STATE COLLEGE, Pa – For a few plays, it looked as if the football team had found a way to contain Penn State running back Tony Hunt.
Hunt’s first three touches resulted in a one-yard loss, a three-yard setback and a carry for no gain.
Before long, he was off to a career day.
Hunt rushed for a career-high 173 yards and four touchdowns as the Nittany Lions topped the Owls, 47-0, Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
The Lions’ defense came up just as big, holding the Owls to just 74 yards of total
“That’s one of the premier defenses in the country. Period,” Owls coach Al Golden said. “And their strength right now, is our weakness.”
The game marked the first time Golden returned to the sidelines at Happy Valley since he left Joe Paterno’s coaching staff following the 2000 season to become Virginia’s defensive coordinator.
Yet the homecoming for Golden and assistants Mark D’Onofrio, Jeff Nixon and Matt Rhule was bittersweet. Their former coach missed just his second game in 41 years at the helm because of injuries to his left leg sustained in a sideline collision during the Lions’ loss to Wisconsin last week.
Golden downplayed the hype surrounding his return.
“There’s a lot of emotions for coming back,” Golden said. “But I feel bad that we didn’t give this crowd a better game.”
The game was not pretty.
For the second consecutive week, the Owls intercepted a pass on their opponent’s opening drive. David Reese picked off Lions quarterback Anthony Morelli on second-and-11 to give the Owls the ball at the 50-yard line.
But the Owls immediately gave the ball back when wide receiver Travis Shelton fumbled a handoff on the Owls’ first play of the day.
“We need to make a play early,” Golden said. “We get an interception and we’re excited and then we go out and [fumble] it. They did a good job running the ball and they played better than us on special teams. They didn’t make many mistakes.”
Hunt took over from there.
On first-and-10 from the Temple’s 22, Hunt scampered down the sideline to the end zone, giving Penn State a 7-0 lead.
Less than three minutes later, Hunt struck again. He provided the Lions with their entire offense on the two-play drive.
He rushed for a 16-yard gain, then dashed 26 yards for his second touchdown. The score padded the Lions’ lead to 14-0.
The senior bolted 11 yards for his third rushing touchdown of the day with 33 seconds remaining in the first half. The Lions headed to the locker room with a 31-0 advantage.
Hunt’s fourth touchdown came on a one-yard reception in the third quarter. With the game secured at 38-0, Hunt watched the remaining action from the sideline.
While Hunt ran all over the field, the Lions defense stifled the Owls. The Owls managed just two first downs while totaling a program-low 74 yards of total offense – 16 rushing and 58 passing.
The previous low came in 1971, when Connecticut held the Owls to 86 yards.
Led by linebacker Paul Posluszny, the Lions put continuous pressure on Owls quarterback Adam DiMichele. Posluszny, who is one of four finalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, led the Lions with three tackles for a loss and one sack.
“We knew they were going to come to play,” DiMichele said.
“And obviously they did. Their three linebackers, they were faster than anybody. They really stayed in the gaps and made some tackles and hit us pretty hard.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.