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Penn State keeping close eye on Barkley's workload

By Mark Wogenrich
The Morning Call (TNS)

Running back Saquon Barkley reached the 200-carry milestone last week at Indiana, where he had the busiest day of his career.

Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) expects to play in Saturday's Big Ten title game.

Though Penn State is monitoring his workload, the coaches aren't concerned yet about pushing him too far.

"He's nowhere near the guy on the team with the most reps," coach James Franklin said. "I think that's [cornerback] John Reid, clear and above pretty much anybody else."

Barkley carried a career-high 33 times for 58 yards in Penn State's 45-31 victory over Indiana, as offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead stuck with a run game having uneven success. Franklin said he wanted to continue running Barkley, the Big Ten's rushing leader at 1,113 yards, because the sophomore from Whitehall High possesses an instant breakaway ability. Barkley nearly popped a big run in the second half but tripped before he could get into the secondary.

"I do like the fact that we didn't abort the run game and kept working it in there [against Indiana]," Franklin said. "He had a big run late in the game for a first down. That was impressive. But yeah, it's something we monitor at every one of these positions."

Barkley already has surpassed his total carries (182) from last year, when he missed more than two games because of injuries and ran just once in the opener against Temple. Barkley is averaging 20 carries per game this season, up from 16.5 as a freshman. At this pace, Barkley could have the busiest season for a Penn State running back since Tony Hunt's 277-carry year in 2007.

Franklin said that plenty of input goes into assessing Barkley's workload, from trainers to practice habits to how the back feels himself.

Barkley said recently that he is better tuned this season to knowing when to tap his helmet for a breather, particularly after long runs. Still, Franklin wants Barkley, named a Doak Walker Award semifinalist on Wednesday, on the field at crucial times.

"Obviously, it's also hard to take a guy off the field that has a chance to break a play at any minute," the coach said. "He had one play down sideline where he stumbled, and I think if he didn't stumble, he scores. He's had almost one of those runs a game where he's gotten the one big run that really jumps his production up."