Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Art of Saquon: The science behind Saturday's balanced performance at Purdue

                                   Photo Credit: Geno Green

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley's balanced effort led the No. 24 Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 5-1 Big Ten East) to a convincing 62-24 win at the Purdue Boilermakers (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten West) in West Lafayette, IN on Saturday.

Barkley produced a season-high 207 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns, to go along with a game-high 70 yards on three receptions, highlighted by a career-long 81-yard touchdown run 1:04 into the fourth quarter.

PSU wide receiver Chris Godwin believed in Barkley all game and the long run signified the momentum it could bring into the November stretch run in the Big Ten.

"For [Saquon] to be able to break a long run like that, it could help him moving forward," Godwin said. "He's a humble guy and easy to root for."

The calmness of Barkley was on full display after the game as he deferred to the playcalling from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead and blocking from the offensive line for the long score.

"[Moorhead] called the play and told the o-line to block him because he is going to take it from 81 yards out and it was kind of funny after I scored the touchdown," Barkley said. 

"Obviously, we believed in the call, but it is amazing to score an 81-yard touchdown run and the line did an amazing job on that play."

Barkley's instincts to make his teammates around him better rubbed off on quarterback Trace McSorley, as he threw 228 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

"The confidence I have as a quarterback, to be able to give the ball to [Saquon] and get him in space, where he can get a 15-yard run, or one from 81 like today is big," McSorley said. "It's a huge compliment to our offense to have a guy like that and do things anytime with the ball."

The first drive of the game witnessed Barkley's skill set on full display with two catches for 49 yards and three rushes for 13 yards, capped off by a three-yard TD rush up the middle to open the scoring 3:27 in.

Despite the fast start, Barkley and the Nittany Lions offense could not muster much more as they went into the halftime tied at 17 against the underdog Boilermakers, but Godwin believed Barkley could bounce back in the second half.

"If you're not having a great game early on, you want to help your team as much as possible," Godwin said. "All [Saquon] wants to do is contribute to our team's success."

After middle linebacker Brandon Smith's interception on Purdue's first drive, Barkley worked with a short field from the PUR 24 and rushed for 24 yards on three carries, which helped set up a McSorley to Godwin touchdown pass from a yard out to put Penn State back up seven in the early stages of the second half.

Another gift came off a PSU fumble recovery on Purdue's punt return as Barkley's longest rush of the day to that point on a 20-yard run plow, which helped set up a four-yard touchdown run from Andre Robinson to increase its lead to 14.

With Purdue going three and out on its next drive, Barkley went over 100 yards for the third time this season on a 17-yard rush to help set up a 29-yard make from placekicker Tyler Davis to give Penn State its largest lead of the day at 17 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.

Barkley and the Nittany Lions would not look back as they won a true road game for the first time since Nov. 8, 2014 (at Indiana, 13-7).

Similar to last season, Penn State stands at 6-2, but can Barkley carry the load and avoid a late-season meltdown like last year?

Only time will tell.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.