Penn State's Saquon Barkley tuning out hype, looking to do more

Penn State's Saquon Barkley tuning out hype, looking to do more

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Sometimes Joe Moorhead will call a play and then turn to his players and colleagues on the sideline to guarantee it'll go for a touchdown.

It's one of the ways Penn State's offensive coordinator like to lift his players' spirits. His predictions came true a lot last season. A play like Saquon Barkley's blistering, career-best 81-yard touchdown against Purdue come to Moorhead's mind.

"It's about instilling confidence in your players that any play you call has the opportunity to go the distance," Moorhead said. "When you hand the ball off to 26, you stand a chance to be right more often than not."

Barkley's dazzling running style complete with jukes, jumps and spins has propelled him for 3,209 all-purpose yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons and vaulted him into preseason Heisman Trophy discussions. It's also why Moorhead plans to use his star back to wear down and saw up defenses even more this fall.

That's a bad prospect for Penn State's opponents who've been worn down and sawed up by Barkley's ability to break tackles, find daylight and pull away. It might be worse for them. Barkley's bigger, stronger and faster thanks to a productive offseason.

"Our coaching staff and our strength staff did a really good job pushing me," Barkley said. "I gained weight this year. I'm at 230 now. I feel faster. I ran a faster 40 than I did last year in the past. That's something I wanted to really add to my game because I feel like, when you do the weight room, it really translates to the football field."

Videos from inside the team's weight room of Barkley squatting nearly 500 pounds went viral last year. They were joined by clips of him power cleaning 405 pounds in January. In winter workouts he ran a hand-timed 4.33 in the 40 and in July he wowed spectators at a team charity event with 30 bench press reps of 225 pounds.

Those measure up favorably to numbers posted at the most recent NFL Combine. Oklahoma's Samaje Perine was the lone running back to bench 30 reps and Barkley's 4.33 would've been the fourth-best 40 time. Surely, the option of Barkley foregoing his final season at Penn State to jump to the NFL will loom throughout the season.

He was asked about it at the team's media day on Saturday.

"I have not made a decision yet," Barkley said. "I'm really just focusing on the season and focusing day by day. Right now my biggest focus is on camp."

Instead of thinking about the NFL, or the Heisman, which only one Nittany Lions player -- John Cappalletti in 1973 -- has won, Barkley has taken a similar approach to the last offseason when he spent time watching some of college football's other top backs on film.

Barkley, who caught four of his five receiving touchdowns last season, primarily wants to play a bigger role in the passing game. He's drilled with the team's top wideout and smoothest route-runner DaeSean Hamilton to learn new techniques.

"I feel that, and Coach (James) Franklin will agree, that I'm capable of being lined up in the slot, being able to run routes," Barkley said. "I do feel like I'm capable to do a lot with the ball in my hand in space, and I just want to continue to grow in that area."

But as Barkley's highlight reel has grown, he's remained grounded. Staying humble despite the expectations and hype that have swirled around him has endeared Barkley to his teammates.

When the Nittany Lions have strolled through town to meet fans and distribute posters each of the last two summers, Barkley has drawn the biggest crowd, huddles of kids and adults all with markers intent on getting No. 26's autograph.

"Since that hurdle in the Buffalo game, there's been a buzz about him," Franklin said. "And he's handled it really well, better than I would have ever handled it at that age. There's no doubt about it. And I think that's where he kind of has earned everybody's respect."

Garner and Carr lead Penn State to 3rd straight win

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Garner and Carr lead Penn State to 3rd straight win


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Shep Garner scored 16 points and Tony Carr had 15 points to lead Penn State to a 74-52 victory over Illinois on Sunday night.

Illinois missed its first nine second-half shots and didn't score for seven-plus minutes as Penn State went on a 12-0 run to make it 49-36. The Nittany Lions (18-9, 8-6 Big Ten) led by at least nine points the rest of the way.

Carr hit three 3-pointers, grabbed six rebounds and had six assists. Lamar Stevens finished with 11 points, while Mike Watkins and Josh Reaves scored 10 apiece, for Penn State.

Illinois had the lead for more than 15 minutes in the first half, but squandered it late. Carr air balled a 3-pointer from the right wing, but Jamari Wheeler grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Garner, who nailed a corner 3.

