Hunt for clues about Saquon Barkley's future at Penn State is on

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Hunt for clues about Saquon Barkley's future at Penn State is on

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For months now, everyone has been seeking clues as to what Saquon Barkley’s intentions beyond this season might be, and the detective work continued Saturday.

Is Penn State’s prized junior running back headed to the NFL after this season? Is he even going to play in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game?

The latter question was answered in the affirmative after Barkley generated 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in PSU’s 56-44 defeat of Nebraska: He’s a go for whatever bowl the No. 10 Lions, now 9-2, find themselves in.

Still TBA beyond that. While coach James Franklin advised Barkley before the season as to what he should do, Franklin wouldn’t divulge the particulars of that conversation. (You’re shocked, I’m sure.) And Barkley said he still wants to talk to his family before he decides whether or not to declare for next spring’s draft.

So we wait. And we hunt for clues.

Like when Franklin said he was “blessed to have coached” Barkley — past tense — what did that mean?

Uh, nothing, Franklin said though he did launch into a monologue about advising Barkley and advising players in general.

“What I try to do for all of my players is give them advice that I would give my son,” he said. “If I feel like they should come back to school to finish their degree and have the opportunity to go on and get one more season of development, and then go to the NFL, I tell them that. If I think they should leave early, then I tell them that as well.”

It’s quite simple, in his mind.

“If IBM came to our computer engineering department and offered a junior a $12 million contract, they’d be gone,” Franklin said. “So I give these guys information all the time based on the entire picture -- what their future is like, where they’re at academically.”

Which sounded like a hint as to what he might have told Barkley, all those months ago. But again, who knows?

What we do know is that Barkley is a likely top-five pick. And while he has performed unevenly this season through no fault of his own (i.e., the offensive line has been surprisingly poor), he scored on a 65-yard run three plays into Saturday’s game, went over 100 yards for the game (and 1,000 for the season) when he broke off a 30-yard run on the final play of the first quarter and finished the half with 142 yards and three TDs.

The Lions were up 42-10 at that point. Barkley's final totals were 17 carries for 158 yards and three TDs, and six catches for 66 yards. He became just the second player in program history to surpass 1,000 in three straight seasons — Evan Royster was the other — and overtook Lydell Mitchell for most career rushing TDs; Barkley now has 39.

And that's all with two games remaining this season.

Yes, definitely two — at Maryland in next week’s regular-season finale, and then the bowl, wherever that may be.

Again, there were clues as far back as May that Barkley might follow in the footsteps of two other NFL-bound running backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who skipped bowl games last year to prepare for the draft. Fournette was taken fourth overall by Jacksonville and McCaffery was taken eighth overall by Carolina

In a Sports Illustrated profile by Pete Thamel, Barkley was quoted as saying the following: “I would have a hard time doing it (i.e., skipping a bowl), but I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body, and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”

But he said Saturday he definitely plans to play, barring the unforeseen.

“I understand why some other players have not played in a bowl game,” he said. “I’m different from Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. … Our situations are different.”

Barkley admitted that he did get “a little emotional” Saturday, not so much because it was his final home game but because it was the last time he would be playing alongside the seniors in Beaver Stadium — “no matter what happens.”

No clues there, then. His play, however, would appear to offer the biggest clue of all and leaves little reason for doubt.

Why, at this point, should the sporting equivalent of IBM have to wait any longer?

This one truly hurts for Penn State

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This one truly hurts for Penn State

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- John Beilein has always coveted the type of player with near-limitless energy reserve who can provide a scoring spark off the bench.

Michigan's coach has found his man this year.

Duncan Robinson supported No. 17 Michigan's starters with 19 points and helped the Wolverines beat Penn State 72-63 on Wednesday night.

"I've loved always having this, whether I was at Richmond, West Virginia, Canisius, the guy that can come off the bench with no conscience," Beilein said. "It's very hard to sit there for 10 minutes and then just go in and shoot. And he can do that."

Moritz Wagner added 18 and Jordan Poole had 13 for the Wolverines (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) who won their fourth straight.

It got easier for the Wolverines just four minutes in when star Penn State forward Mike Watkins crumpled under Penn State's basket with an apparent right leg injury.

"That certainly was a factor in the game as well," Beilein said.

Tony Carr scored 21 points and Lamar Stevens added 19 for the Nittany Lions (19-11, 9-8) who trailed for all but about four minutes.

Michigan took control with a 25-12 run midway through the first and Robinson made Michigan's fifth of 10 3-pointers to put the Wolverines up by 13, their biggest lead of the game, with 3:52 left in the opening half. Back-to-back jumpers from Stevens cut Michigan's halftime lead to 34-26.

