James Franklin: Penn State won't force the football into Saquon Barkley's hands

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Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has rushed for 864 yards this season.

Though he continues to be one of the most electrifying college football players in the country, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley has seen not only his numbers drop over the last five games, but also his frontrunner status in some circles in the competition for the Heisman Trophy.

Barkley has seen opposing defenses load up on a weekly basis to try and stop him. After averaging 130 yards rushing in his first four games, the 230-pound junior has gained just 69.2 yards per game on the ground in his last five. He has dropped to 28th nationally in FBS rushing with 864 yards, and 31st in average yards at 96.0 per game.

After being the leading candidate for the Heisman for weeks, he was dropped this week to second (3/2 odds) by Bovada, the Las Vegas online gambling site, behind Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (4/7), who threw for 596 yards and five touchdowns last week. Barkley is third in ESPN.com’s Heisman Watch behind Mayfield and Stanford running back Bryce Love.

However, his teammate, wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, said Barkley cares more about the team than about his numbers.

“He knows that you’re not going to have a breakout game every game,” Thompkins said Tuesday. “He knows that the type of player he is, teams are going to set out to stop him. One thing that I admire from him is he’s a team player. He’s not one of those guys that goes in and demands the ball.

“That’s one thing he handles very well, he knows he’s not the only piece to the puzzle and he’s willing to sacrifice for the success of the team.”

Head coach James Franklin said he’d love to have Barkley carry the football as much as possible, but it’s difficult at times because of the defense.

“We’re not going to run him into looks that aren’t good looks,” he said at his weekly teleconference. “Obviously if we have some things called for him to get the ball out of the backfield and people are covering him, then we’re not going to force the ball to him.

“This isn’t about creating stats for one person, it’s about finding the best ways to win. This is a chess game and the defense is going to try to do things to take things away from you, and you need to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that that scheme or that style presents.”

After leading in all-purpose yards for much of the season, Barkley is second this week behind San Diego State’s Rashad Penny. Franklin said the team’s approach has been to have Barkley contribute as a receiver and kick returner.

“Saquon’s one of the better football players, if not the best football player, I’ve ever been around,” he said. “He’s able to be explosive in so many different ways and that’s what we want to do. We want to get the ball into his hands a lot of different ways and I think that gives us the best opportunity to be successful.”

Nittany notes

 The 16th-ranked Nittany Lions return to Beaver Stadium for their homecoming game against Rutgers. … Franklin said he hopes defensive end Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley), who was injured against Ohio State and didn’t make the trip to Michigan State, will be back “sooner rather than later.” The program has not disclosed the nature of his injury, nor the injury to offensive tackle Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood), whose status is uncertain.