Barkley’s kick return sparks rout for No. 4 Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is well aware of the Heisman Trophy hysteria swirling about him.
“You can’t avoid it,” he said. “It’s 2017.”
He has far less of a problem avoiding opposing tacklers.
Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the No. 4 Nittany Lions (5-0) built a 28-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 45-14 victory over Indiana in a Big Ten game on Saturday afternoon.
Barkley, who began the day leading the FBS in all-purpose yards per game (253.3), finished with 205. He also threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to DaeSean Hamilton in the fourth quarter, the last of the wide receiver’s three TD receptions in the game.
According to the Big Ten Network, Barkley became the first player in the conference since 1996 to return a kickoff for a TD and pass for a score in the same game.
“He’s got so many tools in his toolbox,” coach James Franklin said, “and every week for us, it’s how do we take advantage of them, to give our defense and our opponents issues.”
Hamilton, whose other two scoring catches came from quarterback Trace McSorley, finished with nine receptions to improve his career total to 181, a school record. Deon Butler, who played at Penn State from 2005-08, held the previous mark (179).
McSorley went 23 for 36 for 315 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked five times and intercepted once.
Barkley rushed for just 56 yards on 20 carries but contributed 51 yards on four receptions, in addition to his kickoff return.
“The kickoff return, I was excited to start the game off right,” he said. “The passing touchdown, I was completely nervous, because ... that play didn’t go too well in practice.”
Barkley had vaulted to the top of many lists of Heisman Trophy hopefuls after generating a school-record 358 all-purpose yards in last week’s 21-19 prime-time victory over Iowa. Barring injury, he figures to remain a prominent part of the conversation.
“I say it so many times: I don’t care about the Heisman award,” he said, before amending that slightly. “Obviously I care, because I’m competitive, and I want to be the best and I would love to try to win it, but that’s not my focus. My focus is on the team. My focus is on the game. My focus is on coming out every week and pushing my team to its standards and continuing to be the best I can be.”
Indiana coach Tom Allen called Barkley a “special, special player,” but thought the Hoosiers (2-2) defended him well. Allen was far more disappointed with his team’s four turnovers and overall special-teams play, which he called “inexcusable.”
“One of our objectives is to protect the football and we didn’t do that today,” he said. “And you play this talented of a team on the road, you’re not going to beat them.”
Barkley fielded the opening kickoff at his 2, started right, picked up a block from backup cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and burst out of the pack. At the 40, he juked kicker Griffin Oakes before outracing DeVonte Williams down the right sideline to complete the 98-yard play.
It was Penn State’s first kickoff return for a touchdown since Chaz Powell took one back 95 yards against Indiana State in 2011.
Lions cornerback Christian Campbell then pried the ball free from running back Morgan Ellison, with linebacker Jason Cabinda recovering at the Indiana 39. Two plays later McSorley hit wide-open receiver Juwan Johnson for a gain of 24 on a crossing route, setting up a 1-yard TD keeper by the quarterback with 11:41 left in the period.
Later in the period, Penn State’s Irv Charles forced a fumble by Hoosiers punt returner J-Shun Harris at the Indiana 13. Nick Scott scooped up the ball and ran it into the end zone.
Minutes later, a roughing-the-punter penalty aided Penn State’s nine-play, 73-yard drive, as did some more wizardry on the part of Barkley. He made a one-handed grab of McSorley’s pass into the left flat and turned it into a 36-yard gain.
Five plays later McSorley hit Hamilton for an 8-yard TD, making it 28-0.
McSorley’s 24-yard TD pass to Hamilton with 3:22 left in the third increased the Penn State lead to 38-14. Barkley threw his final scoring strike to Hamilton with 4:13 remaining in the game.
NOTES: Penn State had two special teams touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2001. ... LB Tegray Scales recorded three of Indiana’s five sacks. ... A second-quarter interception by IU’s Jonathan Crawford was the Hoosiers’ first of the season. ... Redshirt freshman OL Will Fries made his first career start at right tackle for Penn State, although Chasz Wright, who started the first three games at that position before missing the Iowa game with an undisclosed injury, saw action off the bench. Andrew Nelson, who started against the Hawkeyes, did not dress. ... Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye played after sitting out the two previous games with an undisclosed injury. He recorded an interception in the third quarter. ... Indiana was without two defensive starters — LB/S Marcelino Ball and CB A’Shon Riggins, because of undisclosed injuries. ... IU CB Rashard Fant returned after missing last week’s victory over Georgia Southern because of injury. ... Indiana PR J-Shun Harris left the game when he was injured while losing a first-quarter fumble. He did not return. ... Penn State TE Mike Gesicki left the game after suffering an upper-body injury in the second quarter, and did not return. ... The announced attendance was 107,542.