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Three takeaways from Penn State’s 35-7 victory over Purdue

The Nittany Lions started hot on offense but were just ordinary in the second half. But they got fine performances from their pass rush (10 sacks) and freshman running back Noah Cain.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) passes over Purdue linebacker Ben Holt (44) in the second quarter.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) passes over Purdue linebacker Ben Holt (44) in the second quarter.Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Three takeaways from Penn State’s 35-7 victory over Purdue Saturday at Beaver Stadium:

Penn State offense: Two different teams?

The Nittany Lions came out smoking and scored on each of their first four possessions, with Sean Clifford throwing three touchdown passes – 23 yards to KJ Hamler, 72 yards to Jahan Dotson, seven yards to Pat Freiermuth – and rushing for another. They didn’t punt at all on six possessions. But the second half was a different team and a different story – zero points, five punts, only 71 yards of total offense until freshman Noah Cain sparked their only TD drive of the half midway through the fourth quarter, rushing for 64 of the 87 yards with a 2-yard scoring run.

Penn State seemed to go conservative in the passing game and Clifford wasn’t nearly as sharp. The Boilermakers, who entered the game with one of the nation’s poorest defenses, gained confidence as the half went on. They went from an unstoppable force (87 points in their last three halves counting the Maryland game) to an ordinary looking team.

Hungry Penn State pass rush stands out

The Nittany Lions sacked Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer 10 times, one off the program record, and hounded him into a 13-of-27, 119-yard afternoon. Defensive end Shaka Toney (Imhotep Charter) set the tone early with two first-quarter sacks, and picked up a third later to lead the pass rush parade. His fellow end on the other side, Yetur Gross-Matos, picked up two sacks and hounded Plummer on a number of other occasions. The Lions entered the game with 15 sacks, ranking eighth in the nation, and certainly increased their visibility in that area. What’s more amazing is that Purdue had allowed just six sacks in its first four games before Saturday.

Do the Lions have a first-team running back finally?

For five weeks head coach James Franklin has been very careful not to tout any of the four running backs more than anyone else. But freshman Noah Cain, who didn’t enter the game until the second quarter, appeared to gain the advantage in the competition for determining a true first-stringer with his first career 100-yard game (105 yards in 12 carries). The performance by the 5-foot-10, 206-pound Cain was notable by his ability to run tough between the tackles. He was Penn State’s featured player in the fourth quarter when he rushed seven times for 82 yards, including five for 64 on the team’s only touchdown drive in the second half.