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Penn State

Penn State notebook: Defense gets off to strong start

| Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, 5:18 p.m.
Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller (48) sacks Kent State quarterback Justin Agner (7) on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller (48) sacks Kent State quarterback Justin Agner (7) on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State's defense held Kent State's offense to two field goals in the Nittany Lions' 33-13 win Saturday. The lone Golden Flashes' touchdown came when they returned a Trace McSorley fumble 20 yards for six points.

Questions and concerns surrounded the Nittany Lions' defense heading into their Week 1 matchup with the Golden Flashes, mainly because defensive linemen Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel were selected in the NFL Draft in April.

Last season, the Nittany Lions held opposing offenses without a touchdown in two games. They already have done it once this year.

Defensive end Garrett Sickels said he hopes Saturday's performance will quiet the questioners about how the Lions will replace the three departed stars on the defensive line.

“I was over that question on our media day,” Sickels said. “I was looking at this whole (preseason) camp saying, ‘All right guys, we have a big statement we have to make this year. Our first game is our opportunity to do it.' ”

Sickels, the Lions' only returning starter on the defensive line, and the rest of the defense made that statement. Penn State finished with seven sacks.

Miller time

Defensive end Shareef Miller made the most of his playing time, notching 1 12 sacks and recording five tackles. It was a breakout performance for the redshirt freshman in his first collegiate game.

Coach James Franklin said, though, that Miller's strong performance will have to translate to practice for him to see more playing time.

“He doesn't practice like that,” Franklin said. “If he would understand and embrace that, and practice every day at a much higher level, he could have an unbelievable college career here.”

Maturing McSorley

McSorley completed 16 of 31 passes for 209 yards, mixing deep routes down the sidelines with short drags across the middle. He threw two touchdown passes, one a 4-yard quick slant to DaeSean Hamilton, the other a 30-yard vertical route to a wide-open Mike Gesicki.

Franklin was pleased with McSorley's performance, though he acknowledges the redshirt sophomore has room to grow.

“It's a good starting point,” Franklin said. “But it's nowhere where I know he wants to be and nowhere where we need him to be, long term.”

Barkley breaks 100

Saquon Barkley gained 105 rushing yards on 22 carries, though just two of them went for longer than 10 yards.

Still, the constant 5-yard gains wore down a Golden Flashes defense that stacked most of its defenders consistently in the box to stop the sophomore back. On more than a handful of carries, Barkley was hit first behind the line of scrimmage before turning the would-be-losses into multi-yard gains.

Kicking deep

Kicker Joey Julius cracked Golden Flashes returner Kavious Price on a 22-yard return with just under eight minutes to play in the second quarter.

The 258-pound Julius showed flashes of his sneaky athleticism last season when he handled both kickoff and field goal duties. In 2016, Julius is responsible only for kickoffs as Tyler Davis has taken over as place kicker.

Julius thrived Saturday in his new role when he launched six touchbacks. The kick that ended with a Hulk-smash hit was the only time Price attempted a return.

Matt Martell is a freelance writer.

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