Penn State using creative plays to get most out of Saquon Barkley

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Penn State using creative plays to get most out of Saquon Barkley

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Saquon Barkley's first career touchdown pass didn't look as good on replay as he envisioned it would. But it worked, unlike the first time the running back tried to throw one.

"You can tell, I can't throw the ball at all," Barkley said of his fourth-quarter jump-lob last week. "I was completely nervous because you can ask my teammates, that play didn't go too well in practice."

In practice, Barkley's release was bad and the ball stuck in his palm on the follow-through. It went straight into the ground, drawing groans, laughs and -- as Barkley put it -- politically incorrect ribbing from teammates.

But it didn't stop offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead from turning right back to it in a playbook that's loaded with ways to unleash No. 26. After all, most of them work thanks to the 5-foot-11, 230-pound back's frenetic ability to spin, juke or leap over or through defenders seemingly at will.

"I don't think that anything the kid does can surprise you anymore," Moorhead said. "I think the Iowa game was a microcosm of the kid's skillset: 350-plus all-purpose yards, he did it on the ground, did it catching the ball, did a very good job in pass protection. I don't get to see every player in the country on a weekly basis but if there's a better one, I'd be hard pressed to believe it."

Moorhead has tried a lot -- swing passes, shovel passes, dump-offs and laterals just in the last game -- to get his star more action. Most of it has worked.

Barkley leads all FBS players with 243.6 all-purpose yards per game through five games and averages a first down per play. He's scored rushing, receiving and return touchdowns and only four players have more touches than his 121, 23 more than he had at this point last season.

His rushing responsibilities haven't changed, however. Barkley's 86 carries equal what he had at this point last year. But as defensive coordinators have pledged to limit Barkley's running room, Moorhead has opted to utilize his best player's receiving skills. Barkley has responded as the team's leading receiver so far with 386 yards on 27 catches.

He's excelled in all other areas, too.

Moorhead notes Barkley's prowess in pass protection -- like his block of blitzing Josey Jewel that gave quarterback Trace McSorley time to throw the game-winning touchdown against Iowa -- enables him to stay on the field in every passing formation. His 98-yard kickoff return touchdown to open last week's game was what Franklin envisioned when he and special teams coach Charles Huff penciled him in as the team's primary kick returner long before camp started.

Franklin was confident his star running back could handle this kind of workload. Strolls through the weight room where he's seen Barkley increase his workout intensity year after year have reinforced that.

"As a freshman, you get in the weight room and you lift and you run and your body really reacts because you've never worked so hard in your life," Franklin said. "But by the time you get to your third year, you don't get the same type of results. His body is still reacting, and I think that's probably the difference with him is even at as high of a level as he was last year, he was still able to take another step."

That's shown up for anyone who's watched Barkley with the goal of game planning against him.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has that task next.

"Barkley is maybe the best player that I've ever seen on tape," Fitzgerald said. "I've played against some pretty good backs, I've coached against some pretty good backs, but he's just absolutely spectacular. He's great in the run game, he's great in protection, catching the ball out of the backfield, he's a great return man, he does it all and he's an outstanding football player."

All of these numbers and highlights have already added up to what Barkley knows is a legitimate shot at the Heisman Trophy. As a user of social media, Barkley said he can't avoid the hype even though he tries.

"I care about (the Heisman) because I'm a competitor, and I want to be the best," Barkley said. "I'd love to try and win it, but that's not my focus. My focus is on the team, my focus is on the game, my focus is on coming out every week and pushing my team to continue to try to be the best possible."

Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple

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Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Josh Reaves had his second career double-double, Shep Garner hit two 3-pointers in the final three minutes and Penn State overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Temple 63-57 on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Reaves shot 7 of 10 from the field, including a career-high tying four 3-pointers, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Tony Carr missed 10 consecutive field-goal attempts before scoring his first points of the game on a jumper that pulled Penn State within four with 6:20 to play. That sparked a 16-2 run to give the Nittany Lions a 62-54 lead with 16 seconds left.

