Saturday, September 3, 2016

McSorley, Barkley lead Penn State over Kent State

Trace McSorley isn't offended when he sees defenders packing the line of scrimmage, knowing their primary goal is to stop the electric running back lined up next to or behind him on any given play.
The Penn State quarterback is content to build his own reputation as a playmaker, and eventually, a downfield-passer to be reckoned with.
Although he and the rest of Penn State's new-look offense started slowly in a 33-13 win over Kent State on Saturday, McSorley believes he made positive first steps toward that goal.
"When you've got Saquon (Barkley) in the backfield, teams are going to try to stop him," McSorley said. "The first two drives we kind of got stalled out. The third drive we were able to get some first downs, push the ball down the field a little bit to our receivers to loosen them up a little bit and let Saquon get loose a couple of times."
Barkley finished with 105 yards rushing, and Tyler Davis chipped in two field goals for the Nittany Lions. A 29-yard field goal in the second quarter gave Penn State a 16-13 halftime lead that grew as an opportunistic defense settled in and McSorley found receivers down the field.
After hitting DaeSean Hamilton for a short touchdown pass in the first, McSorley slung a ball to Mike Gesicki for 30 yards to cap the scoring with less than two minutes to go. It was a satisfying finish for the quarterback who'd tried to stretch Kent State's underrated front seven early with deep throws to Saeed Blacknall and Gesicki that just missed.
In the process, McSorley showed off own grittiness as a runner, chipping in 47 yards on the ground and lowering his head to finish off tacklers.
"I thought his composure was really good," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "That's just kind of who he is."
Amani Oruwariye returned an interception for a score in the third quarter for the Nittany Lions who battered a trio of Kent State quarterbacks, sacking them seven times and forcing two more turnovers.
Shane Hynes kicked two field goals for Kent State, and Elcee Refuge returned a McSorley fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter.
ALL OR NOTHING FRONT
Penn State safety Marcus Allen said earlier this week he and his defensive teammates had something to prove even after being ranked among the best defenses in college football each of the past two years.
He understands losing three defensive linemen to the NFL will generate questions of the new guys. After Saturday's sack-filled performance, they have plenty to be proud of. But scrambling quarterbacks are still a problem.
Kent State's threesome of Justin AgnerMylik Mitchell and George Bollas combined for 50 first-half yards on in scrambles or designed quarterbacks runs. Many came up the middle where defensive tackles Parker Cothren andKevin Givens made their first career starts.
"It was either a sack or it was a scramble for a first down," Franklin said. "We've got to do a better job with our rush lanes on that side of the ball."
INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS
Perhaps Penn State's greatest strength is the versatility it has among its back seven.
The Nittany Lions showed a multitude of nickel looks with different linebacker and corner combinations. Penn State deployed a total of eight defensive backs and five linebackers to limit 129 yards on just 14-of-28 passing.
"We've always been underrated since we've been here," Oruwariye said.
THE TAKEAWAY
KENT STATE: The Golden Flashes haven't had much going for them offensively in quite a while, but their defense remains stout enough to give them hope.
Kent State's front seven kept the game within reach by limiting Barkley's running room early. Vaunted pass-rusherTerence Waugh killed a big wave of Penn State momentum midway through the second quarter when he hammered McSorley from his blindside, forcing a fumble that Refuge returned for a touchdown to tie the game 13-13. If Waugh can keep making plays, the Golden Flashes will have chances to turn games around.
PENN STATE: A coordinator change doesn't guarantee immediate success. Saturday's sluggish start and uneven performance shows Joe Moorhead's offense will need more time for all its parts to get on the same page.
And the sooner the better as games loom against No. 7 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State, and Maryland, teams that hung at least 52 points on its opponents in their openers. A bunch of missed tackles against Kent State is further evidence that Penn State's offense will have to pull more weight than it has in the two previous years when elite defenses could bail it out.
UP NEXT
Kent State will try to snap its six-game losing streak when it hosts FCS foe North Carolina A&T next Saturday.
Penn State and Pittsburgh will renew a long-dormant rivalry when the Nittany Lions travel to Heinz Field next Saturday for the first game in a home-and-home series. Penn State leads the series 50-42-4 and has won seven of the last eight. Pittsburgh won the last meeting 12-0 in 2000.

