Penn State’s Backfield Is More Than Just Saquon Barkley
For the second-straight game, star running back Saquon Barkley had an injury scare in the second half of a more or less decided contest.
Barkley missed out on the fourth quarter against Rutgers as James Franklin kept him on the sidelines after he got tested for a head injury. Barkley missed out on a huge portion of the second half against Michigan State after picking up some sort of ankle injury.
Per usual, there wasn’t an official update on the Barkley injury, but Franklin did reassure that he should be good to go on Saturday.
“I think he’s already told people he feels great,” Franklin said. “He looked great on Sunday when I saw him. So we’re anticipating him playing and playing well on Saturday.”
With Barkley being among the most touted players on Penn State this season, the injury news has been one of the biggest storylines heading into Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game. Factor in the opponent, the nation’s third-best rush defense Wisconsin, and it’s easy to imagine why Barkley’s status is such a huge focus.
Penn State’s rushing game, which is a success story of the season, has played well because it’s deep. The backfield has a lot of pieces to go along with Saquon Barkley, and if whatever reason he isn’t 100 percent, the Nittany Lions’ ground game will be fine.
Andre Robinson has been the second-most prolific scorer among Penn State’s running backs this season. Averaging 5.2 yards per carry — just 0.1 below Barkley’s average — the redshirt freshman has ran for 130 yards this season and five touchdowns.
At 5’9 216 lbs, Robinson has shown well this year as a power back — getting in-between the tackles and being useful in short yardage situations. Franklin’s been pleased with his production despite not getting the bulk of the carries this season.
“Andre has been really productive in the opportunities he’s got,” Franklin said. “I think he’s a great example of if you work hard, keep a great attitude, you maximize the opportunities you get, whatever they are.”
The running back with the second-most carries this season is Mark Allen. The redshirt sophomore is averaging 4.1 yards on 28 carries through 11 games.
He’s picked up the production later in the season with Barkley not taking as many carries during the last several weeks. Allen scored his first touchdown against Rutgers in a game that he also busted a season-long 27 yard rush.
“He’s kind of an emotional fireball on our team. He has a lot of energy, a lot of natural leadership skills. He comes from a winning program and came in understanding what it takes to be successful and how to win,” Franklin said.
Don’t sleep on Miles Sanders in the backfield either. The freshman has a knack for picking up big gains when given a chance. Averaging 7.4 yards per carry, he has had a number of long rushes during his time in Happy valley — including a 25-yard carry for his only touchdown of the season.
Running back coach Charles Huff has been forced to manage such a deep backfield with a lot of talent this year. It’s difficult to keep so many guys happy and prepped for game time when there are so few carries to be spread around. But Huff has kept the running game strong from top to bottom.
“I think Coach Huff has done a really good job of setting the tone in that room with the team first approach,” Franklin said. “The importance of the ball being the program and protecting that thing. When you’re carrying the ball, you’re carrying the program. That’s something we talk about all the time.”
All signs are leading to Barkley being fit and ready to lead the rushing attack once again on Saturday, but if he’s not taking on his usual role, the backfield is still in good hands. Just watch Robinson, Allen, and Sanders take charge.