COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even the extra yard came with a price. Saquon Barkley brought up the cause and effect of his trying to get extra yardage: one of his important offensive linemen writhing on the ground, carted off.
“That was big — kind of my fault, too,’’ Barkley said later of the third-quarter play that took out tackle Ryan Bates. “I was trying to find that yard. I kind of fell on his ankle. I’m just praying for him. Hopefully things work out.”
It did not look like that kind of day at the start, when a quick seam on the opening kickoff meant Barkley had only the kicker to beat, which isn’t a race any kicker wants to be in. Seconds in, Penn State was up, and it seemed as if Barkley could have done a Heisman pose in the end zone.
Later, that was hardly on Barkley’s mind, just the pain of being on the wrong side of a 39-38 score at Ohio State — “having a team storming the field on you, you’ve just got to take it on the chin.”
If Penn State had held on, then Barkley’s opening kickoff return and his second score take center stage: How did the Nittany Lions survive their trip to Columbus? Start with Barkley’s 97-yard return. And his 36-yard second-quarter score. The Nittany Lions lose by one, and instead other numbers move way up in the narrative. For Barkley, the day ended with 21 carries, 44 net yards. In the second half Barkley had 14 carries for minu-3 yards. He was tackled for a loss on eight of the 14 carries.
This day showed why it can be a tough road for running backs to win the Heisman, which is always more a byproduct of goals than an end game itself. The Heisman is all about the narrative and winning the big game, as much as identifying the best player, and all that has now shifted dramatically. Give Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett a real shot at the pose after he completed 16 straight second-half passes. Notre Dame’s Josh Adams? He’s in it, too.
It’s impossible to clinch a Heisman in October. Now, Barkley might have to win it back in November.
Again, that wasn’t on his mind afterward. The word Heisman never came up.
“We just have to find a way to run the ball, especially in that four-minute situation,’’ Barkley said.
What did he see Ohio State doing to bottle him up?
“They were blitzing, bringing pressures,’’ Barkley said. “Adding an extra guy, adding extra hats in the run game. Scheme-wise, that’s really all I saw. Their D-line made plays. Like I said, it’s a talented group. I’ve got to find a way to break tackles, to fight for extra yards, and make plays.”
His overriding message: “I told the guys, season’s not over. … Obviously, we were hoping for an undefeated season — it is what it is, you’ve got to treat it the same way as you treat a win. Come in tomorrow, get in the weight room, lift some weights, rehab, get to practice. Learn from the mistakes we did, learn from the good things we did. Move on to the next one.”
Not a hint of Woe is me, or Did you see any holes out there?
“Got to make sure we keep these guys up,’’ Barkley said. “Our season is far from over. We have to trust each other.”
The rest of us can say what Barkley won’t. He doesn’t have the kind of offensive line in front of him that makes life easy. Penn State works hard to make defenses work hard to find Barkley. Still, eventually there has to be a hole.
“Four-minute situation — as a running back, that’s what you live on,’’ Barkley said. “You’ve got to find a way to get a first down. If you’ve got to make one guy miss, two guys miss — I wasn’t able to do that.”
A reporter listened and told him he’s not Superman. The man had a point. With Barkley, it’s easy to forget sometimes.
Again, no Woe is me. There’s a reason Barkley is considered a superstar in the locker room, too.
“We lost to a good team,” Barkley said. “I guarantee you, go to that locker room over there, they’ll say they beat a great team.”