Seales, Sanders help No. 21 Oklahoma St. rout SE Louisiana

 Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy began resting many of his starters in the second quarter.
It was that kind of day for the Cowboys. Jhajuan Seales caught two touchdown passes, helping No. 21 Oklahoma State roll past Southeastern Louisiana 61-7 on Saturday.
"That was a good day for us, and I thought we played fairly well," Gundy said. "We were able to get a lot of players some quality work."
Barry J. Sanders had 76 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown. Sanders, whose father, Barry, won the Heisman Trophy for Oklahoma State in 1988, is a graduate transfer who played for Stanford last season. The younger Sanders scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter and nearly scored again later in the quarter. He was stopped at the 1 after weaving through the Lions for a 57-yard punt return.
"It was pretty neat," said Gundy, who was the quarterback for Sanders' dad. "We all thought about him (Barry J. Sanders) making plays, and he was tremendous. There is a lot of pressure on him, unjustified, but that's the world we live in."
Mason Rudolph completed 18 of 26 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns for the Cowboys. Seales finished with three catches for 61 yards in the opener for both teams.
Kaelyn Henderson ran 13 times for 68 yards and a touchdown for Southeastern Louisiana.
Madre Harper, a freshman, recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for Oklahoma State's first points of the season.Chris Carson barreled through several Lions on a 14-yard touchdown run, and Seales stretched out for a 24-yard scoring grab to make it 21-0 with 8:10 left in the first quarter.
"Obviously, it didn't start out the way we wanted," Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts said. "We kind of got overwhelmed in the first, and they jumped out on us. We had a huge number of special teams miscues, and we just have to clean a lot of things up."
Henderson scored Southeastern Louisiana's only touchdown on a 26-yard run in the second quarter.
"We knew coming in that Oklahoma State was a great team, but our goal was to come in and play clean and play well, and we didn't do that," Roberts said.
TAKEAWAYS
SE LOUISIANA: Very little. The Lions brought in a new offensive coordinator Matt Barrett from Georgia Southern, and they netted just 203 yards.
"Well, obviously, very disappointing," Barrett said. "We thought we prepared well. Obviously, we're playing a great football team and a tremendous, talented defensive front, and hat's off to them."
OKLAHOMA STATE: The Cowboys did what they were supposed to do against Southeastern Louisiana, an FCS program that went 4-7 last season.
The Cowboys said during the preseason that they wanted to test their running game, but they didn't focus on it enough to learn much. They ran 37 times for 142 yards, and their leading rusher, Jeff Carr, had 42 yards on six carries.
"We made a few strikes running the ball," Gundy said. "How much better we are at it, I'm not sure. It looks like it to me that we're a little better at it."
PLAY OF THE GAME
Oklahoma State's Devante Averette stripped Southeastern Louisiana quarterback D'Shaie Landor, then pushed the ball up the sideline while he tried to recover it. He grabbed it and flipped it behind him as he spun while going out of bounds, and Ramon Richards caught it and ran it in for a 9-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 38-7 lead.
UP NEXT
SE LOUISIANA: The Lions play at Southern Utah.
OKLAHOMA STATE: The Cowboys will host Central Michigan. The Chippewas made the Cowboys work to escape with a 24-13 win in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, last year.
LAST WORD
"We asked them to come out and play well early and take the game over, and they did that," Gundy said.

Davis sacks Ohio QB to give Texas State 56-54 win in 3rd OT

Ishmael Davis sacked Ohio quarterback Greg Windhamon a two-point conversion attempt in the third overtime to give Texas State a 56-54 victory over Ohio on Saturday.
The teams had amassed 110 points before a defensive stop made the difference for Texas State which gave new coach Everett Withers his first win.
Windham had just hit Elijah Ball on an 18-yard scoring strike and Ohio was within two points of tying the game. Windham retrieved a low snap and looked up to see Davis in his face.
Tyler Jones, who threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns for Texas State, caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from halfback L.G. Williams to start the third overtime and then slipped a shovel pass to Gabe Schrade for two points and the win.
Texas State's Marcus Ripley kicked his first collegiate field goal from the 27 as the clock clicked to zero to send the game into overtime.

