All-purpose production pushes Penn State star Saquon Barkley to top of Heisman Trophy hunt

Saquon Barkley-Penn State-kickoff return touchdown-Indiana

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Saquon Barkley may be the only running back in college football who can turn a 56-yard rushing game into added evidence for Heisman Trophy candidacy. The Penn State star delivered as a special teams returner, receiver and even passer en route to 205 all-purpose yards Saturday during a 45-14 victory over Indiana.

“He’s got so many tools in his tool box, and every week for us it’s about how do we take advantage of them to give our opponent issues?” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said.

The Penn State staff reached deep into that tool box with 4 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Barkley accepted a pitch from quarterback Trace McSorley, drew defenders in while starting to run upfield before pulling up and tossing a 16-yard touchdown to receiver DaeSean Hamilton.

His pass put the finishing touches on a commanding Big Ten win, while adding yet another component to a seemingly inevitable Heisman-worthy highlight reel.

“That’s probably one of the most nerve-wrecking plays I’ve had to do in my life,” Barkley admitted. “When the ball is in my hand, that’s natural to me, but throwing the ball really isn’t. I’m going to blame that on my father for not trying to make a quarterback when I was a little kid.”

When asked about Barkley’s passing mechanics, McSorely smiled and focused on the result.

“Needs a little work, but it got the job done,” he said.

Barkley ended the game in style, just like he started it. Now, five games into his first season as a full-time collegiate special teams returner, he took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. It’s a moment his father predicted two days earlier.

While concentrated defensive efforts help limit Barkley to a very modest 2.8 yards per rushing attempt, his value continues to extend beyond the backfield.

“That’s another example of why we said we wanted to use Saquon Barkley as a kickoff returner,” Franklin said. “It’s a play in [which] we know we can get the ball in his hands in space. Obviously, it paid off for us [Saturday].”

Barkley, who entered this weekend leading all Big Ten players in receiving yards, again made a major impact on Penn State’s aerial efforts. He caught 4 passes for 51 yards, pushing his season totals to 27 receptions and 386 receiving yards.

“Saquon can hurt you as a returner, he can hurt you as a receiver, as we’ve seen a lot this season,” Franklin said. “He’s also obviously one of the better true running backs in terms of carrying the ball in a traditional running game.”

Heisman history shows us versatility is rewarded when it comes to selecting finalists. Reggie Bush and Christian McCaffrey are prime recent examples of running backs who also shined as kick returners and pass targets, though players of this caliber are few and far between.

“The game has evolved and the game has changed, and you have to take advantage of your playmakers in a variety of different ways,” Franklin said. “Saquon makes it easy to do that.”

Barkley has now accounted for 8 touchdowns in four different ways through five games of his junior campaign. He set a Penn State record Sept. 23 with 358 all-purpose yards against Iowa, and he’s accumulated nearly 600 all-purpose yards in only two Big Ten contests.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do,” Nittany Lions linebacker Jason Cabinda said. “He’s our do-it-all guy. He has a very special combination of character, skill set and work ethic. He’s a leader of our team, and you see week in and week out what he’s able to do for us.”

As for Heisman Trophy talk, that’s something Barkley and Franklin are leaving to the media. If things remain on course for the Nittany Lions dynamo, the rest will take care of itself when it comes to award ceremonies.

“We are big believers that with group and team success, comes individual recognition,” Franklin said.

Saquon Barkley delivered another memorable performance against Indiana. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)


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