STATE COLLEGE — Penn State running back Saquon Barkley hasn’t been able to finish the last two games but said Monday he expects to play Saturday in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin.
“I’m feeling fine, feeling really good,” Barkley said Monday. “Getting treatment, taking it day-by-day and just trying to get ready for the game this weekend.”
Barkley was forced from No. 8 Penn State’s game against Rutgers after a helmet-to-helmet hit and left Saturday against Michigan State favoring his right leg. The Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten, No. 7 CFP) were comfortably ahead in both games when Barkley was hurt in the third quarters and used a committee of running backs to finish those games.
They’d like to be able to turn to their playmaking star against the No. 6 Badgers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) and their nearly impenetrable defense as both teams chase berths in the College Football Playoffs.
“We had a lot of success on Saturday with those other backs in the backfield but obviously we all know Saquon is a special player,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
Barkley has accounted for 1,083 total yards and 10 touchdowns during Penn State’s eight-game winning streak but has been held to under 100 yards rushing in each of the last three games. In that span, Indiana and Michigan State sold out to stop him and held Barkley to less than 2 yards per carry.
Andre Robinson, Miles Sanders and Mark Allen have helped change the pace and have tried to alleviate pressure on Barkley. They’ve combined for 182 yards on 28 carries and Robinson has scored twice over the last three games.
“Knowing that we have four guys who can come in and be successful and be really good players, execute our offense just as well as Saquon, it gives the rest of the offense confidence,” quarterback Trace McSorley said.
Franklin said he expects Barkley would be able to practice this week, though hinted the running back’s health would be closely monitored by team trainers this week.
The sophomore, who burst onto the scene by hurdling defenders for big gains in his first few games as a true freshman, has 56 more touches than he did last season and has handled 75 percent of the team’s carries and nearly all pass protection for running backs. Although many of those carries have resulted in big plays, Barkley has been bottled up behind the line of scrimmage more than a handful of times as defenders have keyed on the mesh point on zone-read runs.
It hasn’t deterred him, and Barkley has said he’s learned to be patient in settling for the yards he can get when defenses focus on him. Wisconsin is among the best when it comes to stopping the run. The Badgers are third nationally, allowing just over 100 yards and 13 points per game.
Barkley’s aware of the numbers and the physicality that awaits.
“They’ve got a bunch of studs over there,” Barkley said. “It’s going to be a really tough game, a physical game, a Big Ten game so I’m going to come out ready for it.”