On a 40-degree night in central Ohio about a year ago, Saquon Barkley warmed the hearts of Penn State fans everywhere, giving them a glimpse of what the young freshman from the Lehigh Valley was capable of accomplishing on the big stage.
Barkley almost overshadowed the result, a 38-10 win for Ohio State in Columbus, by rushing for 194 yards on 26 carries. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said a few days later that Barkley "has some special qualities, and I think that's his ability to make guys miss and break tackles."
Recalling last year's game during a conference call with the media on Wednesday, Barkley said his performance against an elite team like the Buckeyes "did give me a confidence boost and showed me that I'm able to play at that level."
But then he changed gears, adding, "That was last year. The past was the past, and I'm just focused on this year and focused on trying to beat Ohio State."
That next chance comes Saturday night in a Beaver Stadium "whiteout." There is no doubt that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his staff will make Barkley the center of attention, not just because of his performance last year but also his most recent game, a career-high 202 yards rushing on Oct. 8 against Maryland.
Meyer may not mention the guy's name, but he's very impressed with Barkley, who is fourth in the Big Ten with a 97.0-yard rushing average in six games.
On Monday, Meyer called him "their first-rounder tailback." Later, he spoke of how well his team is going to have to tackle him and added, "We won't stop him but [try to] minimize the impact their running back has on us."
In a conference call with Big Ten coaches on Tuesday, Meyer said of Penn State, "The kingpin of the whole offense is that tailback. I thought he hurt us last year and I think he's a phenomenal player."
While Barkley thought it was "cool" to be recognized by Meyer, he knows that the Buckeyes' game plan will be centered on stopping him. Then again, that's not all that bad.
"I like that attention because I feel like it helps the team out," he said. "If you scheme against me, that just opens it up for the other guys on our team. We're a really talented offense. We have a lot of playmakers and I think if you try to take one player away, then someone else is going to step up and make big plays."
The Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin in overtime last week to remain undefeated but were gashed for 236 rushing yards, 164 of them coming from former Glassboro High star Corey Clement. Barkley said watching Clement on television and on film reminded him that he needed to be more physical and fall forward upon being hit.
"I've been doing a better job of that," he said. "I've got to take what the defense gives me and be a little more physical and lower my shoulder and just continue to try to fall forward and add a yard or two because it makes a big difference, especially in games like this, especially against a team like Ohio State."
Barkley is excited to play in the "whiteout." He recalled that "I lost my mind" at the first such game he ever attended, the four-overtime victory over Michigan in 2013.
"The fans don't understand how much of an impact they really have," he said. "It's so loud, you really can't hear yourself think. I think this is the loudest stadium in the country, so it's really going to help us as a team."