No. 10 Penn State beat Appalachian State 45-38 in Happy Valley on Saturday, but only after the Mountaineers stormed back with a 28-point fourth quarter to force overtime. Penn State seemed to have things under control, taking a 31-17 lead early in the fourth, but Appalachian State responded with three straight touchdowns. In fact, after cutting Penn State's edge to 31-24 with 7:40 left, the Mountaineers pulled off a surprise onside kick to get the ball back. Four plays and 53 yards later, Zac Thomas was scoring a 1-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Mountaineers defense forced a quick three-and-out after that to get the ball back and put together another scoring drive, taking a 38-31 lead with 1:47 left. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers couldn't hold onto that lead, as K.J. Hamler returned the kickoff 52 yards to give Penn State excellent field position. Seven plays later, Hamler finished the job, catching a 15-yard touchdown from McSorley to force overtime. In OT Miles Sanders broke the seal open with four straight carries, scoring on the fourth attempt to give Penn State the lead. Appalachian State's bid to tie the game would end when Amani Oruwariye picked off a pass in the end zone.
Here are three things to take away from Penn State's near disaster.
1. It wasn't the offense that was the problem: All offseason, the biggest questions surrounding Penn State were how it would replace Saquon Barkley as well as offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. The Nittany Lions offense got off to a slow start, but at the end of the day it had done its job, finishing with 434 yards of offense and averaged a respectable 5.5 yards per carry. What would concern me if I were a Penn State fan is the performance of my defense. Appalachian State scored 38 points, including 28 in the fourth quarter. It racked up 451 yards of offense, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Now, this shouldn't be all that unexpected. Penn State has a lot of new faces on defense this season, and it's only logical that the unit would struggle early. Still, you would have hoped that it could have done better against a Sun Belt team -- even if it's a good Sun Belt team.
2. Trace McSorley showed why he'll be a Heisman candidate: McSorley's overall numbers weren't great. He completed only 21 of 36 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown through the air. He did score two rushing touchdowns, however, and added 53 yards on the ground. But it's not the numbers that mattered as much as his performance late. McSorley kept his composure and led a terrific drive late to get the game-tying touchdown, and his pass to Hamler for the score was a thing of beauty.
3. Wisconsin's on future notice: Listen, if Michigan wasn't enough to teach the Big Ten a lesson about inviting Appalachian State into its home, this game should drive the point home. But it won't be Appalachian State's last chance at a Big Ten pelt, as it's currently scheduled to play Wisconsin in Madison on Sept. 19, 2020.