Coach James Franklin saw Saturday's game against Rutgers as an opportunity to bounce back from a tough, two-loss stretch that all but ended Penn State's chance to play for a national championship.
It took a little longer than Franklin would have liked for the No. 16 Nittany Lions to rediscover the tools they used to dominate opponents in the first half of the season.
Trace McSorley accounted for 258 total yards and three touchdowns and Penn State overcame an early deficit with 35 unanswered points to beat the Scarlet Knights 35-6.
McSorley became Penn State's all-time touchdown leader with 68, overtaking Daryll Clark's record of 65 with one rushing and two passing scores. Trailing 6-0 with 11:16 left in the first quarter, Penn State's offense came alive with two deep McSorley passes that set up his own zigzagging 20-yard touchdown run. The scoring drive took just 1:44 and gave Penn State the lead for good.
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"I think we're always at our best on offense when Trace factors into our running game and keeps people honest and keeps people on their toes," Franklin said.
McSorley threw touchdowns to DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki, and Saquon Barkley ran for two touchdowns for Penn State (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten). Barkley, a Heisman Trophy candidate, was slowed again. He ran for just 35 yards on 14 carries while McSorley added 44 yards on 13 carries.
"Their skill players were the difference in the game, including him," Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. "He was able to scramble around and extend drives with his feet."
Rutgers (4-6, 3-4) got a pair of field goals from Andrew Harte, including one from 33 yards after the Scarlet Knights recovered the opening kickoff. He added a 25-yarder later in the first, but Rutgers' momentum ended there.
The Scarlet Knights didn't get a first down in the second half until their final drive, which ended in a turnover on downs.
Robert Martin led Rutgers with 71 yards on 11 carries. Giovanni Rescigno completed 7 of 20 passes for 43 yards for the Scarlet Knights.
Barkley, who looked like the Heisman favorite just three weeks ago, had little room to run behind an offensive line without its starting left tackle.
Ryan Bates, who was hurt Oct. 28 against Ohio State, missed his second game with an undisclosed injury. Barkley has been held to 63 rushing yards or fewer in each of the last three games.
"It's part of the game," Barkley said. "Obviously I'm aware of what teams are going to try and do and teams are going to try to take away our run game and take away our backs."
Penn State was without starting outside linebacker Manny Bowen, who was suspended for a violation of team rules. Franklin didn't elaborate and didn't answer a reporter's question, walking out of the media room when asked whether Bowen would return.
Veteran walk-on Brandon Smith started in Bowen's spot and made 10 tackles.
Rutgers receiver Damon Mitchell left the game in the first half with an apparent left leg injury. He was hurt trying to cover a kick and was unable to put weight on his leg as he was helped off.
Receiver Janarion Grant also was seen receiving treatment on the bench for what appeared to be a lower body injury during the final few minutes of the game. He's battled injuries throughout his career and has missed three games this season.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights let a rare chance to win back-to-back games slip away after a solid first half. They're built to pound the ball and Rescigno showed off some scrambling ability to give Rutgers its best shot.
Penn State: Three games ago, Penn State was sitting at No. 2 and had a clear path to the playoff with a bona fide Heisman Trophy front-runner in Barkley leading the offense. With two losses and one shaky start later, Penn State can't get Barkley going on the ground, and his Heisman chances are becoming slimmer.
Rutgers: Visits Indiana on Saturday.
Penn State: Hosts Nebraska on Saturday.