University Park, Pa. — Penn State running back Saquon Barkley only tallied 65 yards on 20 carries when his team beat Maryland in Baltimore last season. He eclipsed that total in the second quarter of the Nittany Lions’ 38-14 defeat of the Terps on Saturday.
Barkley finished the game with 202 rushing yards, but he wasn’t the team’s only threat. Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley added 81 yards of his own, and the team finished with 372 in the game. Backup running backs Mark Allen, Miles Sanders and second-string quarterback Tommy Stevens all got in on the action, but Barkley and McSorley got them there.
As talented as Barkley is, his performance against Maryland was by far his best of the season. Last week against Minnesota, he only averaged 3.2 yards on 20 carries. Against Maryland, he gained 6.5 yards per carry. He was the Lions’ bell cow against the Terps, and he delivered in every way.
He ran around, through and right over Maryland’s defenders.
That’s Will Likely. He might be small, thus leaving himself vulnerable to hurdling, but he’s one of Maryland’s better tacklers. And Barkley went right over him. Then, even after the hurdle slowed his momentum, he was able to dart down the sideline for a first down.
(For most players, the hurdle is seldom-used, if it’s even used at all. But Barkley goes to it pretty regularly.)
He hopped over Likely, evaded defensive end Roman Braglio and bounced off linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. before safety Josh Woods stopped him. Still, Barkley didn’t go to the ground easily, spinning forward for some extra yards.
Barkley’s 45-yard touchdown run right before the end of the first half was a crucial blow, changing what looked to be a three-point halftime lead into a two-score advantage.
“It was a difficult task at hand, but we just have to be better at containing the quarterback, pass-rush lanes and making sure the ball is leveraged in the run game,” linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. told reporters after the game. “Shoutout to those guys. They did a great job.”
Carter said Penn State’s attack isn’t “much different” from what he sees Maryland’s offense doing in practice. Walt Bell, the Terps’ new coordinator, installed his particular brand of fast-paced offense that leans on the read-option when he came to College Park. Penn State went through something similar this offseason, hiring Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead to bring his brand of speedy offense to Happy Valley. The Lions “limited” Maryland’s offense to 170 rushing yards on Saturday, but Carter and the Terps’ defense couldn’t stop their opponent.
“When you have the quarterback, you have to have the quarterback. When you have to take away the dive, you have to take away the dive,” Carter said. “It sounds redundant, but just every play, we didn’t do a great job of that today.
“[Barkley]’s added some things to his game, but it all comes down to us being in the gaps we’re supposed to be, all 11 guys running to the ball and just giving phenomenal effort.”
Maryland consistently couldn’t keep up with McSorley’s reads. One play he’d keep the ball and run to the outside for 10 yards and the next he’d hand it to Barkley, who’d scamper up the middle. Other times, he’d drop back to pass, only to see nothing but grass in front of him and take off.
“We knew going into the game that he was certainly capable of running the ball and scrambling. It wasn’t like we weren’t planning on it,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said. “We just weren’t playing within the scheme. They hit a couple plays on us and all of a sudden it was like we had every player trying to make every play as opposed to just making the ones you’re supposed to.”
The Lions ended up with 14 runs of 10 or more yards, a number they’ll celebrate. Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh will try to keep that kind of stat from appearing again. This won’t be easy against Big Ten teams that have better offensive lines than Penn State does, even if they don’t have the same backfield talent. The defense will have to play better than it did on Saturday.
“There was nothing they did at all that we didn’t practice or that we didn’t anticipate,” Carter said. “They just executed better than we did.”