Over the next several weeks I will be chronicling the 2016 Penn State football season. Many people believe this magical season put the Nittany Lions back on the map after the crippling sanctions previously imposed by the NCAA.
Entering his 3rd year as head coach in Happy Valley, many experts had deemed the '16 season as a make it, or break it one for Coach James Franklin. After leading the Lions to a 7-6 record (4-4 in the Big) in 2015, which included losing its last 4 games, doubt was starting to set in as to whether he was the right man for the job. While it took a while, at the conclusion of the 2016 season, that question was emphatically answered.
Athlon Sports, one of the premier college football publications, predicted the Lions would barely finish in the top 40 (39th to be exact). Their prediction of 4th in the Big Ten East placed them behind Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State.
Key returnees to that squad included quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley, wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin, tight end Mike Gesicki, linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda, and defensive back Marcus Allen. Key losses included Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Despite seeing the aforementioned head to the NFL, the team knew they could be special, but they seemed to be the only ones.
First on the 2016 slate saw Kent State visit Beaver Stadium. After a slow start which saw the Nittany Lions clinging to a 16-13 halftime lead, both the offense and defense stepped it up in the second half (a characteristic that would become all to familiar throughout the entire season) for a 33-13 win.
Some of the highlights included an Amani Oruwariye returned interception for a touchdown in the third quarter, Saquon Barkley rushing for 105 yards, the defense sacking a trio of Kent State quarterbacks seven times, and Tyler Davis contributing with two field goals.
The defense pitched a shutout in the second half, while seeing the offense spring to life. With the home victory behind them it was time to head to Pitt, which I will discuss, along with a home encounter against Temple, in my next blog. Thanks for reading.