STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – On a day in which he rolled up his fewest yards from scrimmage of the season and was held in check on the ground by Indiana for the second straight year, Saquon Barkley still ended up being the guy that most, if not all, of the 107,542 spectators talked about at the end of a sun-splashed day at Beaver Stadium.
Barkley sparked fourth-ranked Penn State’s 45-14 victory over Indiana on Saturday with a 98-yard touchdown return of the opening kickoff, and closed out the scoring in the fourth quarter when the first pass of his collegiate career went 16 yards to DaeSean Hamilton for a touchdown.
Add those two featured moments to a leaping one-handed catch of a short flip from Trace McSorley that turned into a 36-yard gain, and Barkley added more highlights to the lengthening video library that the Heisman Trophy voters will remember once December rolls around.
The award came up in postgame conversation once again, and Barkley deflected it as he always does.
“As I’ve said so many times, I don’t care about the Heisman,” he said. “Obviously I care about it because I’m competitive and I want to be the best and I would love to try to win it, but that’s not my focus. My focus is on my team. My focus is on the game. My focus is to come out every week pushing my team to the standard and try to be the best I can be.”
Barkley, who was held to 58 yards on 33 carries last year against Indiana, managed just 56 on 20 carries Saturday and didn’t have a run longer than 8 yards. He also caught four passes for 51. He ended the day with 205 all-purpose yards. The Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) gained 370 total yards but rushed for just 39, a product of McSorley’s being sacked five times.
He preferred to share the spotlight with Hamilton, who caught nine passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns and broke the program record for most receptions (181) in his career, and with McSorley, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for one score.
Penn State claimed four turnovers from the Hoosiers (2-2, 0-2), leading to 21 points. One of them was a fumble by Indiana’s J-Shun Harris on a punt return that was returned 13 yards for a score by Nick Scott, the team’s second special-teams touchdown of a 28-point opening period.
“I thought the turnovers were huge,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We’ve been emphasizing that all offseason. The ones we got, I think most of them were off of tackles, either just jarring hits or strips. I’m pleased with the progress we’re making there.”
Barkley got the crowd in the right mood when he caught the opening kickoff at the 2, angled to the right, put a move on the kicker at the 40, and outran Devonte Williams down the right sideline for the score.
“It felt good, man, it was a long time coming,” said linebacker Jason Cabinda, a member of the kickoff return team and the Lions’ leading tackler on the day with 14. “Obviously Saquon’s a special player. Once he got out in open space against the kicker, we kind of knew he was going to score.”
Said Barkley, “My mind-set was, the kick-return team did their job, you’ve got to find a way in.”
McSorley ran 1 yard and threw an 8-yard pass to Hamilton for a score in the first quarter. The Hoosiers got their up-tempo offense untracked in the second quarter and drew to within 28-14 by halftime, but never advanced into the red zone the entire second half.
In the third quarter, McSorley hit Hamilton for a 24-yard touchdown, a catch that allowed Hamilton to tie Deon Butler’s career reception record of 179, and Tyler Davis kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it 38-14.
Then came Barkley’s moment as a passer, taking a pitch from McSorley, finding Hamilton at the 8, and celebrating a touchdown.
McSorley said Barkley didn’t throw the ball that well in practice, but he did his job Saturday.
“The call came in and I heard him say something like, ‘Are you serious?’” McSorley said. “As we were getting ready, I told him, ‘You’re good, just like you’re playing catch, don’t worry about it.’ He made a great throw, got it to Ham, and Ham did the rest.”