Saquon Barkley provides spark in Penn State's offense

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Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer and Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin talk before the game at Ohio Stadium.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - At most positions, Penn State appeared outmatched Saturday in the team’s 38-10 loss to top-ranked Ohio State. But one spark, once again, was Saquon Barkley, the freshman who made sure everyone knew his name after the team’s home opener against Buffalo.

In that game, a 27-14 win over Buffalo, Barkley stood out with one play in which he hurdled a Buffalo defender. In this week’s matchup in Columbus, Barkley’s first back since suffering an undisclosed injury in the San Diego State game last month, his entire performance provided the bright spot in an otherwise ugly game.

“Saquon is a great player. He did a great job. He’s a make-it-right guy,” offensive tackle Andrew Nelson said. “We may not get everything completely blocked up, 100 percent well, but he can make it right, make people miss. He’s a very special player. We can build off his play in the run game.”

Saturday, Barkley rushed for 194 yards, making it the third game in which he’s rushed for 100 yards or more - and he’s only been entirely healthy for four games this season. A 56-yard rush in the fourth quarter was the longest run of his short, but already impressive, college career. He almost recorded a long touchdown run in the first quarter, but it was called back due to a holding penalty on offensive lineman Brian Gaia.

Did another big day for Barkley surprise any of his more veteran teammates?

“Absolutely not. We have some of the best backs in the country Saquon, Akeel [Lynch], Mark Allen, and Nick Scott. All those guys, I’ve said this before, their work ethic shows through the week and it definitely shows on Saturdays when they play,” said offensive lineman Brian Gaia. “A guy like Saquon, who can bust runs like that and a guy like Akeel who can come in and give them a variety, it’s a great tool in success.”

Senior running back Akeel Lynch, who has also been sidelined with an undisclosed injury, returned Saturday. Barkley led the team in rushing yards with his 194, while Lynch was second with 12.

Penn State coach James Franklin, who does not discuss injuries, stayed quiet all week about Barkley's status. Franklin said after Wednesday's practice that doctors had made a decision on Barkley, but would not disclose what the decision was.

“I was hopeful he was going to be able to play last week,” Franklin said after the game. “Obviously, he played well this week.”

“I’m not particularly surprised at the game he had, because I know Saquon,” wide receiver Chris Godwin said. “I’ve watched him grow as a player the first couple weeks. Just knowing the athlete that he is, it was great to see him, finally come out in a big game like it was tonight and show that.”