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No post-showdown slowdown: Saquon Barkley, PSU roll through Purdue

10 SEP 2016: Penn State Nittany Lions Running Back Saquon Barkley (26) during the NCAA Football game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)

The No. 24 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 2-1 B1G) are like a train rolling downhill, and after a successful stop in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday afternoon against Purdue, there’s no telling when this ride is going to stop.

The Nittany Lions defeated the Boilermakers, 62-24, taking a 17-17 tie at half and turning it into a head-turning blowout with a second half flurry. PSU outscored Purdue 45-7 in the second half of the contest, with sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley and all-everything sophomore running back Saquon Barkley leading the way.

Penn State’s offense put up 511 yards as a unit, including 257 total yards on the ground. Barkley was again a superhuman for Penn State, picking up 207 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, gaining an impressive 11.2 yards per carry. He wasn’t alone in the Nittany Lion backfield, though. Freshman running back Andre Robinson scored twice on the ground as did sophomore Mark Allen.

McSorley completed 12-of-23 passes for 228 yards and he also threw three touchdowns. Junior Chris Goodwin was one of McSorley’s favorite targets, catching five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. And of course, Barkley couldn’t allow his only contribution to come via the run game. He also caught three passes and led PSU in receiving yards with 70, averaging 23.3 yards per catch.

Though the Heisman race seems to be pretty set at this point of the season — with Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson as the clear favorite and players such as Jake Browning, Deshaun Watson and Jabrill Peppers all getting some good publicity — Barkley certainly deserves to be part of the conversation, especially after his performance against the Boilermakers. Even if Barkley never gets his national due, though, he’s without a doubt carving out a name for himself in Penn State lore.

Both the rushing total and all-purpose yards total (277) were personal career highs for the running back from Coplay, Pa., and the all-purpose yards set a PSU sophomore record. He’s totaled 888 yards on the season and 10 rushing touchdowns. He’s also nearing 2,000 rushing yards in his young career at Penn State, nearing 18th all-time on the PSU career rushing list.

Barley has now rushed for 100-plus yards in three games this season and has rushed for over 200 yards twice. In fact, his 200 yard performances against Maryland and Purdue put him in rarified Nittany Lion air. The last running back who accomplished two, 200-yard plus games in a single season was Larry Johnson in 2002 (Johnson did it four times). Speaking of 2002, Barkley’s 81-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the longest touchdown run by a Penn State player since Bill Belton ran for a 92-yard score in 2002. It was also a career high.

“Coach JoeMo called the play and said this one’s going for 80,” Barkley said of the run after the game, according to Derek Levarse of TimesLeader.com. “Block it right, get two-six to the second level, and it’s going for 80.”

“He’s the type of player I think we’d all admit that he’s got a chance to break one every play,” PSU head coach James Franklin said of his all-star running back. “That’s why he’s exciting. That’s why he’s one of the better running backs in college football.”

Now with six wins on the season, the Nittany Lions are bowl eligible and they don’t appear to be slowing down. Their last loss was over a month ago now, against a very good Michigan team in Ann Arbor, and they’re on a four-game winning streak that includes wins over Minnesota, Maryland, the Boilermakers and, of course, No. 2 Oho State last weekend in Happy Valley.

The 6-2 start is Penn State’s best since an 8-1 start in 2011 and the 62 points put up on the Boilermakers were the most by a Nittany Lions’ team since 2008, when a Joe Parterno-led Penn State team beat Coastal Carolina, 66-10.

That team made it to the Rose Bowl, ultimately losing to USC.

10 SEP 2016: Penn State Nittany Lions Head Coach James Franklin during the NCAA Football game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)

To anybody who has been paying attention, it’s quite obvious that Franklin and his team may be on to something special this season. After starting out the year 2-2, the team was given a big boost of confidence and security when Franklin was given a long-term vote of confidence from athletic director
Sandy Barbour. Penn State has been on fire ever since then, and with games against Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State coming up, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Nittany Lions can run the table the rest of the way.

Sure, it’s going to be tough for Penn State to overcome Michigan — the Wolverines are undefeated and rolling at the top of the Big Ten West — but if PSU keeps winning, who knows how the rest of this season will shake out? And at the very least Franklin and co. could win themselves right into a nice bowl game on January 1st.

Considering how this season started and the hot seat Franklin was sitting on to start 2016, that’s quite the story.

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