Mike Gesicki

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Buckeyes know focus on Saquon Barkley is just the start

2 Comments

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.

Saquon Barkley scores 2 TDs as No. 4 Penn State pulls away vs. Pitt

Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Big plays helped guide No. 4 Penn State (2-0) past a determined Pittsburgh (1-1) in Happy Valley. Despite Pitt’s workmanlike clock management giving the Nittany Lions offense little time on the field, the Panthers could only tie down Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions so much before they made some plays in a 33-14 victory Saturday afternoon.

Barkley finished his day with 88 rushing yards and a touchdown with 45 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. Barkley also got involved on kick return duty at times, with two kick returns for another 50 yards. Pitt managed to keep Barkley largely ineffective in the first half, but Penn State kept plugging away to get him involved, including back-to-back runs for first downs to start the second half. Trace McSorley found Barkley over the middle for a 46-yard touchdown to push Penn State to a 21-3 lead early in the third quarter.

Penn State’s defense had to grind out some plays and were put to the test against the Panthers’ offensive attack to work the clock. For the most part, Penn State answered the call with a pair of interceptions off Pitt quarterback Max Browne and allowing just three points off two separate 15-play drives. Browne was later taken out of the game after having to be examined for a cut on his forehead after his helmet popped off. Ben Dinucci took over and finished off Pitt’s only touchdown drive on the first play from scrimmage since entering the game.

McSorley did not have a particularly sharp afternoon, completing 15-of-28 for 164 yards, but he did score three touchdowns. The lone interception was a deep pass as time expired at the end of the first half, so it was not a costly turnover. McSorley did contribute to the running game with 65 yards. Tight end Mike Gesicki scored each of Penn State’s two first-half touchdowns, scoring both in the first quarter with one coming on Penn State’s first offensive snap from the eight-yard line following an interception return by Grant Haley.

Pitt will look to give their clock management another tough test next week when they return home to the western side of the state to face Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have scored 59 and 44 points in their first two games, including Friday night’s 44-7 victory at South Alabama. Oklahoma State edged Pitt in Stillwater a year ago in this home-and-home series, 45-38.

Penn State will play a third-straight home game next week before stepping foot into Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions will host Georgia State for the first meeting between the two schools. Penn State and Georgia State have previously worked together at satellite camps in Georgia.

Penn State leads Pitt 14-3, but Panthers working clock

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

If the first half was any indication, Pittsburgh’s game plan is to work as much clock as possible to keep Penn State’s offense off the field. That has been fairly effective after one half of play in Happy Valley, but Penn State leads the Panthers 14-3.

Pitt has dominated the time of possession but despite having two 15-play drives has just scored three points. Keeping Penn State’s offense on the sideline has prevented the Nittany Lions from getting much momentum with the ball though, so we’ll see how long that strategy can pay off for the Panthers.

Penn State capitalized on a turnover on the first series of the game with a quick eight-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki one play after Grant Haley had picked off a pass by Pitt quarterback Max Browne. Haley’s 42-yard return gave the Nittany Lions great field position inside the Pitt 10-yard line.

Gesicki came up with the second touchdown of the game as well, hauling in a pass on a zone read by McSorley and finding his way to the pylon for a score after the Pitt defense was forced to shift directions after focusing on Barkley in the backfield.

Saquon Barkley has not had a chance to have much of an impact in this one so far, with just five rushing attempts for 22 yards so far.