Big Ten

Will Penn State have enough offense to keep up with Hoosiers?

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Will Penn State have enough offense to keep up with Hoosiers?

After stumbling upon an offensive spark plug in true freshman running back Saquon Barkley, an injury to the exciting young ball-carrier sent the Penn State offense crashing back down to Earth.

It's possible Barkley — along with veteran running back Akeel Lynch — could miss a second straight game when Penn State hosts Indiana on Saturday. Barkley and Lynch, who both sat out of last weekend’s win over Army, were left off the Nittany Lions’ depth chart when it was released Tuesday.

Barkley had two big performances in wins over Buffalo and Rutgers. Against Buffalo, he carried the ball 12 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. Against Rutgers, he had 21 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Even before leaving Penn State’s win over San Diego State with an injury, Barkley rushed eight times for 62 yards and had a 22-yard receiving touchdown.

And Lynch has fared well, at times, too. He ran for 120 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers and had at least 10 carries in each of the team’s first four games.

Without Barkley and Lynch against Army, though, Penn State mustered just 20 points (this after averaging more than 30 in the three previous games) and 264 total yards, just 108 of which came on the ground. It meant a narrow 20-14 win over the Black Knights.

[MORE BIG TEN: After surgeries, infection, ICU stay, Matt Frazier finally back to football]

The fact that the absence of Barkley, a true freshman, can so dramatically change the fortunes of the offense is an illustration of a big problem for Penn State: Outside of this one player, the offense still is struggling to function. It was the case last season, and it’s the case again this season, with the Lions ranking 116th in the FBS in total offense (329.2 total yards per game). Only one other Power 5 conference team (Missouri) ranks lower.

That low number is fueled mostly by an ineffective passing offense, which is averaging just 171.2 yards per game. Now, that’s not even last or second to last in the Big Ten, with Maryland and Northwestern averaging fewer, but it’s hardly good. Christian Hackenberg, the junior quarterback who’s supposed to have the stuff that could make him a No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, hasn’t performed up to expectations over the past two seasons.

It’s why Barkley’s emergence was such a positive thing. Unfortunately, an injury has temporarily sent Penn State back to survival mode. The defense, it should be pointed out, is still excellent, ranking 15th in the country.

The replacement backs for Barkley and Lynch are all freshmen, too. While that's a function of the roster, not preference, it throws another wrench into things offensively.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini's Josh Ferguson 'very, very doubtful' for game vs. Hawkeyes]

“I don't know what else to do,” Franklin said during his weekly press conference. “You say you may be getting too dependent on a freshman runner, that's all we have are freshmen runners, so I'm not sure what the other option is. ... That's where we are. So, yeah, we are dependent. Has Saquon been exciting this year? No doubt about it, no doubt about it, he's been fun to watch.

“I see Nick Scott doing nice things, I see Mark Allen starting to do some nice things, Johnathan Thomas for playing for the first time, but, yeah, are we dependent on freshmen in our running game? Yeah, this is all we have since Akeel has been out. Hopefully we can get him back and that brings more veteran leadership to us, but, yes.”

It all adds up to Penn State potentially not being able to keep up with Indiana. The high-octane Hoosiers are dealing with their own injuries right now — quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard were both knocked out of last weekend’s game and their status is unknown for Saturday — but still rank in the top 20 in the country in total offense (a hair under 500 yards a game). They average 36 points a game. They’re fresh off a near upset of No. 1 Ohio State, a 34-27 loss that had the Hoosiers with goal to go in the final seconds.

It all adds up to a real worry that, without Barkley, the Lions might simply not be able to keep up.

The Penn State offense seems to have one of two things to hope for right now: Hope that Hackenberg can figure things out, or hope that Barkley heals fast.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.