The Nittany Lions opened the second with a 13-4 run and took a 39-38 lead when Carr rolled a floater off his fingertips, drew a foul and made the free throw with 16:12 left.

"At halftime, we knew we didn't play well," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We were dealing with some adversity and I thought our guys competed and played hard, to come out and take the lead."

But the Wolverines went ahead for good on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's 3-pointer with 10:19 left. Michigan players combined to go 9-for-10 from the free throw line in the final minute to close out the game.

Watkins hurt
Watkins appeared to be in a good amount of discomfort as he was helped off the court.

Afterward, the forward spent a few minutes on a courtside exercise bike before returning to the bench with 9:28 to play. He lobbied Chambers to let him re-enter the game, but was clearly hobbled before Chambers pulled him out for good moments later.

Visibly upset, Watkins covered his face with a towel then entered the locker room before the half ended.

Chambers said he didn't have an update on Watkins other than the team would wait for test results on his right leg to come back later this week.

It was the second straight game -- and second straight loss -- where Watkins' presence was sorely missed. He found himself in early foul trouble against Purdue and played just nine minutes in Penn State's 76-73 loss.

"It's tough. They're a team that shoots a bunch of 3s. We weren't surprised that they shot the ball well."

Defending the 3
The Wolverines entered the game having made 264 3-pointers, good for second in the conference. They dropped 10 more on the Nittany Lions including a pair of back-to-back shots from Wagner that broke up Penn State's early second-half run.

They were big considering Beilein felt like his squad was squandering most of its chances early in the second.

"They just happened," Beilein said. "He got open, luckily, and he made them both and all of a sudden it's a 1-point game and we're still playing."

Robinson was 3-for-6 and hit the final 3-pointer to give the Wolverines' a 9-point lead with 1:28 left. Wagner was 4-for-5 from 3-point range while Poole added a pair.

"When you give up 10 3s to Michigan, It's going to be a tough outing for sure," Chambers said.

The big picture
Michigan: The Wolverines are guaranteed to be seeded no worse than fifth in the Big Ten tournament with the win. They'll have a chance to improve that as the teams above them in the standings No. 9 Purdue and Nebraska still have games remaining.

Penn State: With a 3-point loss to Purdue in their last game, the Nittany Lions badly needed this one for their NCAA tournament resume. Watkins will be nearly impossible for Penn State to replace if it has to move on without him. The 6-foot-9 forward is third in the country shooting 69.2 percent from the field. He has 13 double-doubles on the season and leads the team with 68 blocks and 258 rebounds. The players who would likely replace his minutes --Julian Moore and Satchel Pierce -- have averaged just 10 and eight minutes per game respectively.

Up next
Michigan visits Maryland on Saturday.

Penn State travels to Nebraska on Sunday.

Penn State can't keep streak alive against No. 6 Purdue

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Penn State can't keep streak alive against No. 6 Purdue

BOX SCORE 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Carsen Edwards scored 27 points to lead sixth-ranked Purdue to a 76-73 victory over Penn State on Sunday night.

Dakota Mathias added 18 points and Isaac Haas had 12 points and six rebounds for the Boilermakers (24-5, 13-3 Big Ten), who snapped a season-worst three-game skid.

Tony Carr had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, Shep Garner had 17 points and Lamar Stevens had 13 points and six rebounds for the Nittany Lions (19-10, 9-7). The loss ended a stretch of six wins in seven games.

Ryan Cline's 3-pointer with 5:31 remaining gave Purdue a 61-58 lead, and the Boilers never trailed the rest of the way.

It wasn't easy for a Purdue team in search of the same offensive flair that made the Boilermakers unbeatable during a program-record 19-game winning streak that stretched from November until a 64-63 loss to Ohio State on Feb. 7. It became more difficult without starting forward Vincent Edwards, one of the team's most consistent players.

Vincent Edwards sat on the bench wearing a walking boot after spraining his left ankle in practice on Saturday. The team disclosed the injury in a statement before tipoff.

It was another uncharacteristic game for the Boilermakers. They trailed by as much nine points in the first half, during which they shot 42.3 percent from the field and went 2 for 9 from 3-point range.

Penn State led 36-32 at halftime.

Big picture 
Penn State: Despite another poor offensive night by Purdue, the Nittany Lions proved their recent hot streak, which included a 79-56 blowout of No. 8 Ohio State, may not have been a fluke. Even after the Boilermakers found a groove in the second half, Penn State still never trailed by more than 11 points.

Purdue: After dropping three straight conference games and falling in the Big Ten standings, the Boilermakers needed to get back on track quickly with just two regular season games remaining.

Up next 
Penn State: The Nittany Lions host Michigan on Wednesday.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are at Illinois on Thursday.