Patient Barkley gets Heisman help
EVANSTON, Ill. — Saquon Barkley has been the Heisman Trophy frontrunner for several weeks, and there’s not a lot of strong competition so far this season. His leading challenger’s hopes took a big hit Saturday when Baker Mayfield and No. 3 Oklahoma were stunned by Iowa State, 38-31.
Barkley didn’t have a great day with 75 yards rushing on 16 carries, and he’s been held under 100 yards rushing in four of Penn State’s six games.
But he certainly helped himself with yet another huge play that Heisman voters will be watching on the highlights. He scored on a 53-yard run in the third quarter as PSU started pulling away from Northwestern.
One of Barkley’s many strengths is his patience, in that he doesn’t let getting stopped on a lot of short runs change his approach.
“I don’t get really get frustrated,” he said. “I don’t think I’d ever let myself get frustrated, especially when you’re winning the game. I’m very aware that it’s a long game, it’s a four-quarter game, and you’ve just got to take what the defense gives you. If that’s 3, 2, 3, 2, 4, when you get the opportunity to hit the big ones, you have to be ready to hit the big ones.”
Coach James Franklin praised Barkley’s patience and said you never see the running back get upset or put his head down or show bad body language.
“It starts with him. … He’s never once asked for the ball more. He’s never said give me more opportunities, give me more touches,” Franklin said.
“A lot of attention on Saquon Barkley right now, and Saquon Barkley’s focus is on the team,” the coach added.
As far as the Heisman race goes, Stanford running back Bryce Love might be in second place now behind Barkley. Love had 1,088 yards rushing entering his game late Saturday against Utah and was averaging 217 yards on the ground per game. He has caught only two passes for 5 yards. Barkley has 649 yards rushing but also 395 receiving and leads the nation in all-purpose yards, not to mention his plethora of big highlights and name recognition.
Gesicki returns to action
Tight end Mike Gesicki was shaken up last week against Indiana with what appeared to be a rib injury, but he returned to action Saturday and caught two passes for 9 yards.
“Our doctors, our training staff is the best in the country,” Gesicki said. “They did everything in their power to get me back on the practice field to be able to prepare for Northwestern.”
A lot of attention was paid throughout the week on whether Gesicki would play. He was asked if he knew about any of that.
“Not really until like the practice on Wednesday when all the media people came in, and I was just standing there, I looked over, and 20 people looked at me like this (holding a camera),” he said. “I was like, all right, I guess they want to know how I’m doing. But I was doing good. … I appreciate everybody’s concern.”
Toney, Toney, Toney has done it again
Redshirt freshman Shaka Toney had a big afternoon with two sacks and a forced fumble.
“Just attention to detail, going a lot harder, playing a lot faster,” Toney said of his improvement on defense. “We made a lot of emphasis in the spring time to make sure we were. We want to be the No. 1 defense in the country, and that’s our goal. So we come out every day with a chip on our shoulder until we do it.”
Franklin credited defensive line coach Sean Spencer for bringing Toney along at a good pace.
“We’re using him smart,” Franklin said. “We don’t have him out there a lot on first and second down. I think he’s growing into that (role)” with more experience, game reps and conditioning.
Gillikin pins back Wildcats
Punter Blake Gillikin is a big weapon for the Lions because of his strong leg, but he’s also shown an impressive ability for being able to pin teams back with punts that die around or inside the 10.
“I practice it a lot during the week,” Gillikin said. “Obviously our offense is really good, so we’re going to have those kind of punts a lot. Just being able to drop the nose and kind of put it where I want to, and then our coverage guys are unbelievable getting to the goal line.”
Gillikin said he aims to land the ball around the 7 or 8 yard line “so it kind of makes their returner make a decision. If he wants to fair catch at the 7-yard line, it’s OK with me.”
Gillikin and backup quarterback Billy Fessler have brothers who played for Northwestern on Saturday.
Rough day for Northwestern
The Wildcats usually give Penn State trouble, at least for 2-3 quarters, but they had all sorts of problems Saturday because of the Lions’ defense and their own problems on offense. On homecoming, no less, which couldn’t have sat well with longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Clayton Thorson, an NFL draft prospect, was 19-of-36 but for just 142 yards and threw two interceptions. Justin Jackson led the Wildcats in rushing with 76 yards on 16 carries.
“I’m more disappointed,” Thorson said. “I think our defense gave us a chance to win that game and they kept us in the game and we need to fight and we have to respond to adversity. We had the ball at the 10-yard line, penalty set us back out of field goal range.”
The Wildcats also had a pair of defenders ejected for targeting. Linebacker Paddy Fisher was ejected in the third quarter for a hit to the head on Trace McSorley. Safety Godwin Igwebuike was called for targeting on Miles Sanders in the fourth quarter.
Time for a good bye
The Lions now get a week off before beginning a tough three-game stretch against Michigan at home, then trips to Ohio State and Michigan State.
Franklin said after the game that he wanted to enjoy the win and wouldn’t take any questions about the next opponent, Michigan, even though he knows “everybody’s itching to ask.”
Franklin said the bye week will be spent on academics, getting people healthy, cleaning up issues in all phases and getting some younger players some development time.
News and notes
Freshman defensive back Tariq Castro-Fields suffered an undisclosed injury for PSU and was seen on the sideline in street clothes late in the game. … Altoona product Kevin Givens originally was given credit for a fumble recovery in the first half, but it was later changed on the official stats to credit Ryan Buchholz. … Hollidaysburg’s Zach Simpson saw action late in the game as the center on the second-string offense.