Saquon Barkley took a deep breath, shrugged and looked at the cameras. It was a frustrating day for the Heisman Trophy candidate — but he didn’t let it show after Penn State’s 31-7 win on Saturday.
The junior recorded two touchdowns on the ground, including a 53-yarder, so it wasn’t an empty day. The Heisman wasn’t lost on Saturday. But outside of that long gain down the Penn State sideline, Barkley was purposefully and effectively held in-check to 75 rushing yards on 16 carries and nine receiving yards on two catches.
With that 53-yard score excluded, Barkley averaged 1.82 yards per offensive touch.
“That’s a part of football. That’s a part of the running game. That’s a part of being a running back,” Barkley said. “You know a lot of teams are going to key on you. You know a lot of teams are going to key on your running game.”
Added Penn State coach James Franklin: “Obviously everyone spent the entire offseason coming up with a game plan to limit us offensively and limit Saquon Barkley. ... I get it. People are going to try everything they possibly can to not allow Saquon Barkley to beat you. But it creates just a lot of opportunities for other guys.”
Despite Barkley being bottled up, the Nittany Lions had enough firepower offensively. Trace McSorley accounted for a couple touchdowns, and nine players hauled in at least one catch — including backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.
It was an odd day for the Penn State offense, largely because of Barkley’s lack of presence. He’s had games like this before — such as last season at Indiana, when he was held to 58 yards on 33 carries.
Like the Hoosiers a year ago, the Wildcats approached Saturday with one goal in mind: Stop Barkley.
“We were focusing on surrounding the ball,” Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro said. “Keeping him inside and in-front was one of our goals for the week, and I think we did that for the most part.”
Barkley knew it was coming, too. But he didn’t let it get to him. He just kept plugging away.
“We’re not naive,” the back said. “We know teams are going to try and stop the run. It is what it is.
“We still need to continue to find a way to win. We found a way to be 1-0 this week, and that was our goal.”