Saquon Barkley breaking loose sparks Lions

By Derek Levarse - [email protected] | September 18th, 2016 5:44 pm

A familiar sound returned to Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Two quick cuts by Saquon Barkley, and there it was. It starts out like a gasp, grows louder and after a second or two rises to a full scream from the crowd.

It had been awhile.

Barkley’s impressive 55-yard touchdown scamper wasn’t just the winning score in a 34-27 win over Temple, it was the first time the sophomore tailback really got loose for Penn State at home.

“It’s just amazing,” said safety Marcus Allen, his eyebrows shooting up as he described it. “I love watching Saquon run, because you never know what he’s going to do. He doesn’t even know what he’s going to do. It just happens. He said it himself.”

Barkley himself wasn’t available to talk after the win, but Allen shared Barkley’s thoughts for everyone.

“He said, ‘I don’t know how I did that,’ ” Allen said with a laugh.

With defenses keying on him, there hasn’t been much room for even the elusive Barkley to operate. Some of his most eye-popping cuts have come deep in his own backfield just trying to evade a defender who was in on the handoff.

But with the game on the line against the Owls, Barkley took a handoff on a draw play and there was a hole as big as he’s seen all year.

One stutter-step to his left faked out a linebacker in his way. A safety awaited him after that, but this time a juke to the right sent the defensive back grasping at air.

Two more defenders were in pursuit from behind with both diving in a last-ditch try to bring Barkley down around the 15.

No dice. Touchdown Penn State.

“He’s a great back,” said Temple coach Matt Rhule, who didn’t have to worry about Barkley in last year’s matchup as he opened the year as the second-stringer and the Lions were playing from behind. “You’re trying not to let him get a head of steam. He’s just really hard to tackle. He’s really a special back.

“We just weren’t able to get in our gaps. Ball got to the second level, and we weren’t able to get it down.”

And yet, prior to that game-breaking run, Barkley had been banged up, collecting just 10 meager yards on his first six carries. At the start of the afternoon, he had limped off the field at the end of his first run and did not return until late in the first half.

“I didn’t really know what was wrong with him,” guard Ryan Bates said. “I know he was hurting a little bit and obviously he’s fine now. I knew he was going to come back because I had faith in him.

“Saquon’s one of my great friends and he’s a butt-kicker. He never gives up, and I just knew he was going to come back.”

Whereas Barkley fought a nagging ankle injury for much of his freshman season, this ailment looked to be high on his left shin, which was wrapped up after a brief trip to the locker room.

It didn’t slow him down when it counted.

“Obviously Saquon has the ability, if we create a little bit more space, he has the ability to break tackles and make people miss,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “And then he has the ability with his speed to finish runs. Not a whole lot more than that.”

Next up

Penn State’s high-scoring and frantic non-conference schedule is over. Things aren’t about to slow down at all in the Big Ten opener.

Up first is a trip to Ann Arbor to take on No. 4 Michigan. And the Wolverines are humming along on both sides of the ball in Jim Harbaugh’s second season at the helm of his alma mater.

Details for the game weren’t announced until Sunday morning — kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. at the Big House with ABC carrying the broadcast. Michigan has opened as a 16-point favorite. And for good reason.

The Wolverines have racked up an enormous 159 points in the first three weeks, with their 53 points-per-game average ranking fourth in the nation. They hammered overmatched opponents Hawaii and UCF before hitting their first real adversity this weekend while hosting Colorado.

The Buffaloes got a defensive score and jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. It didn’t even last until halftime.

Michigan outscored Colorado 17-0 in the second quarter and an injury to Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau ensured the Buffs couldn’t keep pace, falling 45-28.

Special teams produced two touchdowns for Michigan and set up a third as do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers capped the game off with a 54-yard score on a punt return.

Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (26) celebrates with teammate Mike Gesicki after he scored the clinching touchdown against Temple on Saturday. State’s Saquon Barkley (26) celebrates with teammate Mike Gesicki after he scored the clinching touchdown against Temple on Saturday. Chris Knight | AP photo

By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse