Juwan Johnson

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Buckeyes know focus on Saquon Barkley is just the start

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When Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is working on the defensive game plan for this week’s matchup against Penn State, the starting point is an obvious one: don’t be a part of Saquon Barkley‘s Heisman reel.

Penn State’s dynamic running back has emerged as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and is coming off a good outing against Michigan last week. Getting a chance to go against Barkley is a motivating factor for Ohio State’s defense, and linebacker Jerome Baker seems to be looking forward to going out and trying to stop him.

“Always be aware of where he’s at, know where he is every play, every down,” Baker said, according to the Associated Press. “That’s just pure respect… He can do it all. He can block, he can run, he can jump over you, he can jump through you. Me personally, I just love to watch him play. I’m definitely excited to play against him.”

Barkley truly is a running back that can thrive in multiple areas, making him the best all-around running back in the nation. Barkley has accounted for 757 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, 448 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns, and one touchdown pass along with a kickoff return for a touchdown. On top of that, he has proven to be a solid blocker, making a key block on Penn State’s game-winning play earlier this season in the final seconds against Iowa.

Teams facing Penn State have made it a point to zero in on Barkley and hope they can contain him enough to slow down Penn State’s offense. Barkley has had four games this season with fewer than 100 rushing yards, including Indiana and Northwestern, but Barkley has also rushed for 211 yards against Iowa and 108 yards against Michigan while also adding to his receiving total. Teams have proven they can penetrate Penn State’s offensive line to prevent Barkley from having too many opportunities to break a big play, but stopping him completely is a different story.

Barkley has had some of his best games against Ohio State. Last year, Barkley rushed for 99 yards on 12 carries to help Penn State hang around long enough to take the upset win at home. The previous season, in Barkley’s freshman season and first game in Ohio Stadium, Barkley rushed for 194 yards on 26 carries, and he had a long touchdown run called back due to a penalty. Barkley has yet to score a touchdown against Ohio State in two meetings, which should be worthy of a badge of honor for Ohio State. If the Buckeyes can keep Barkley out of the end zone again, that would be an impressive feat over three seasons.

So too is solving the rest of the Penn State offense. As Northwestern and Michigan found out, selling out to stop Barkley can be effective at times, but Penn State has other options to play with to counter that strategy. Trace McSorley running is a threat as well, as is passing to tight end Mike Gesicki and receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson.

Last year, Ohio State did well in slowing down Penn State’s offense in Beaver Stadium, but the Buckeyes failed to deliver the knockout blow with the ball and that ended up costing them the win. On Saturday, the Ohio State defense gets their chance to flex some muscle once again, but it will remain up to J.T. Barrett and the offense to finish the job.

Northwestern can’t keep lid on Saquon Barkley as No. 4 Penn State scores 31-7 road win

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Northwestern managed to tie down Penn State running back Saquon Barkley for the majority of the afternoon, but sooner or later he was bound to break loose for a big play. And break loose he did, Barkley ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to flip the script in the box score for his Heisman Trophy campaign, but it was a full team effort that contributed to No. 4 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) picking up a decisive 31-7 victory on the road against Northwestern (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) in Big Ten play.

Barkley ended his afternoon with 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with the 53-yard score being the highlight of the day for him. At one point in the game, Barkley had more rushing touchdowns (1) than he had rushing yards (0). It was that kind of day against Northwestern, who excelled in not letting Barkley get too many opportunities to do damage. But that meant other players would have chances to step up for Penn State. Saeed Blacknall caught four passes for 74 yards. Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens caught two passes, including a touchdown. Juwan Johnson had a team-high six catches for 43 yards as Penn State spread the ball around in the passing game. Trace McSorley was 25-of-34 for 245 yards and a touchdown without a turnover.

Northwestern’s only score of the day came late in the fourth quarter after missing on some opportunities to make a game of it earlier in the game. Northwestern held the football on Penn State’s side of the field three times in the first half but saw each possession end with a turnover.

Penn State’s defense came close to pitching a third shutout of the season, but it continues to be a strength of the Nittany Lions. Northwestern managed just 265 yards of offense in the game.

Penn State heads into a bye week before what should be the make-or-break stretch of the season as far as Penn State’s Big Ten and College Football Playoff hopes may be concerned. After getting off next week, Penn State will host Michigan the following week. After that is a road trip to Ohio State. If Penn State doesn’t have their offensive line playing better for those two games, they could be in trouble.

Northwestern will hit the road in Big Ten play next week to play Maryland. The Terrapins will be coming off a road game at Ohio State.