On the ensuing play, Mark Alstork stepped on the baseline while inbounding the ball, giving Penn State possession with 3.6 seconds left. Carr scored a layup before the buzzer to take a one-point lead into the break.

The Nittany Lions shot 54.5 percent from the field, outscored Illinois 34-12 in the paint and won their fourth consecutive game against the Illini. Penn State has won six of its last seven overall.

Leron Black led Illinois (12-14, 2-11) with 18 points.

Big Picture
After finishing three games below .500 last season, the Nittany Lions continued their impressive turnaround this year. With a strong finish in conference play, Penn State could make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.

After scoring career-high 32-points in a 78-69 loss to Wisconsin on Thursday, Trent Frazier was held to just six against Penn State. He has been Illinois' best player in conference play, and without a strong performance from him the Illini struggled.

Up Next
The Illini will face Indiana on the Wednesday night. Illinois knocked off the Hoosiers on Jan. 24 for its first Big Ten victory of the season.

Penn State returns home to face No. 14 Ohio State. The Buckeyes sit atop the Big Ten after a one-point win over No. 3 Purdue last week.

Lamar Stevens fires darts in Penn State victory

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Lamar Stevens fires darts in Penn State victory


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Lamar Stevens feels like he's playing his most consistent basketball right now, a bad omen for upcoming opponents considering Penn State expects its hybrid forward to do a little bit of everything.

Just like he did on Wednesday.

Stevens scored 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting with 14 in the second half to lift Penn State over Maryland 74-70.

"Lamar really stepped up for us," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We needed every one of those points that he had tonight."

Tony Carr added 16 points, Josh Reaves scored 14, and Mike Watkins added 11 for the Nittany Lions (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten Conference), who equaled their previous best mark for conference victories under Chambers.

"The best teams always find ways to win," Stevens said. "We locked down when we had to, got huge stops, huge rebounds and I think that's a huge step for this team."

With Maryland (16-10, 5-8) up 20-14 midway through the first half, Stevens nailed his first of two 3-pointers to spark a quick 9-0 run that helped Penn State take control.

He rolled layups off his fingers and sank midrange jumpers on multiple back-to-back possessions in the second half, where he scored 11 of his team's first 20 points.

"He made some incredible, incredible shots," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "He was terrific, he was so efficient."

Stevens added four rebounds, two assists and was 3-for-4 on free throws with all three makes coming in the final 5:48 as Maryland threatened.

Anthony Cowan Jr. led Maryland with 15 points while Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando added 13 apiece.

Darryl Morsell had 10 points for the Terrapins, who cut a 10-point deficit with 8:11 to play to just three with 1:13 left.

"I didn't think we competed in the first half defensively," Turgeon said. "I thought in the second half, we were really trying hard."

Big picture
Maryland: The Terrapins' disappointing season continues and they have dropped to 7-7 since stalwart forward Justin Jackson's season was ended by a torn shoulder ligament in late December. Although they shot better than their season average, the Terrapins were badly outplayed in the paint, getting outscored 32-22 and outrebounded 27-23.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are playing an exciting brand of basketball as of late. They have a combined 22 dunks over their last three home games and opponents are finding it hard to play fast against a team that thrives on speed.

While Stevens led the offense, guards Reaves, Shep Garner and Jamari Wheeler helped keep Cowan Jr. and Huerter from doing major damage.

The Terrapin duo entered the Bryce Jordan Center averaging a combined 30 points per game. And while they got close with 28, they combined for six of their team's 14 turnovers as Penn State dialed up the pressure.

"They really pressured us," Turgeon said. "I thought (Reaves and Wheeler) had a lot to do with it."

Speedy D
Stevens called Reaves the "heart and soul" of the team and there's no question Penn State looks like a different squad with the stingy, opportunistic defender in the lineup.

Penn State is 4-1 since his return from an academic-related suspension.

"He's going to defend and rebound," Chambers said. "He'll guard the best player on the other team, and when he has opportunities to score and make plays, which he usually does, he's that guy that does it for us."

Reaves led the team with nine rebounds with six in the defensive end.

While Penn State has leaned on Reaves since his return, his presence hasn't prevented Chambers from keeping the speedy Wheeler in the rotation. Wheeler played 11 minutes and chipped in three assists.

Up next
Maryland hosts Northwestern on Saturday.

Penn State visits Illinois on Sunday.