Barkley, Lynch Come Up B1G In Penn State 28-3 Win Over Rutgers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Critics have casted James Franklin as a better recruiter than he is a coach. In his second season at the helm, Franklin’s recruits are making their presence felt in Happy Valley.
True freshman Saquon Barkley racked up 195 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries as Penn State beat Rutgers 28-3 Saturday in the Big Ten season opener.
Barkley, a one-time Rutgers commit, made a name for himself on campus last week following his 115-yard outing versus Buffalo. He left the hurdle behind and brought the juke out Saturday as he rushed for the most yards by a Nittany Lion since Bill Belton’s 201-yard game versus Illinois in 2013.
“To be a running back, it’s all about breaking tackles and making people miss … [Barkley’s] been able to do that,” Franklin said.
Barkley’s backfield partner Akeel Lynch held his own with 120 yards on 10 carries. Nine of Lynch's 10 carries came in the first half, including a 75-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes of the first half that pushed the Penn State lead to 21.
Clearing lanes for those backs was the offensive line, whom also did not allow a sack for the second consecutive game.
“They’ve done a great job and that’s a testament to them, each day come to work, approaching it the same,” Christian Hackenberg said of his offensive line. “Arguably the most criticized group by a lot of people and for them to have back to back weeks of success like that is huge for their confidence."
With a clean pocket and a dynamic running corps, Hackenberg was seemingly relegated to game manager duties.
“He made some great checks at the line to get us into runs for some big gains,” Franklin said of his quarterback. “Once there’s more confidence up front, Hackenberg will be able to show what he’s shown before.”
“Usually the game manager is the guy that gets us in the best place where we can be successful,” Hackenberg said. "It’s a negative connotation at times but it’s efficient football. It’s what we need to do to be successful."
Hackenberg went 10-for-19 for 141 yards and an interception on the game.
An eight-play, 90-yard drive in the second quarter was the longest of the season by Penn State, highlighted by a 48-yard catch-and-run between Hackenberg and DaeSean Hamilton. Barkley capped the drive of with a 15-yard scamper that gave Penn State a 14-0 lead.
The last man back stopped Barkley’s 54-yard fourth quarter run from going longer. But the young back simply took the subsequent play 16 yards up the middle for his second touchdown.
DeAndre Thompkins scored the first touchdown of his collegiate career on a 2-yard sweep that started Penn State’s 21-point second quarter.
Chris Gulla pinned Rutgers on their own 2-yard line, after three penalties—totaling 25 yards—stalled a promising opening drive from Penn State. Gulla would continue to find success in his next four punts, averaging 41 yards per punt for the game with all five downed inside the 20.
“I treat every day like game day for the past month and a half,” Gulla said. "I think just changing the way I practice really helped me succeed on the field."
Gulla, starting in place of Daniel Pasquariello, was the driving force behind neutralizing Rutgers' top threat Janarion Grant and their offense, not allowing them to start past their own 15-yard line.
The safety duo of Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen combined for 20 tackles for the Nittany Lion defense.
Lucas made the decision last week to change his jersey number from No. 9 to No. 5 for the remainder of the season, in honor of Nyeem Wartman-White, whom is lost for the season.
Brandon Bell returned after missing the last game while Grant Haley made his season debut after injuries kept him sidelined for the opening two games. Bell started off strong, picking up eight tackles in the first half while Haley grabbed an interception.
This young Penn State team has shown signs of growth since its season opening letdown, but Franklin said the team’s improvement has been noted.
“I’m just excited that we’re getting better,” he said. “It’s about getting better every single day, every single week.”
Penn State will play game three of its five game home stand at Beaver Stadium next week when San Diego State comes to town.
Marley Paul is a senior digital and print journalism major at Penn State. Contact him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @MPaulPSU