No. 10 Penn State narrowly avoids upset, beats Appalachian State in OT

STATE COLLEGE, PA – SEPTEMBER 01: Trace McSorley #9 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after rushing for a 12 yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Appalachian State Mountaineers on September 1, 2018 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

It was Sept. 1, 2007, that Appalachian State shocked the college football world by upsetting Michigan in the Big House.

And on Sept. 1, 2018, the Mountaineers nearly upset another Big Ten opponent on the road. But Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley wouldn’t let it happen, and the Nittany Lions pulled out a 45-38 win in overtime.

Penn State entered the fourth quarter with a 24-10 lead, but it allowed App State to come all the way back and take a 38-31 lead with under two minutes to play. But McSorley, the senior Heisman candidate, led his team on a game-tying touchdown drive to force overtime.

The score that forced OT was a beautiful ball from McSorley, who had a ton of pressure in his face, to redshirt freshman K.J. Hamler. Before his TD catch, Hamler gave his team tremendous field position with a kick return to midfield.

When overtime began, Penn State fed Miles Sanders, the replacement for Saquon Barkley, to take the lead. And when it was App State’s turn, the PSU defense, which had struggled for much of the game, finally stepped up and got a stop.

After narrowly converting a fourth-and-1, App State QB Zac Thomas looked to the end zone. Thomas had torched the PSU secondary all afternoon. This time. PSU corner Amani Oruwariye came up with a clutch interception in overtime to avoid the huge upset.

Penn State defense has serious holes to fix

Penn State, from a College Football Playoff perspective, would have had no room for error the rest of the season with a loss. And with the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State on the schedule, that would not have been too promising.

But from more of a micro perspective, the Penn State defense has obvious issues. App State QB Zac Thomas, in his first career start, torched the Nittany Lion secondary, especially in that wild fourth quarter.

The Mountaineers, who sprinkled in a surprise onside kick, scored on three straight fourth-quarter drives, all via Thomas — two passes and one run. Some of the throws Thomas made were virtually indefensible, but there were many occasions where App State receivers were running free behind PSU defenders. That has to be cleaned up.

The Nittany Lions are working in a lot of new faces on that side of the ball. Familiar names like Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen are gone, and inexperienced underclassmen are stepping in. With a trip to Pittsburgh to face the rival Panthers next week, things won’t get easier.

App State deserves its props

There’s a reason the Mountaineers have been near the top of the Sun Belt since they joined the conference. App State is a tremendous program, and did not look overmatched in any facet of Saturday’s game.

Some of Penn State’s speed at the skill positions — mainly Sanders and Hamler — was tough to deal with, but the Mountaineers got pressure on McSorley for much of the afternoon.

Maybe Big Ten programs should stop scheduling App State?

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