The only real moment of concern for Penn State fans in Saturday’s 52-0 win over Akron came at the start of the second half. The Nittany Lions had built a 35-0 lead before halftime and received the ball to start the third quarter.
So it was surprising to see their star player and Heisman hopeful trot back deep to return the kickoff.
Beaver Stadium held its collective breath as Saquon Barkley brought the kick back for a 20-yard return. It was Barkley’s only kick return of the game, but it left many wondering why Penn State would put its best player in an injury-prone position in a Week 1 game against a MAC school that was already well out of reach.
Barkley answered that question in his post-game meeting with reporters.
“I don’t see nothing wrong with it. I wanna be back there. I wanna be on special teams,” he said. “I wanna help if I got to run down on a kickoff, block on a punt return or be a kick returner. I don’t see nothing wrong with it. I don’t play with that mindset of ‘Oh we’re up 35, why am I back here?’ Because if you play with that, bad things start happening.”
Saquon Barkley explains why he went back to return a kickoff up 35. pic.twitter.com/jOeSzhdvG4
— Collegian Football (@psufootblog) September 2, 2017
When he wasn’t returning kicks and making the 101,684 fans in attendance nervous, Barkley racked up 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries.
Barkley remained in the game at running back until late in the fourth quarter, as did most of Penn State’s starters. James Franklin said why in his press conference.
“We’ve all seen example after example when maybe fans or people think the game is out of hand or over, and it’s not,” the fourth-year Penn State coach said. “You better put yourself in a position that you feel the game is in control to make the change and go to the second teams. I thought we managed it pretty well.”
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