Penn State is 2-2 heading into Saturday's home game vs. Minnesota, with a rushing attack that ranks 122nd out of 128 FBS teams. But it would be a mistake to pin any of that on sophomore Saquon Barkley, who entered the year widely regarded as the best running back in the Big Ten.
Take last weekend's 49-10 loss at No. 4 Michigan. The Nittany Lions were held to a paltry 191 yards of total offense in that game. Barkley had a hand in 136 of them, as he led the team in rushing (15 carries for 59 yards) and receiving (five catches for 77 yards). On the season, Barkley leads the Big Ten in scoring with seven TDs and is averaging 120 all-purpose yards per game.
Yet he feels he must do more.
"(While) trying to be a leader of the team, you try to take a lot on your shoulders,” Barkley told reporters Wednesday. "If the run game's not working, it's on you. You have to find some way, some how to make it work. If the pass game is not doing so well, try to do your best to get out quicker on a route and try to catch the ball and make something happen. … You never want to see your team do poorly. You just want to try to step up and do anything possible.”
In truth, however, there was not much more he could have done vs. the Wolverines. The Michigan front seven overpowered PSU's offensive line, and defenders were often in Barkley's face the second he was taking a handoff. Barkley was asked if this sort of thing frustrated him.
"I would not say I'm frustrated at all with the way the offense is going,” he said. "The only thing I'd say I'm frustrated by is losing. And you can ask anybody on our staff or team, and no one likes losing. We hate losing. We work too hard to be losing games. But I would not say I'm frustrated with the offense at all.. … We stepped back a little bit last week. Now we have to get back to where we were."
During his weekly press conference, PSU coach James Franklin said his only criticism of Barkley is that sometimes he tries to make plays when none are available. Indeed, there have been times this season when Barkley has had crazy one- and two-yard gains after being confronted by a defender and then using his moves and quickness to back away before trying to break something big. In the coach's eyes, the risk of losing significant yardage in such situations outweighs the chance of the run eventually popping.
"Last week, I got back into that area of me trying to make too much happen,” he said. "Sometimes, I just have to lower my shoulder and be physical. I'm a 220-pound back, so I should lower my shoulder, take what they give me and fall forward. Sometimes I try to make to many moves, too many cuts, try to do too much to try to break the tackle and make stuff happen. … I just have to be more aware of when to use certain moves in certain situations."
You can hear his entire media call in our Podcast.
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