IOWA CITY — Saquon Barkley is getting Heisman Trophy hype for a reason.
There were 358 reasons on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, as he and his Penn State brethren got a last-second win, 21-19, against Iowa. A national TV audience watched as Barkley ran for 211 yards and a touchdown, caught 12 passes for 94 yards and returned three kicks for 54 yards to break a Penn State record for all-purpose yards.
He hurdled Hawkeyes cornerback Josh Jackson. He juked Josey Jewell on a play that should’ve gone for negative yardage but instead went for a first down.
Barkley was the star of the show, simply put.
“I cannot imagine that there’s a better player in all of college football,” Penn State Coach James Franklin said after the game. “This guy is special. I don’t know what his stats were or what he did, but every time he touched the ball I don’t care if it was a 20-yard run or an 8-yard run, it was something special, it really was.”
One of those special plays didn’t even involve him touching the ball at all.
On the game-winning pass from quarterback Trace McSorley to receiver Juwan Johnson, Barkley stayed in as a blocker — and had to pick up a hard-charging Jewell, who was blitzing up the middle.
One of the best running backs in football, and he wasn’t even a decoy. Franklin didn’t even flinch when he was asked about that play-call and Barkley’s role in it after the game.
“It’s in his job description, pass protection,” Franklin said.
That it is. And while it was one of his most important plays of the day, it wasn’t one of the several all 66,205 fans — yes, even the Iowa fans — will remember from Saturday.
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You’d think his teammates would get used to seeing things like Barkley jumping over Jackson or stopping on a dime to shake multiple would-be tacklers, or outright breaking through two Hawkeyes who seemingly had him wrapped up. McSorley gave a half-laugh when asked if he was used to it, but shook his head no.
In two games against the Hawkeyes, Barkley now has 569 all-purpose yards (167 rushing, 44 receiving in the 2016 game). College football fans revel in his highlight-reel plays, and so do his teammates.
“There was a play where he was surrounded by four guys on the sideline and seemed like he didn’t make a move and somehow squirted out down the sideline with no room to operate,” McSorley said. “I think at that point I caught myself saying, ‘Oh my god, what was that?’
“I feel like he’s going to come up with some new way no one’s ever seen before to all make us kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ You’ve got to let him do what he does.”
Barkley isn’t really about the hype, though. He downplayed it in media availability going into the game, and apropos of a Big Ten player, he gave credit to his teammates and “best team sport in the world,” for what he was able to do.
He lauded Iowa’s defense for limiting Penn State from big plays — something the Hawkeyes were not able to do in 2016 — and for forcing the Nittany Lions to adjust on the fly, even while they were on the field for nearly 2/3 of the game.
Barkley said Saturday night was hardest he’d been hit “in a long time, yeah, I would say.”
But even he was forced, in the end, to acknowledge those plays, as McSorley said, that make you go, “whoa” — the plays the Hawkeyes’ defenders will have to force themselves to forget.
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“Mostly that’s just instinct,” Barkley said. “That jump play (over Jackson) was third and six. Got to make a play, got to find a way. It was a critical moment of the game. Your body just takes over. You let go and you let God happen.”
MCSORLEY APOLOGIZES FOR PUNT
After McSorley knelt on the required point-after-touchdown attempt following the game-winning touchdown, the junior grabbed the game ball and kicked it high in the air in celebration of Penn State’s victory.
The Kinnick Stadium crowd booed him vociferously. It took McSorley no time at all to address that after the game, interrupting the first question he was asked to apologize.
“I just want to apologize for what happened at the end of the game after I took the knee,” McSorley said. “I meant absolutely no disrespect to Iowa or their program or their fans. I was caught up in the moment and I apologize for it. They really fought hard and gave us a fight all 60 minutes. I don’t want to say we’re lucky to pull it out, but you don’t get those kinds of games like that all the time.
“I just got caught up in the moment and wanted to apologize to Coach Ferentz, Josey Jewell, really their entire team. They’re tremendous guys, all class over there.”
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