By Patty O’Rourke
Penn State beat San Diego State 37-21 yesterday at Beaver Stadium, but the Nits suffered injuries to running stars Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley (above) in the process.
Defensive tackle Austin Johnson rumbled 71 yards with a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter to break open a close game.
The Nittany Lions were clinging to a 27-21 lead with the Aztecs driving when defensive end Carl Nassib hit quarterback Maxwell Smith, forcing the fumble. Johnson, listed at 323 pounds, scooped up the ball and outran all pursuers to the end zone to put Penn State up by 13 with 13:44 to play.
Penn State (3-1) lost its top two running backs, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw three touchdown passes to give the Nittany Lions a 27-14 halftime lead.
With Lynch and Barkley out of the game by the second quarter, Hackenberg completed 16 of 24 passes for 234 yards and the three scores in the first half.
Hackenberg passed Matt McGloin to become Penn State’s career passing leader.
Before he left with an apparent leg injury, Barkley, the freshman sensation, dazzled on several runs plus a 22-yard touchdown reception that gave Penn State a 7-0 lead.
Barkley finished with 62 yards on eight carries. Lynch had a tougher time with 18 yards on 10 carries.
Receiver Saeed Blacknall, who did not catch a pass in the first three games, had three receptions for 98 yards in the first half.
The Aztecs’ Rashaad Penny returned a kickoff 100 yards after Barkley’s score. But a pair of Aztecs fumbles near the end of the second quarter led to Penn State touchdowns, a 13-yard pass from Hackenberg to Mark Allen, the third-string running back, and Chris Godwin’s 11-yard catch.
DeAndre Thompkins’ muffed punt, another special teams gaffe, helped San Diego State (1-3) pull to within 27-21 with 8:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Aztecs were driving for the lead when Nassib and Johnson gave Penn State breathing room, 34-21. Joey Julius later tacked on a field goal.