Barnes breaks through
UNIVERSITY PARK - Bill O'Brien had fielded questions almost all season about defensive end Deion Barnes' play, or lack thereof.
The coach never wavered from the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder's side, maintaining Barnes' play was strong despite the numbers, or lack thereof.
Saturday's game against Kent State brought validity to O'Brien's claims in the form of statistics.
Barnes did not waste much time, earning half a sack - his first of the year - on Golden Flashes quarterback Colin Reardon about halfway into the first quarter. The play resulted in a forced fumble credited to cornerback Jordan Lucas.
The Nittany Lions did not create a turnover as Kent State senior Tim Erjavec fell on the ball, but with the play, a monkey was lifted off Barnes' back.
"[The sack] felt great," Barnes said. "It's been a long time coming."
As far as an explanation for the zero in Barnes' sack column, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year offered up that he was chasing the sack instead of letting it come to him.
"I was getting a lot of pressure but quick passes or I would miss the sack," Barnes said. "But I'm over [chasing sacks] and out here trying to make sure my team's better."
Barnes finished with six total tackles, two solo.
O'Brien said in his opinion, Barnes is a "heck of a football player," and he would point out how if he watched film with the media.
"I'm very, very glad he's on my team and not somebody else's," O'Brien said.
The defensive end is coming off his first year of eligibility in which he recorded six sacks.
Barnes said he expected teams to focus more on him and some chip blocks, but he is still adjusting to the schemes he is seeing.
"I don't feel like I'm playing to where I want to be," he said, "but I definitely think I got better since last year."
Bunch of fighters
O'Brien had a memorable television interview following a 24-21 emotional overtime victory against Wisconsin last season where he may or may not have uttered an incidental expletive which he corrected to "fighters."
Saturday was nearly the same story.
O'Brien asked reporters if he could be asked more questions about the defense since it pitched a shutout before he went on to compliment the defensive unit.
"I think John Butler ... who coaches over there and that crowd of players over there did a hell of a ..." O'Brien said before starting his next word with an "f" sound.
O'Brien caught himself and finished out his statement with "a hell of a job."
A reporter joked it sounded like O'Brien was about to say fighters - or something else - again, to which O'Brien said, "We do we have a bunch of fighters," as he emphasized fighters.
O'Brien went on to maintain he really said fighters that night in November.
"My mom, she still doesn't believe I said 'fighters.' Do I look like the type of guy who swears?" O'Brien joked.
"Sweet Caroline" returns
Penn State fans saw the return of a classic with 9:26 left in the second quarter.
Neil Diamond's famed song "Sweet Caroline" echoed through Beaver Stadium as the crowd cheered and sang along in surprise.
The song had previously been held from the stadium speakers in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson said via email that "Sweet Caroline" has "been the song most requested by fans this season, whether via social media or our online Gameday Music Crew."
Saturday also marked the third annual blue-out, raising awareness for child-abuse prevention.
Sam Ficken saw his Penn State record-breaking streak of 15 consecutive made field goals come to an end last week, but he found a way to outdo himself yet again.
Ficken went 2-for-2 against the Golden Flashes, but it was his second attempt that highlighted his night.
With the game winding down in the fourth quarter, Ficken lined up for a 54-yarder and booted it through with ease.
The kick nearly placed Ficken in the Penn State record books again, but fell just 1 yard shy of Chris Bahr's 55-yard record, which he accomplished three times dating back to the 1970s.
Ficken compared his 57-yard miss against Central Florida to his 54-yard make Saturday.
"I didn't hit it perfectly, but I hit it well enough to where it went in. It was pretty much a normal kick that I do in practice four times a week," Ficken said.
Ficken said he went into the kick with the mentality that it was just an extra point and if he hit it well, it would get there. He added it was not a pressure kick, seeing as it had no weight in the outcome of the game, but he has a high standard to maintain.
"Coach O'Brien had confidence in me. When he calls my number, I expect to go out and make it," Ficken said.
Bye week up next
Penn State will be off next weekend as the Nittany Lions head into their first of two bye weeks with a 3-1 record.
O'Brien said the bye week presents an opportunity for some players to go home for the weekend, and that is exactly what offensive lineman Eric Shrive plans to do.
"It's something we look forward to, especially for us Pennsylvania guys who are only two hours away from home," the senior said. "You go home and watch a little high school football. Just relax and get some good eats."
O'Brien said the coaching staff will think about giving the team off Friday, but added the schedule beyond the bye week is very tough, starting with Indiana.
The Hoosiers mark the start of Big Ten play for Penn State, and running back Akeel Lynch said the bye will help heal the team in preparation for that stretch.
Barnes said he plans to use the off week by watching the games the Lions have played thus far to see his flaws.
"Make sure I clear those things up and go out with Coach [Larry Johnson] and with the rest of the line and see what we can do to be better and more dominant," Barnes said.
News and notes
PSU's game captains were P Alex Butterworth, WR Brandon Felder and OL Eric Shrive. LB Mike Hull (knee) did not play against Kent State despite seeing time against the Knights. Safety Ryan Keiser sustained an undisclosed injury and received treatment after the game for it. TE Adam Breneman did not see action until late in the second half, but caught a 27-yard pass from QB Christian Hackenberg.