Penn State had no trouble defeating Akron in its season opening game, shutting out the Zips, 52-0.
In the middle of the show put on by the Nittany Lions, however, one point in the game stood out and got many people talking.
Why did Saquon Barkley – arguably the most important player at Penn State – return the opening kickoff of the second half when the team led Akron, 35-0?
On Tuesday, during head coach James Franklin’s weekly press conference, he addressed the matter.
“We had it scheduled that he was going to return the first kick of the game. That’s what we decided to do. We didn’t get the first kick of the game until the second half. I know everybody keeps talking about how the game was in hand but for anybody who watched college football this weekend, I don’t know if you can necessarily say that. I’m very comfortable with that and we’ll continue to do that. Obviously Miles [Sanders] will continue to get opportunities at running back and as a kickoff return guy as well.”
It should be noted that one year ago, Barkley – who was already known for his play-making abilities – returned just three kicks throughout the season. Miles Sanders, who Franklin mentioned, returned 33 kicks.
Land of 10’s Tyler Donohue had this to say on social media, regarding Barkley returning kicks:
Reggie Bush, after finishing 5th in #Heisman voting as a sophomore, returned career-high 28 kicks in 2005 on way to Heisman. Plus 18 punts.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) September 5, 2017
In response to Donohue, Penn State’s Charles Huff, the Nittany Lions’ special teams coordinator and running backs coach tweeted back:
Wow….Elite players even return kicks??? Wow that's shocking!
— Charles C. Huff (@CoachHuff) September 5, 2017
One can make an argument for or against a potential Heisman Trophy winner being used to return kicks. Sure, he can get injured, just like on any other given play.
But at the same time, are special teams being discredited? Should teams being using some of its best players on the often called ‘third facet’ of the game?
One thing is for sure. It sounds like Franklin plans on using Barkley to return kicks going forward, and up next, is the in-state rival Pittsburgh Panthers.
That game is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Sept. 9 and will be televised on ABC.
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