Reaves and Garner hit back-to-back 3s to make it 54-all before John Harrar's layup with 1:52 remaining gave Penn State its first lead since 4-3. The Owls made just 1 of 9 from the field and committed three turnovers during the span.

Shizz Alston Jr. led Temple (17-16), which led for more than 35 minutes, with 15 points and Josh Brown added 14.

Carr and Garner -- who came in averaging 19.9 and 11.1 points per game, respectively -- combined to score 10 on 3-of-19 shooting for the Nittany Lions (22-13).

The Owls made just 5 of 14 free throws while Penn State hit 20 of 30.

It was the 93rd meeting between the schools, which are located less than 200 miles apart, but the first since 2011. The Nittany Lions snapped a seven-game skid in the series, dating to Dec. 9, 2000.

Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented

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Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented


NEW YORK — Purdue threw a little of everything at Penn State star Tony Carr, the Big Ten's leading scorer. Bigger guys. Smaller ones. Switches and some double teams.

Carr managed only 12 points in a woeful shooting game, and No. 8 Purdue separated from Penn State in the second half of a 78-70 victory Saturday that put the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Third-seeded Purdue (28-5) faces No. 5 Michigan, which will try to repeat as tournament champs on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Purdue frustrated Carr and held him to 4-of-18 shooting. The sophomore faced an array of defenders, including the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Nojel Eastern, 5-10 P.J. Thompson, 6-4 Dakota Mathias, 6-8 Vincent Edwards and 6-1 Carsen Edwards.

"When you have a good player like that it takes more than one guy because he's able to make shots and make plays over guys," Vincent Edwards said. "They just did a good job of taking up that space and being able to force him into tough shots."

Shep Garner led the Nittany Lions (21-12) with a career-high 33 points and the senior set a school record with 129 career points in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Boilermakers will be making their third appearance in the Big Ten championship since the tournament started in 1998. Their one championship came in 2009.

Against Penn State, Purdue used a 12-2 run the middle of the second half to build a 15-point lead. Carsen Edwards led the way, spinning through the lane for a driving layup and making a 3 from up top that made the score 59-44 with 9:15 left. He finished with 27 points and shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range after scoring 26 on Friday against Rutgers.

"It's a consistency," guard Dakota Mathias said of Edwards. "He's being very efficient, too."

Edwards made back-to-back 3s to make it 74-56 with 3:41 left and Purdue was on its way to play for a title.

Isaac Haas, the 7-2 center, added 17 points and seven rebounds for Purdue.

With Carr struggling, Penn State could not keep up. He picked up a third foul in the second half, a push off call that caused Penn State coach Pat Chambers to draw a technical.

"I think they were very physical," Chambers said. "Obviously that's why I felt like I needed to get T'd up, my first T in a long, long time."

Big Picture
Penn State: The Nittany Lions had a chance to work their way into the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid by beating Purdue, but now Penn State seems like a long shot at best. Chambers is still hopefully.

"Well, I'm an optimist," he said. "We have NCAA Tournament talent."

Purdue: The Boilermakers hit a rough patch losing three straight close games in early February to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but an argument can be made that they have been the Big Ten's most consistent team this season.

"We had an opportunity to win the Big Ten regular season. We kind of gave that away," said Thompson, one of four senior starters. "But we still had a goal of winning a Big Ten championship on our list before the season started and we put ourselves in position to be able to do that tomorrow."

Purdue does most everything well, except rebound. A night after giving up 17 offensive boards to Rutgers, the Boilermakers allowed 16 rebounds to Penn State.

Shep Shooter
Garner went 4 for 5 from 3-point range, including a four-point play, to carry Penn State in the first half. The Nittany Lions led much of the way, but Edwards made a 3 for Purdue with 2 seconds left in the half to send the Boilermakers to the break ahead 33-31.

Up Next
Penn State: An NIT bid is likely coming the Nittany Lions way, though the big question beyond March is whether Carr returns for another season or heads to the NBA draft.

Purdue: The Boilermakers swept the Wolverines in two games decided by a combined five points.

"Just a really skilled offensive team," Carsen Edwards said. "They have a lot of options. For us it's going to come down to defense and getting stops."