Maryland hadn't seen anyone like Saquon Barkley yet, and it showed
Penn State was at the Maryland 45-yard line with the seconds ticking down at the end of the first half. The Lions had about 25 seconds to put together a quick touchdown drive to build on their lead.
In most situations, that would mean a few pass plays were in order. Maybe the Lions would work the sidelines. Perhaps they’d try to take a shot deep.
Or they could just hand the ball off to Saquon Barkley and let him do the rest.
One cut and gone. Forty-five yards and six points later, the fact that PSU ran the ball in such an obvious pass situation was forgotten.
Why was the call made? Well, despite Maryland’s 4-0 start, the Terps hadn’t seen anyone quite like Saquon Barkley.
James Franklin and Joe Moorhead recognized that. That’s why Barkley finished with career highs in carries (31) and rushing yards (202). There was no stopping Barkley in Penn State’s 38-14 victory on Saturday.
To the casual football fan, that seems like an obvious narrative. Why wouldn’t a back like Barkley go off against Maryland?
Believe it or not, the Terps came into Saturday with the 28th-ranked run defense in the country. Maryland looked solid, albeit against one Power Five team (Purdue). The Terps were a week removed from allowing 10 rushing yards in an entire game.
Barkley quadrupled that on the first drive.
That was huge for the sophomore because despite his B1G-leading seven touchdowns, the PSU run game didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the first part of the season. The Lions actually came in ranked last in the B1G in rushing.
With Barkley? How could that be possible?
Game flow played into that. Penn State dug itself an early hole in three of its last four games. On Saturday, Barkley and the Lions were ready to roll. Finally, Penn State sprinted out of the gates with a seven-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to start the game. A big part of that was Barkley, who set an early message to Maryland.
This was what we still didn’t know about the Terps yet. Sure, the 4-0 start was promising, but they got ahead against weaker teams. They hadn’t played in front of 100,000 people or tried to stop a future NFL tailback.
And if you don’t believe Barkley will be playing on Sundays, watch this:
— Nate Bauer (@NateBauerBWI) October 8, 2016
Penn State finished the day with its highest run total since 2006 and its best running day vs. an FBS team since 2002. Part of that credit goes to Trace McSorley, who is becoming more and more comfortable in Joe Moorhead’s offense.
You saw the wheels fall off for Maryland near the end of that game. Why did that happen? Well, trying to stop Barkley 31 times isn’t fun. Nobody should have to deal with that.
In a perfect world, this is what Penn State will look like on a regular basis. Barkley shouldn’t finish games with 15 carries. In order for Penn State to do that, it has to start games off like it did on Saturday.
There are times when a coach has to be able to recognize that it doesn’t matter if the opposition knows what’s coming. Outside of a beautiful strip from William Likely, there was no answer for Barkley.
It’s amazing that Barkley broke Penn State’s 11-game drought of hitting 150 rushing yards in a game. That should never happen with a player of Barkley’s caliber.
Outside of an injury, there would’ve been no excuse for Penn State if it didn’t feed Barkley like it did on Saturday. Who cares if it was a passing down? Who cares if Barkley hadn’t had a 30-carry game yet? He needed to be fed and fed again.
As a result, he delivered the Lions a convincing victory.