Rapid Reaction: Absent a Run Game, Penn State Comes to Pass

Sean Clifford becomes the first Penn State quarterback to throw for 400 yards at Beaver Stadium in a 38-17 win over Villanova.
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State turned to the big play —by design, by necessity and by accident — Saturday in a 38-17 victory over Villanova, a game that nevertheless left some lingering questions about the offense.

Quarterback Sean Clifford went 19-for-26 for 401 yards and four touchdowns, producing the second-most prolific passing game in Penn State history. Clifford became the first Penn State quarterback to throw for 400 yards at Beaver Stadium and joined Christian Hackenberg as the only two quarterbacks to throw for 400 in a game (Hackenberg set the school record with 454 vs. Central Florida in Ireland in 204).

Still, the run game left a frustrating aftertaste and made Clifford's busy afternoon necessary.

Here's the rapid reaction from Beaver Stadium.

Penn State comes out throwing

Villanova sat on the Lions' run game from the game's first play, when receiver Jahan Dotson found himself in single coverage. Clifford noticed, and threw an easy 52-yard touchdown pass to Dotson.

It was the first of four touchdown passes for Clifford, all of which covered 23 yards or longer. The quarterback completed seven passes of 23 yards or longer, including two 52-yard touchdowns, a 67-yarder to Parker Washington and an 83-yard touchdown pass to KeAndre Lambert Smith.

For the most part, Clifford's receivers were exceptional in taking advantage of their speed advantages. Washingon and Lambert-Smith outran the Villanova secondary several times, and Dotson caught seven passes on seven targets (for 117 yards). Washington finished with 148 yards receiving.

The passing game certainly wasn't perfect. Villanova sacked Clifford three times and ultimately made eight tackles for loss. Which leads to...

Penn State's run game fizzles

"I still think we've got to make some strides in the running game," Penn State coach James Franklin said last week. "I think we can be better in the running game and have the ability to be better in the running game."

That didn't happen against Villanova, which had to cause concern. Penn State ran 17 times for 18 yards in the first half, when they used four different running backs, tried formations with three tight ends and even scrambled its quarterback.

The Lions began possessions at midfield and at the Villanova 45-yard line in the second quarter but scored no points. They were stopped on a third-and-short by a blitzing defensive back. The Wildcats made five tackles for loss against Penn State.

And the last disappointment came when walk-on back Tank Smith appeared to fumble with 20 seconds left, leading to a 65-yard scoop-and-score by Villanova's Denzel Williams. Alas, Smith was ruled down upon review.

Penn State didn't block well at all in the run game, from the interior to the periphery. Further, starting back Noah Cain carried just once and didn't play after the first quarter. Franklin said that Cain was "dinged" vs. Auburn and limited in practice last week.

Against an FCS team, even one with a strong defensive front like Villanova, was eye-opening.

Injured Villanova player is taken to the hospital

Villanova's Tyler Will was taken to a local hospital for observation and treatment for a concussion after being injured on the second-half kickoff. Will was alert and had full movement in his extremities when he left Beaver Stadium, according to Villanova.

After the game, Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said that Will was "doing OK" and had rejoined the team.

Another Wildcat touchdown

This isn't a reference to the late touchdowns Villanova scored. Penn State tight end Tyler Warren ran for his second touchdown from the Wildcat formation in as many weeks.

This time, Warren bulled through the Villanova line instead of leaping it.

Penn State-Iowa start time set

The Oct. 9 Penn State-Iowa game will kick off at 4 p.m. on Fox. Before that, Penn State hosts Indiana at 7:30 p.m. next week.