Wadley runs No. 17 Iowa to 45-21 win over Miami (Ohio)

No. 17 Iowa's backfield tandem of Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels looked spectacular in its opener.
The same couldn't be said for the Hawkeyes defense, which looked lost at times against a Mid-American opponent that won just three games last season.
Wadley ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns, Daniels added 83 yards rushing and two scores, and Iowa beat Miami (Ohio) 45-21 on Saturday.
The speedy Wadley and the more powerful Daniels did their damage on just 22 carries, a promising sign for a program that prefers to set the tone offensively on the ground.
"With LeShun splitting the carries and that line we're running behind, it makes it so much easier. You could probably run through that, with the line we've got." Wadley said, joking with a reporter.
Senior C.J. Beathard was 13 of 20 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown for the Hawkeyes (1-0), whose sloppy defensive play in the second half let Miami hang around.
Iowa played much of the game without star linebacker Josey Jewell, who was ejected early in the first quarter for targeting. Jewell nailed Matt Merimee with a viscous helmet to helmet hit.
Daniels and Wadley each scored twice in the first half, and Jerminic Smith's 12-yard TD reception put the Hawkeyes ahead 35-7 early in the third quarter.
The RedHawks (0-1) had touchdown drives of 75 and 74 yards with the game seemingly in hand before Derrick Mitchell Jr.'s touchdown run with 3:08 left put Iowa ahead by 24.
"Our run defense was not what it needs to be (Saturday)," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Miami, which ran for 158 yards. "When people can move the ball on the ground, it can be a little bit demoralizing."
Billy Bahl threw for 266 yards and two TDs for Miami, which outgained Iowa 424-404.
THE TAKEAWAY
Iowa: The Hawkeyes' defense gave up a ton of yards without star linebacker Josey Jewell, who was ejected early in the first quarter for targeting. The Hawkeyes forced and recovered two fumbles though.
Miami: Bahl had a strong day against one of the Big Ten's better secondaries. The RedHawks will need more days like that from him as they look to work back into contention in the Mid-American after just five wins in two years. But Miami's defense, as expected, was pushed around by the more physical Hawkeyes. Iowa averaged eight yards a play.
POLL IMPLICATIONS
Iowa's ranking won't likely move much. The Hawkeyes looked like a team ranked No. 17, with flashes of brilliant play on offense and plenty of questions to be answered on defense.
NOTABLES
Iowa: The Hawkeyes decision to use Desmond King, the 2015 Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back, on punt returns paid off in the opener. King had 85 yards on three returns -despite having a long run off a punt called back because of the penalty that saw Jewell get booted. ... Iowa turned to true freshman quarterback Nathan Stanleyin garbage time, burning a possible redshirt season. It's likely a sign that the Hawkeyes coaching staff, which has veered from its traditional ways in the past 18 months, has high hopes for Stanley.
Miami: Maurice Thomas ran for 60 yards on just nine carries and Alonzo Smith had 58 yards. ...The RedHawks held the ball for nearly 37 minutes, wearing out Iowa's defense in the process. ... Miami converted on both of its fourth-down tries and was a respectable 5 of 11 on third downs.
LAST WORD
"I wasn't consciously doing it. I mean, it just never really presented itself. We were really good on first and second down, so we really weren't put in many third and long situations," said Beathard when asked why he didn't run the ball much Saturday. The Hawkeyes have worked with Beathard, a talented rusher from the pocket, on sliding to avoid the injuries that hampered him after big hits in 2015.
UP NEXT
Iowa: The Hawkeyes get their first Power Five test of the season when rival Iowa State visits Kinnick Stadium next Saturday. The Cyclones have a new coach, Matt Campbell, and an offensive line decimated by injuries and departures. But Iowa State usually plays Iowa tough. The Hawkeyes needed two late TDs to beat the Cyclones 31-17 last year in Ames.
Miami: The RedHawks open a two-game home stand when it hosts Eastern Illinois. The Panthers, of the FCS, opened with a 38-21 loss to Western Illinois on Thursday.

