There are a few reasons why Penn State rushed for 263 yards and averaged a season-high 7.5 yards per rush last Saturday.
Some of it was the opponent, a Nebraska team that had allowed 409 yards on the ground the week before at Minnesota. Some of it was offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s play-calling. But much of it was the fact that Saquon Barkley went 17 carries without losing a single yard while rolling up 158, his best game since his Week 4 211-yard breakout at Iowa.
The best part of the day for head coach James Franklin was watching Barkley do a better job of running toward the line of scrimmage instead of trying to make a move or cut back in the hopes of a bigger gain.
“I thought Saquon did a really good job of lowering his shoulder and just hammering in there,” Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly teleconference. “It’s funny, Saquon lowers his shoulder and gets four yards and everybody’s kind of rolling their eyes like, unless he goes for 80, it’s not as fun and exciting. But they’re the ones that I’m most impressed with, just being willing to hammer that thing up there and get a positive play.
“I think Saquon did a good job of sticking his foot in the ground and getting north-south more consistently. There’s a fine line with that. There’s times where he does cut back and lose yardage and he goes for 80 and everybody thinks it’s awesome, but then when he gets tackled for a loss, that doesn’t go over very well.”
The offensive line also played a big role in Barkley’s success. Offensive tackle Chasz Wright said Moorhead and line coach Matt Limegrover challenged the big guys up front.
“It was about what we had to do to become more of a balanced offense,” Wright said. “As offensive linemen, we’re very key within the offense … we don’t need to be one-dimensional. That was probably one of the main points that coach Moorhead brought up to be a more balanced offense and get the running game going.
“That honestly put most of the responsibility on us to come off the ball, have a finishing mentality at all times.”
Barkley reached 1,000 rushing yards for the third consecutive season and scored three touchdowns to give him a program record of 39 career TDs on the ground. He needs to average 152 yards in his last two games – Saturday at Maryland and a bowl game – to top Evan Royster’s Penn State all-time rushing record of 3,932.
During his post-game interview, Barkley, who is expected to declare for the NFL Draft after the season is over, said he would play in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game, and not sit it out like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Louisiana State’s Leonard Fournette did.
Franklin told reporters Tuesday that he felt the bowl question directed at Barkley was “inappropriate.”
“I know you guys don’t have to ask questions that I like or agree with, but I think to ask a player about whether they’re going to play in a bowl game when we still have a game yet (and) we don’t even know what bowl we’re going to, is inappropriate,” he said. “I don’t like the question anyway in general … we’re not even in bowl season yet.”