Indiana coach Tom Allen joked Monday that he might have found the secret to Penn State’s success on the ground: They just changed the number on the back of Saquon Barkley’s jersey.
“The running back is special,” Allen said, referring to junior Miles Sanders. “Sometimes, I think it’s the same guy. They brought him back from last year, you know.”
Sanders has done his fair share this season to break out of Barkley’s looming shadow. Through six games, he boasts 700 rushing yards — the second-most in the conference, behind Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor — on just 104 carries.
By comparison, Barkley had 649 yards on 102 carries through six games last season.
A large part of Sanders’ success is due to the improved offensive line. But Sanders has also impressed, leaping over some defenders and running through others. And that’s not lost on Indiana’s Allen, who twice faced Barkley.
“He’s his own guy, for sure, but he’s a special talent,” Allen said about Sanders. “He was the No. 1 running back in the country coming out of high school. That’s kind of what they’re able to do.
“That’s a tribute to how they’ve recruited, the guys they’ve got and developed. Very, very talented football players.”
Allen was the defensive coordinator in 2016 when Indiana limited Barkley to 58 yards on 33 carries. And he was the head coach last season when Barkley had just 56 yards on 20 carries.
The defensive-minded coach knows he’ll get everything Penn State can throw out at it this season, however.
“They’re going to be coming to Bloomington, be very hungry, ready to play and get their season back on track,” Allen added.
Penn State and Indiana will square off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.