Illinois opens Smith era with 52-3 win over Murray State

Lovie Smith has made no secret that Illinois' defense was the strength of the team.
On Saturday, the Illini proved him right, rolling up six sacks and pulling in a pair of decisive early interceptions in a 52-3 win over Murray State.
Quarterback KD Humphries threw the two interceptions on the Racers' first two drives, and both led to Wes Lunt touchdown passes and an early 14-0 Illini (1-0) lead.
"It's critical, it's (a) winning edge," said Smith, who was coaching his first game at Illinois and first game as a college head coach. "A lot of guys talk about it, but our guys believe in it, and that's the first step: to get people to buy into it."
Illinois crushed the Racers' run game, limiting Murray State to -10 yards on 26 carries.
Murray State coach Mitch Stewart said he did not believe his team was overwhelmed by the idea of playing a Big Ten school, or facing a coaching staff led by a coach who led the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I forgot my phone before the game, I was going to get a selfie with (Smith)," Stewart joked.
With Illinois' defense keeping Murray State (0-1) in check, Illini quarterback Wes Lunt threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns heading to the bench in the third quarter.
Kendrick Foster also ran for a pair of 56-yard touchdowns for Illinois. He carried the ball just four times for 118 yards.
A year ago the Illini had just seen coach Tim Beckman fired, and Smith became their third coach in less than a year after Beckman-replacement Bill Cubit was fired.
Smith said the win, no matter the opponent, meant a lot to the team .
"We're going to enjoy wins, period, no matter who it's against," Smith said. "But we realize it's one, and tomorrow we'll be right back at it."
THE TAKEAWAY
MURRAY STATE: Stewart talked before the game about his hope that his team would not give in to nerves. Early, the Racers looked a little overwhelmed with dropped passes, stumbles by receivers and Humphries' dangerous throws, including the two first quarter interceptions. In addition to pressure from Illinois, Humphries' early struggles may have reflected that, Stewart said.
"His footwork was awful back there. I think he was just antsy," Stewart said.
ILLINOIS: Illinois showed it can force turnovers, as Smith preaches, and turn them into points. And it's clear the Illini have some big-play capability. But even with 287 rushing yards, Illinois never really opened the holes in the Murray State defense Smith has said he wants to see for starting tailback Ke'Shawn Vaughn. The sophomore finished with 49 yards on 17 carries. And tougher opposition is on the way in North Carolina and Western Michigan before the Big Ten opener against Nebraska.
FOSTER'S CHOICE
Two days after Illinois' season-ending loss to Northwestern last November, Foster announced on Twitter that he planned to leave Illinois in search of more playing time. The redshirt junior later reversed course.
Foster is the No. 2 running back on the Illini roster, but he had a career day Saturday. After his second long touchdown, he knelt on one knee.
"I was just so thankful. I'm just finally getting the opportunity to display my talent and show what Peoria, Illinois, produces," the 5-9 back said.
KEY NUMBERS
MURRAY STATE: Those two early interceptions were Murray State's only turnovers of the day, but they were big. Safety Julian Hylton intercepted Humphries less than a minute into the game, setting up a 5-yard Lunt scoring pass toMalik Turner. The Racers' second possession ended with a Humphries interception by the other Illini safety, Taylor Barton. That pick was followed by a 68-yard Lunt-to-Turner strike and a 14-0 lead. The pass was Lunt's longest college touchdown.
ILLINOIS: Smith says linebacker Hardy Nickerson, the son of defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, is the quarterback of his defense. And the younger Nickerson looked the part Saturday. He had 11 tackles, a sack and one tackle for loss.
INJURY REPORT
Illinois starting center Joe Spencer missed the game with an unspecified injury. Smith declined to talk about it in detail but said "it's not a long-term injury."
UP NEXT
MURRAY STATE: The Racers open their home schedule against Missouri State on Saturday.
ILLINOIS: Illinois faces a tough test and its first Top 25 opponent of the season when North Carolina visits Champaign on Saturday. The Tar Heels handled the Illini last season in Chapel Hill, 48-14.

