STATE COLLEGE — The young scored. Two true freshmen found the end zone, one breaking a 99-year-old school record.
The old scored. Four fifth-year seniors hit paydirt, including a pair of backup running backs.
For Penn State to succeed in the upcoming Big Ten schedule, the Nittany Lions will have to turn the competition between the two groups into consistent production.
Tough to take too much else from Saturday’s 63-10 dismantling of overmatched Kent State. As the non-conference slate closes, the No. 11 Lions managed to work in a cast of veterans and rookies as they try to determine what combination can help them out at Illinois on Friday and against Ohio State the following week.
“These are things I don’t want the players thinking about,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “But as a head coach I’m trying to manage all these things. So we got a lot of guys reps. A lot of guys played for the first time today, which is really important. It creates a healthy locker room where there’s a lot of guys that feel like they had a role in the game.”
There was the expected name, of course. Senior quarterback Trace McSorley scored five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing) and had three long touchdown passes wiped out by penalties.
“A lot of young guys getting in is a huge benefit,” McSorley said. “But there’s a lot for us to work on.”
McSorley’s classmates who joined him on the scoresheet were DeAndre Thompkins, who opened the game with a 40-yard pitch-and-catch and running backs Mark Allen and Johnathan Thomas, with the latter scoring his first career touchdown. All four players arrived along with James Franklin in early 2014.
“We’ve been through a lot,” said Allen, one of the team’s vocal leaders. “A lot. Especially (Thomas). He’s worked so hard. I’m more excited for him than I am for me.”
On the other end of the spectrum — Penn State (3-0) managed to get 14 true freshmen into the game, including seven who made their college debut.
One of them, wideout Daniel George, turned his first career catch into the longest passing play in Penn State history, using a double move to break laughably wide open for the pass from redshirt freshman Sean Clifford, busting a record that had stood for nearly a century.
Ricky Slade scored a rushing touchdown to add to the 2018 recruiting class’ totals. Defensive end Jayson Oweh had two sacks. And the younger guys continued to push the vets with linebackers Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa seeing more reps.
“I think they have given really good competition and the younger guys really stepped up,” said defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, a new starter but only a true sophomore himself. “Like Jayson Oweh, he never played a college snap and first drive he goes in he has two sacks. So it’s just motivating for all of us.
“I think obviously the older guys compete to keep their spots. The young guys are in the mindset where they want to take everything.”
That drive could be the difference between a memorable season and a dull one for the Lions.
Perhaps the most impressive newcomer, wideout and dynamic return man KJ Hamler, was kept out of the end zone for the first time in his short career when his touchdown was called back on a hold.
But he still topped 100 all-purpose yards on receptions, kick returns and punt returns.
“We still have a lot of more electrifying players,” Hamler said. “The young guys are really stepping up and I think you all saw that today. Just giving them a chance out here today and getting to ball out is good experience for them. They get a taste of college football.”
No. 11 Penn State 63, Kent State 10
Kent State`7`3`0`0 — 10
Penn State`21`7`21`14 — 63
PSU—Thompkins 40 pass from McSorley (Pinegar kick), 12:51
KSU—Carrigan 47 pass from Barrett (Trickett kick), 9:43
PSU—McSorley 1 run (Pinegar kick), 5:07
PSU—McSorley 2 run (Pinegar kick), 1:09
KSU—FG Trickett 24, :35
PSU—McSorley 13 run (Pinegar kick), :04
PSU—Allen 7 run (Pinegar kick), 10:05
PSU—Slade 2 run (Pinegar kick), 7:42
PSU—Polk 41 pass from McSorley (Pinegar kick), 2:37
PSU—George 95 pass from Clifford (Pinegar kick), 6:55
PSU—Thomas 15 run (Pinegar kick), 1:09
Time of Possession`31:38`28:22
RUSHING—Kent St., Crum 3-23, Shaw 10-22, Matthews 4-16, Rankin 3-0, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Barrett 16-(minus 18). Penn St., Sanders 14-86, Thomas 3-84, Allen 11-62, McSorley 9-54, Clifford 2-10, Slade 5-1, McGovern 0-0, Hamler 1-0.
PASSING—Kent St., Crum 1-2-0-4, Barrett 20-38-0-176. Penn St., McSorley 11-22-1-229, Clifford 3-3-0-127.
RECEIVING—Kent St., Dixon 5-59, Carrigan 3-58, McKoy 3-21, Shaw 3-14, Harrell 3-2, Rankin 2-18, Price 1-4, Lawrence-Burke 1-4. Penn St., Thompkins 4-101, Sanders 3-30, Polk 2-55, Freiermuth 2-35, George 1-95, Hamler 1-22, Kuntz 1-18.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse