73, when Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions were 17-0 over three seasons, with 5-0, 6-0 and 6-0 records. Penn State also went undefeated back-to-back in 1968-69 (10-0). You’d have to go back seven decades to find the time before that (see the chart below).
Over the past three seasons, Penn State has been 20-1 at Beaver Stadium, losing only 28-16 to Michigan on Nov. 21, 2015.
By comparison, in the 21 games before that, they were just 13-8 — 3-4 in 2014 (Franklin’s first season at Penn State), preceded by 5-2 in both 2012 and 2013.
Here’s another comparison:
In 2012, the first year of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State averaged 96,730 fans per game in Beaver Stadium. In 2017, Penn State averaged almost 10,000 more fans per home game — at 106,707.
The difference is money in the bank.
BANKING ON BARKLEY
Speaking of cash and carry…
In 19 games of those 21 home games since 2015, the Nittany Lions could bank on Barkley (he missed games against Army and Indiana as a freshman). With Saquon in the backfield, they lost only once in Beaver Stadium — that defeat at the hands of Michigan in 2015.
Stars like our sun live for 10 billion years. Barkley’s burst was far shorter, but just as brilliant, even in the thick rain in the early evening darkness of Saturday, when he first ran for 65 yards on his first carry, then made Penn State fans jump for joy when he nearly leaped/flipped for a touchdown. (In their minds, Saquon will always be in bounds on that play, just like McCoskey’s catch was on the opposite sideline in Nebraska’s first visit to Beaver Stadium, 35 years earlier.)
Barkley’s first carry in Beaver Stadium came in the second half of the Nittany Lions’ first home game of the 2015 season, on Sept. 12 against Buffalo, in 60-degree temperatures and rain. Akeel Lynch started at tailback, and Penn State could only muster 66 yards rushing in the first 30 minutes on its way to a weak 10-0 lead. Barkley didn’t get his first carry until Penn State’s first series of the third quarter.
Barkley’s first run in Beaver Stadium went for three yards, on a first-and-10 from the Penn State 47. He ran for three yards on second down and one yard on third. Then Penn State punted.
On his first carry of the fourth quarter, Barkley ran for 33 yards. Then 17 yards more. The next series he ran for nine yards. Twice. On the final series of the game, he added a 24-yarder. He finished with 115 yards in 12 carries; Lynch had 46 yards on 19 carries. The rest is history.
Overall, from Barkley’s Beaver Stadium premiere vs. Buffalo to his finale against Nebraska on Saturday (his last carry was for five yards in the third quarter), it was only 798 days. A brilliant run — peppered with leaps and jumps, chills and thrills — indeed.
Here are Barkley’s Beaver Stadium rushing totals, by game and season:
2015 — Buffalo (12 carries, 115 yards, 1 touchdown); Rutgers (21-195-2), San Diego State (8-62), Illinois (20-84-1), Michigan (15-68). Total: 76-524-4. Receiving: 6-99-1.
2016 — Kent State (22-105-1), Temple (9-68-1), Minnesota (20-63-1), Maryland (31-202-1), Ohio State (12-99), Iowa (20-167-1), Michigan State (12-14-1). Total: 126-718-7. Receiving: 9-76-1.
2017 —Akron (14-174-2), Pitt (14-88-1), Georgia State (10-47), Indiana (20-56), Michigan (15-108-2), Rutgers (14-35-2), Nebraska (17-158-3). Total: 104-666-10. Receiving: 25-431-3. Kickoff returns: 7-250-1 (a 98-yarder to open the game vs. Indiana).
Total: 19 games, 306 carries for 1,908 yards, 21 touchdowns; 6.23 yards per carry and 116.5 yards per game. Receiving: 40-606-5. Kickoff returns: 7-250-1.
BLUE COLLARS IN 2018
Penn State next takes its home field on Sept. 1, 2018, against Appalachian State. Maintaining the pluperfect blue-perfect home streak will not be easy.
With visitors like Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin on tap, it will be a challenging slate for Franklin and his players. And an attractive one for the Beaver Stadium faithful.
Franklin must replace seven starters on defense, plus vets on offense like Hamilton and Mahon and tight end Mike Gesicki, who will be sorely missed. Say-say good-bye to Saquon, as well, to the National Football League.
Still, Mahon thinks he is leaving Penn State in good hands.
"This program is on the up and up,” Mahon said after he was bucket-list victorious over Nebraska, his 13th and final vanquished Big Ten opponent.
“It’s going to continue to rise because of the younger guys who are going to come in and are the Penn State type of kid. They’re blue collar,” said Mahon, a throwback-type himself. “They’ll mirror the type of players we had from the '70s and '80s and '90s and the guys who have come before us. I think Penn State is going to keep it that way for a long time.”