No. 14 Washington uses big plays to rout Rutgers 48-13

Shortly after sustaining a knee injury in the spring of 2015 that would cost him the season, Washington's John Ross placed the Rutgers logo on a calendar app on his phone, a countdown to when he'd finally get back on the field for the Huskies.
His return proved worth the wait.
Ross caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff for another score,Jake Browning threw for 287 yards, and No. 14 Washington looked every bit a Top 25 team with a 48-13 rout of Rutgers on Saturday.
"I feel amazing. I feel great. I'm so thankful, grateful, everything you can think of," Ross said. "I'm just so happy to be able to do it again."
Entering a season of lofty expectations, the Huskies (1-0) raced to a 24-0 first-quarter lead and were never threatened by the rebuilding Scarlet Knights, in their first game under new coach Chris Ash.
Browning threw for 277 yards and all three scores in the first half as the Huskies built a 34-3 lead. Browning should have thrown four TDs in the half, but Darrell Daniels dropped a pass in the end zone late in the second quarter.
"It's good to get out of the gate fast, especially with so many unknowns, unknown coaches, unknown players on both sides," Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Browning's offseason goal was to be better on deep throws. He was certainly good to start the season, hitting Chico McClatcher on a 43-yard touchdown on his second pass of the season, followed by TD throws of 38 and 50 yards to Ross as the Huskies burned Rutgers' decision to play man coverage on the outside.
Ross missed the entire 2015 season after injuring a knee during spring camp.
"It was just really cool to obviously have thrown the ball to him but to see him come into his own after missing all of last season and all the anticipation of him coming back," Browning said of Ross.
The Huskies were also dynamic on special teams. Ross took a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown and Dante Pettisreturned a punt 68 yards for a score in the third quarter. It was the third time in school history Washington had kickoff and punt return touchdowns in the same game, and first since 2001.
THE TAKEAWAY
Rutgers: Ash's rebuilding job at Rutgers (0-1) is significant and it will take a while for the new offensive system to improve. Chris Laviano was 24 of 40 passing for 168 yards in his first game running a spread offense. Rutgers only TD came on a 10-yard run by Janarion Grant in the fourth quarter against Washington's backups.
"There was some good and bad. I thought he probably took too many risks sometimes with the ball," Ash said of Laviano. "I thought he did some good things though especially in the second half."
Washington: While there were plenty of highlights for the Huskies offense, the run game was absent. Myles Gaskinwas held to 57 yards on 15 carries despite Washington spending the majority of the third quarter trying to get the run game established. The Huskies had the luxury to experiment with a 31-point halftime lead.
POLL IMPLICATIONS
Washington was expected to roll past the Scarlet Knights but such and impressive first half will only go to justify the Huskies preseason ranking. The next two games against Idaho and Portland State aren't likely to threaten Washington's poll positioning so expect them to continue lingering just outside the top 10 for the next few weeks.
NUMBER WATCH
Browning threw for more than 300 yards only three times during his freshman season. He nearly had 300 by halftime against Rutgers and if not for the blowout score and the Huskies intent on getting the run game started in the third quarter, Browning would have likely had one of the better passing games of his career.
One of Browning's touchdown throws to Ross was a run play that he checked to a pass at the line of scrimmage.
"Jake made good throws on deep balls early, so we were pleased with that," Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said.
UP NEXT
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights get a break facing Howard of the Football Championship Subdivision, the first of three straight home games.
Washington: The Huskies meager non-conference schedule continues by hosting Idaho. It will be another chance for the Huskies to give some of its younger players experience before the schedule toughens at the end of September.
LAST WORD
"Really pleased with how fast they started. The first quarter was really, really good on both sides," Washington coach Chris Petersen.

