STATE COLLEGE — Already one of Penn State’s most animated coach on the sideline, Charles Huff was nothing less than the Tasmanian Devil in the first quarter.
In his fourth season as special teams coordinator, Huff has built the unit back up from scratch because of NCAA sanctions that devastated the level of talent out there for kickoffs and punts and returns.
So when Saquon Barkley took Saturday’s opening kickoff back 98 yards for a score, there was Huff, sprinting and spinning and celebrating the touchdown on the sideline. It was only topped later in the quarter when Irvin Charles jarred loose a ball from dangerous punt returner J-Shun Harris, and Nick Scott scooped it up for an easy 13-yard touchdown return.
“Happy. Excited,” Scott said of Huff’s outlook after special teams fueled a 45-14 win over Indiana. “I mean, I think he’s just happy that we’re starting to see the results that we expect to see. He’s put in a lot of work into special teams. I think he’s the best special teams coordinator in the nation. I’m actually sure of that. I know he is.
“It’s his approach. His coaching. His teaching. Everything like that. He was just really excited to see us playing fast. That’s a testament to the work he’s put in, the hours he’s put in, dedicating that time to us.”
And Scott is his biggest disciple as the Nittany Lions’ special teams captain. His score, which he credited fully to Charles — “I was just there. Irv did all the work,” — made it 21-0 not even 10 minutes into the game before the lead swelled to 28-0 after one quarter.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a better half of special teams in my 23 years of doing this,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “That has been something that we’ve worked really hard on and invested in since we’ve been here. We are really starting to get some really positive returns.”
It was only the second time this century No. 4 Penn State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) had scored two special teams touchdowns in the same game. And Barkley’s kick return was the Lions’ first to reach the end zone since the opening kickoff of the 2011 season.
Back in Week 1, the Lions also scored on a punt return, ending that particular drought at nine years.
And the kickoff wasn’t purely a case of Barkley brilliance. The Heisman frontrunner hit a seam opened by true freshman Tariq Castro-Fields and strong blocking meant that Barkley needed only to put a head-fake on the kicker before outracing everyone else to the end zone.
“The opening kickoff is just inexcusable,” Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said. “Yeah, he’s a great player, but nobody touched him.”
Barkley, who was largely bottled up on the ground by Allen’s defense for the second straight year (20 carries, 56 yards), made a big impact nonetheless. Barkley said he previously talked with former Penn State All-America return man Derrick Williams, who is now a sideline reporter on Penn State’s radio feed, about taking one all the way.
“I was telling him, ‘I’m gonna get one. I’m gonna get one,’ Barkley said. “And he was laughing, ‘We’ll see. We’ll see.’
“So when I got in the end zone and went back to the sideline, I looked at him and he was laughing. I said, ‘I told you so.’ ”
Despite it all, Penn State’s lead was cut to 28-14 at the half following a lackluster second quarter in which the Lions gained just 22 yards.
But DaeSean Hamilton hauled in two of his three touchdowns on the day after the break — including one on a pass from Barkley — while the defense slowed down Indiana’s overcaffeinated tempo on offense, blanking the Hoosiers (2-2, 0-2) in the second half.
“We weren’t satisfied with it,” said Hamilton, who became the program’s all-time leading receptions leader in the win. “We kind of just stalled. It’s not like guys thought the game was over (at 28-0), but we’ve gotta find that killer instinct.”
Franklin agreed. The lopsided final score covered up some lingering issues for the Lions, who again struggled to consistently protect Trace McSorley (23-36, 315 yards, two TDs, INT) to the tune of five sacks allowed.
Iowa also managed to harass McSorley a week earlier, something that doesn’t bode well for when the elite fronts of Michigan and Ohio State are on the other side of the ball.
“We are going to enjoy wins around here,” Franklin said. “But there’s still some things that we have to be honest with ourselves (about) and we’ve gotta get cleaned up. … For where we want to go and what we want to do, we’ve gotta get better.”
No. 4 Penn State 45, Indiana 14
Indiana`0`14`0`0 — 14
Penn State`28`0`10`7 — 45
PSU — Saquon Barkley 98 kickoff return (Tyler Davis kick), 14:46
PSU — Trace McSorley 1 run (Davis kick), 11:41
PSU — Nick Scott 13 fumble return (Davis kick), 6:34
PSU — DaeSean Hamilton 8 pass from McSorley (Davis kick), 0:41
IU — Ricky Brookins 2 run (Griffin Oakes kick), 14:01
IU — Simmie Cobbs 18 pass from Peyton Ramsey (Oakes kick), 0:44
PSU — Davis 45 field goal, 5:50
PSU — Hamilton 24 pass from McSorley (Davis kick), 3:22
PSU — Hamilton 16 pass from Barkley (Davis kick), 4:13
Time of Possession`26:31`33:29
RUSHING — IU, Ellison 9-53, Ramsey 12-53, Gest 10-48, Philyor 3-13, Rodriguez 3-9, Williams 5-9, Brookins 3-4, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Lagow 1-(minus 10). PSU, Barkley 20-56, Hamilton 1-2, McSorley 16-(minus 19).
PASSING — IU, Lagow 7-15-0-97, Ramsey 8-17-1-78. PSU, McSorley 23-36-1-315, Barkley 1-1-0-16.
RECEIVING — IU, I.Thomas 5-91, Cobbs 5-44, Williams 1-23, Watercutter 1-7, Philyor 1-4, Mack 1-4, Brookins 1-2. PSU, Hamilton 9-122, Ju.Johnson 4-63, Barkley 4-51, Gesicki 3-19, Thompkins 2-53, Blacknall 1-18, Pancoast 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — PSU, Davis 2 (21, 42).
A — 107,542.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse