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Penn State Nittany Lions savoring signature win over Ohio State Buckeyes

By The Sports Xchange
Penn State Nittany Lions savoring signature win over Ohio State Buckeyes
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin on the sidelines in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on September 10, 2016. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

Penn State coach James Franklin had talked down "signature wins" before.

There's no question his team's shocking 24-21 win over a nearly three-touchdown favorite Ohio State team meant plenty.

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"Obviously these types of wins are important," Franklin said. "To be honest with you, I don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture right now, I just want to soak this all in. Nights like this don't happen very often," Franklin said.

The win vaulted the No. 24 Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) to their first AP Top 25 ranking since Joe Paterno last coached in 2011 among a handful of other milestones.

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Notably, it was Franklin's first win over a ranked team and first over any of the three teams who have finished above his team since he arrived in 2014. It's also his team's third-straight win and the Nittany Lions are a healthier, more confident bunch than when they were handled by No. 2 Michigan a month ago.

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"I said after the Michigan loss that we just got to regroup and rebound because our goals are still in line," Running back Saquon Barkley said. "The Minnesota overtime win was big and then getting that momentum with Maryland and carrying that into the bye-week, we got a lot of guys back we got healthier, and just coming out here and executing and playing really well against a really good team and winning this game. Our goals are still in line with what we want so obviously big win but we have to come through Sunday, watch film and get ready for the Purdue game."

Penn State now has an outside shot at a Big Ten Championship Game berth and when Barkley looks at the film, will find this week's matchup to be much easier. The Boilermakers (3-4, 1-3) are getting gashed on the ground and have allowed at least 330 yards of offense in all but two of their last 36 games.

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Meanwhile, Penn State's defense was able to survive an unprecedented wave of injuries on defense where the Nittany Lions were down seven linebackers at one point.

With a bye week after their win against Maryland, the Nittany Lions got starters Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda back in time for the Ohio State game. They looked great despite not practicing for weeks. Bell and Cabinda combined for 31 tackles and two sacks in the game and have Penn State trending upward as much as the two-headed rushing attack of Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley.

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It's given Penn State's offense the life it searched for each of the last two years and the Nittany Lions have clearly established an identity for themselves as a team on the rise that's tough to play against right now.

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NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--RB Saquon Barkley was held out of the end zone for just the second time all season but was still effective with big runs against the Buckeyes. Purdue's sinking rush defense is giving up 412 yards per game and should provide Barkley with plenty of opportunities for big gains that'll show up on the highlight reels.

--QB Trace McSorley had another big game on the ground with 63 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State. He's been good with his ball fakes and has developed as a strong leader at the quarterback position, capable of making big plays with his legs or arm. To do more of the latter, he needs to dial in his accuracy. He missed a few wide open receivers last week including two bad overthrows -- and one in the end zone -- of 6-foot-6 tight end Mike Gesicki.

--DE Garrett Sickels was Penn State's best defensive end against Ohio State with 2.5 sacks on a night when all of the Nittany Lions looked fast up front. Purdue's allowed only 11 sacks this season.

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--OLB Brandon Bell's return to the lineup undoubtedly made the Nittany Lions more versatile. He's the team's best blitzer and will give defensive coordinator Brent Pry more options in the pass rush.

--MLB Jason Cabinda also returned to have a monster game against Ohio State. Like Bell, he can do so much. Cabinda might be the team's best tackler and fills gaps quick. He's got an uncanny ability to direct traffic, allowing Penn State to adjust its front and coverage all the way up to the snap with Bell at the center of it all.

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