Cleveland scores twice, AFA beats Abilene Christian 37-21

Receiver or running back - Ronald Cleveland doesn't know how to classify himself.
How about this: Burgeoning playmaker.
Cleveland rushed for a score and caught a 62-yard TD pass as Air Force beat Abilene Christian 37-21 on Saturday for its 13th straight win at home.
The sophomore plays a hybrid position in the Air Force's triple-option offense. His 33-yard TD run in the second quarter began a spurt of 21 straight points to help the Falcons (1-0) pull away from pesky Abilene Christian (0-1). Cleveland entered the game with one career carry.
"I don't want to be one of those guys if I come in the defense can key on me," said Cleveland, a football, basketball, track and soccer standout during his high school career in Franklin, Tennessee. "I want to focus on getting stronger and being able to make those blocks you need to make on the linebackers and defensive ends. Do whatever I need to do."
He's certainly getting stronger. He can already bench about 60 pounds more than he could a season ago.
"Tremendous athlete. Highly skilled," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "The thing he's done - finally has arms. When he first got here, this (microphone) cord right here was thicker than his arms. He's added a little bit that way. It was good to see him contribute."
Quarterback Nate Romine guided the offense in his return from a knee injury that sidelined him most of last season. He finished with two TD passes as Air Force improved to 21-0 all-time against Football Championship Subdivision teams.
But he didn't play late in the fourth quarter, with backup Arion Worthman taking some snaps. Worthman threw a 17-yard TD pass to Jalen Robinette with 5:27 remaining.
Asked if Romine was banged up, Calhoun simply responded: "We chose to put Arion in there. We thought we needed to get him out there."
Abilene Christian kept it close for most of the game thanks to a defense that recovered two early fumbles. Dallas Sealey threw three TD passes, including a 76-yard strike to Tracy James with 4:14 remaining that made it 37-21.
"We always say around our place, when you get squeezed the real you comes out," Wildcats coach Ken Collums said. "You saw the real us and I like what I see."
Air Force hasn't lost at Falcon Stadium since Nov. 21, 2013, against UNLV. It's the longest home winning streak in team history.
THE TAKEAWAY
Abilene Christian: Dropped to 11-34 all-time against FBS teams, but proved they could hang with the bigger schools. It could've been even closer, but James tripped over the turf after breaking into the clear in the second quarter and Brendan Conn missed a 35-yard field goal late in the third.
"These guys are a high-class outfit. They go to bowl games every single year," Collums said. "They are tough, and they are relentless, and they are disciplined."
Air Force: A ho-hum performance. The Falcons improve to 10-0 in season openers under Calhoun.
REMEMBERING DEE
This was a difficult day for the Falcon family as they honored former quarterback Dee Dowis by wearing helmet decals that featured his initials and No. 6. The school also stenciled "DD" on the 6-yard-line at both ends of the field and held a moment of silence.
Dowis died Monday morning in a car accident outside Atlanta. He was 48.
A technician at running the option offense, Dowis graduated as the academy's career leading rusher.
"He'd make plays on his own that were beyond sensational and yet the first thing - and I don't know why this phrase sticks in my mind, but I heard it over and over and over - `Hey, good job, y'all,'" Calhoun recounted. "That tells you a little bit in terms of how strongly he felt about the guys alongside him."
UP NEXT
Abilene Christian: Host Northern Colorado, Sept. 10. The Wildcats lead the series, 10-5-1, but have dropped five straight.
Air Force: Host Georgia State, Sept. 10. The Falcons beat the Panthers 48-34 on Sept. 13, 2014, in the only meeting between the two teams.

Conner stars in return from cancer, Pitt tops Villanova 28-7

The comeback James Conner never doubted, not once, officially ended with an unremarkable 1-yard loss.
And while the Pittsburgh running back picked himself up and quietly headed back to the huddle early in the first quarter against Villanova on Saturday, thousands inside Heinz Field rose to their feet for a standing ovation that had nothing to do with football and everything to do with perseverance.
There will be plenty of time for Conner to nitpick his performance in Pitt's 28-7 season-opening win. Just not Saturday. Conner's well aware of the significance of his familiar No. 24 jersey sprinting onto the field for the first time in 364 days, a layoff that began with a knee injury last September against Youngstown State then became something far more harrowing when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma around Thanksgiving.
The road back included months of chemotherapy treatment, sessions that left him drained but undaunted. He soldiered through spring practice wearing a mask during drills to protect his depleted immune system, all the while hoping his example would resonate with those facing similar battles. It's a role he never envisioned having to fill, but one he's willingly embraced.
It's why the stands were filled with family members, the medical staff that helped restore him to health and hundreds of friends from back home in Erie, Pennsylvania. Conner's two-touchdown performance was as much a testament to their support as it was his resolve. At the same time he's only too happy to put this chapter - the first chapter anyway - behind him and get back to football and not the disease that temporarily brought the 2014 ACC Player of the Year's blossoming career to a halt.
"It's not my first game," Conner said. "I know it's a comeback game but it's felt like a regular season football camp really. My battle was already won, beating cancer. Everything else was a reward."
There was rust to be sure. There were also signs that he's going to be just fine. The proof came in the second quarter when Conner took a handoff and raced around the left end, stiff-arming a Villanova defender before crossing the goal line to give the Panthers the lead while the teammates who elected him as one of Pitt's three captains raced to congratulate him.
"That first touchdown couldn't be any better, stiff-arm into the end zone right into the student section," quarterback Nate Peterman said. "It was an emotional moment."
Conner was at it again just before the half, hauling in a 9-yard score by making a difficult grab in traffic over the middle. He finished with 53 yards on 17 carries and added three receptions for 16 yards as Pitt avoided an embarrassing slip-up a week before a highly anticipated showdown with Penn State.
"I'm sure as we watch the tape we're going to have a lot of corrections for him," coach Pat Narduzzi said. "Mainly that he's looking for a touchdown every play instead of hitting it up there for three or four yards and be happy with it. It's been a long time since he stepped on the field in a game situation. He made plays when he needed to."
Quadree Henderson returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards for a score to break things open. Peterman completed 19 of 32 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, including a pretty 16-yard lob to Jester Weah with six minutes to go. Still, the Panthers managed just 211 total yards.
The Wildcats controlled play for portions of the first half, but three straight drives into Pitt territory failed to produce any points, giving the Panthers time to get going. Rob Rolle returned a Peterman fumble 3 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter for Villanova's only score.
THE TAKEAWAY
Villanova: Coach Andy Tally said entering his 32nd and final season the Wildcats will have to rely heavily on their defense. There's reason for optimism as Villanova stayed within striking distance, keeping Pitt's running game in check for the most part and preventing big plays.
Pitt: The Panthers will need the passing game to develop quickly if they want to make noise in the crowded ACC Coastal Division. Villanova stacked the line of scrimmage and dared Peterman to throw it, which he did with only middling success.
UP NEXT
Villanova: Host Lehigh in their home opener.
Pitt: Resumes its rivalry with Penn State after a 15-year hiatus when the Nittany Lions visit Heinz Field.

Virginia Tech defeats Liberty 36-13 to start Fuente era

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente downplayed any personal satisfaction derived from his team's season-opening performance, but needless to say, he enjoyed most of what he witnessed in his debut as the Hokies' head coach.
Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 221 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Hokies to a 36-13 season-opening victory over Liberty on Saturday, handing Fuente his first victory.
Fuente, who spent the previous four seasons at Memphis, took over in January for Frank Beamer, who retired after 29 years as Virginia Tech's head coach.
"The atmosphere here is fantastic," Fuente said. "It's what college football is all about. People at Virginia Tech take a lot of pride in the game-day atmosphere, and they should. It was incredible
"My thought process coming into the game was how would our kids handle this? How do they respond when things don't go well. There were some times when things were kind of ugly looking, but I liked the way our kids dug in there and plowed away. The atmosphere was fantastic and I'm pleased with the way the kids responded to adversity."
Fuente's decision last week to name Evans the starting quarterback certainly looked like a good move after Evans completed 20 of 32 passes. He threw touchdown passes on the Hokies' last two possessions of the first half to help Virginia Tech rally from a 13-10 deficit.
"It was a great feeling," Evans said. "It's been nine months of hard work. We finally got to showcase what we've been working on for nine long months. We had some mistakes, for sure. I know on my part I had a lot of mistakes that I am going to clean up, but it was exciting."
Evans, who won a three-man battle for the job, played less than three quarters. Fuente pulled him after he fumbled on an option pitch - his second fumble of the game.
"Some good and some bad would be my first impression," Fuente said of his quarterback. "We need to take care of the football. He made some good plays in the passing game. My gut reaction is some good and some bad."
Liberty amassed just 160 yards of offense, scoring all of its points off of Virginia Tech turnovers. The Hokies lost four fumbles.
"They made more plays than we did, but we'll bounce back," Liberty coach Turner Gill said. "We will be a better football team from this ball game."
THE TAKEAWAY
LIBERTY: Liberty quarterback Stephon Masha got off to a rough start in his attempt to replace Josh Woodrum, a four-year starter. Masha completed 9 of 25 for 70 yards and two interceptions. It was a sloppy debut overall for Liberty, which committed 13 penalties, including eight false-start penalties.
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies' defense struggled with consistency a year ago, but looked good Saturday. Virginia Tech, which intercepted just 10 passes last season, had three, marking the 41st time under defensive coordinator Bud Foster that the Hokies have intercepted at least three passes in a game. They're 38-3 in those games.
"It was a good starting point for us today," Foster said. "I was pleased with how we played. We didn't give up any explosive plays. All in all, I thought we did a nice job in some sudden-change situations and on third down. I think they had 11 turnovers last year, so that (forcing the turnovers) was big."
UP NEXT
LIBERTY: The Flames will serve as hosts to Jacksonville next Saturday in Liberty's home opener. The game will be Liberty's first against an opponent from the Pioneer Football League.
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies now get ready to take on Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway next Saturday night in a game that could set college football's single-game attendance mark. The two teams haven't met in the regular season since 1937.

No. 15 Houston looks Big 12-ready in 33-23 victory over OU

Houston coach Tom Herman and the Cougars are past the point of proving they are for real.
Shocking the world is for the real underdogs and if a Power Five conference happens to take note of what Houston is doing that's fine.
Whatever.
"We were prepared to win. We expected to win. We train to win," Herman said. "It wasn't about making a statement, it was about going 1-0 the first week of the season."
Greg Ward Jr.Brandon Wilson and the 15th-ranked Cougars looked every bit ready to compete in the Big 12 - or any other conference for that matter - in a 33-23 victory against No. 3 Oklahoma on Saturday.
Houston is one of 11 schools that will meet with Big 12 officials starting next week to make a pitch to the Power Five conference that is pondering expansion.
Regardless of whether Houston (1-0) ends up in the Big 12, the Cougars' latest surprising win could have season-long ramifications on the College Football Playoff.
"We're not your typical Group of Five program," Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek said.
The elusive quarterback Ward passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson, though, provided the key play in the biggest regular-season nonconference game the Cougars have played in 25 years and Houston's third victory in school history against a top-three team.
The versatile senior defensive back went end line to end zone to score a touchdown with a short 54-yard field goal attempt to give Houston 26-17 lead with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
Wilson reached up to catch the ball, barely keeping his feet in bounds. Reminiscent of Auburn's Kick Six against Alabama in 2013, Wilson went flying out of the end zone and hurdled a fallen teammate to score what went into the books as a 100-yard return.
"I thought I stepped out, but I didn't," Wilson said. "I just saw the green grass and I scored."
Herman said he was looking for penalty flags.
"I was thinking this is too good to be true, surely there's a flag somewhere," Herman said.
Oklahoma called a timeout before trying the kick, which Herman said allowed Houston to see the Sooners' personnel and set up for the return.
"You know you have to cover it, but the personnel on the field isn't the best cover guys because the best cover guys wouldn't be able to protect the field goal. So you're in a little bit of a dilemma," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "I don't really second-guess. I've seen Austin (Seibert) make that quite a few times."
THE TAKEAWAY
Oklahoma: The good news for the Sooners is they have plenty of time and opportunities left to make another playoff run. But they need to get things fixed quickly with No. 6 Ohio State in two weeks and No. 13 TCU on Oct 1.
Baker Mayfield threw for 323 yards and two scores for the defending Big 12 champions Oklahoma (0-1). He was 9 for 9 for 162 yards in the first half, but ended up being sacked five times and fumbled once.
Houston: After finishing last season 13-1 with a Peach Bowl victory against Florida State, the Cougars have consecutive victories against top-10 ranked opponents for the first time in school history. Playing outside the Power Five in the American Athletic Conference, Houston still will likely have little margin for error if it wants to force its way into the playoff. But this certainly makes it look possible.
POLL IMPLICATIONS
Oklahoma: The Sooners can expect to tumble when the new rankings come out Tuesday, but remember: Oklahoma looked done when it was upset by Texas last season and went on to make the playoff.
Houston: The last time the Cougars were ranked in the top five was 1990, when they reached No. 3. It wouldn't be shocking see them get there again soon.
UP NEXT
Oklahoma: The Sooners get a break next week with a home game against Louisiana Monroe.
Houston: The Cougars face FCS Lamar next Saturday at home, but they might get a little work done for Cincinnati this week, too. The Cougars have a Thursday night road game on short rest against the Bearcats on Sept. 15.