GROLLER: Ex-Penn State great Saquon Barkley puts on show for national television audience

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • Saquon Barkley rushed for 130 yards on 13 carries for the New York Giants Thursday vs. Philadelphia.
  • Barkley also had nine receptions for 99 yards.
  • Despite Barkley's big effort, the Giants were routed by the Eagles, 34-13.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A lot of people around here who care about football got exactly what they wanted Thursday night at MetLife Stadium.

New York Giants' Saquon Barkley (26) hurdles Philadelphia Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins (27) during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The people who bleed Eagles green were happy because their beloved birds got a desperately needed 34-13 win over the NFC East rival Giants at MetLife Stadium.

But the people who followed Saquon Barkley from Whitehall High School to Penn State to the Giants were equally thrilled.

In his first game against Philadelphia and before a national television audience, Barkley had the best game of his brief pro career.

He scored on a 50-yard touchdown run and finished with 130 yards rushing on 13 carries and added 99 yards on nine receptions.

He became just the second player in NFL history to have 100 yards from the line of scrimmage in his first six games and had that feat accomplished in the first half.

Those who thought the Giants made a mistake by taking Barkley as the No. 2 pick in the draft may have not have changed their mind completely with this often breath-taking performance because Eli Manning continued to struggle.

But until that new quarterback arrives and the Giants, who are now 1-5, return to contention, Barkley will at least make Giants games watchable, if not a delight when he’s on the field.

Barkley had 71 yards rushing, including a 46-yard blur to set up a field goal in the first half. He added four receptions for 78 yards, including a spectacular 55-yarder that will earn a special place in the expansive highlight film Barkley is building in his rookie season after being taken second in the draft.

He turned a little check-down pass into the right flat into a breathtaking journey down the field. He zig-zagged his way from right to left, making seven Eagles defenders miss in the process.

Barkley also had a 9-yard run in the first half that Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman called “the best 9-yard run you’re going to see” as he broke tackles and hurdled defenders.

Fox Sports broadcaster Joe Buck used words like incredible and unbelievable to describe Barkley’s moves.

At one point Buck also noted that it took Barkley to “calm down” Odell Beckham, Jr., after the Giants star receiver and drama king had an emotional outburst on the sidelines.

No. 26 was the Giants offense and one of the few bright spots on a night that was as dreary as the rainy weather that greeted fans in the Meadowlands.

Through three quarters, the Giants had 297 yards of offense and Barkley accounted for 204 of them.

A contingent of fans from Whitehall had to be pleased.

Ryan Bonshak, a former Zephyrs teammate who now works in New York, said he’s an Eagles fan but was rooting for his friend more than his team.

“It’s good for the Whitehall community, it’s good for the younger kids,” Bonshak said. “He’s not in the media for anything bad. He’s always doing the right thing. The best part of it is that even with all of this fame, he’s still the same Saquon that I knew as a kid. He’s still one of the most humble kids I know. Everything he has accomplished, he has worked extremely hard for. Some of it was given talent, but he worked his tail off to be in this position.”

Bonshak, who blocked for Barkley in the same Whitehall backfield in the fall of 2013, said he lives in Hoboken, N.J., near Barkley and the two stay in touch.

George Makhoul, an Eagles season-ticket holder who coached Barkley at Whitehall, was rooting for the Eagles.

“Saquon is one of my favorite players and one of my favorite kids I’ve ever coached,” Makhoul said. “I want him to do well, but I want his team to lose. It’s about the team more than the individual.”

But he admitted his family has been torn apart by having to pick their favorite team or their favorite player since that April night when Barkley became a Giant.

“My twin sons, Mazin and Xavier, kind of grew up with Saquon when he was in high school and he’s always been great with the boys,” Mahkoul said. “On draft night, Mazin was crying because he thought I’d never let him have another Saquon jersey because he’s now playing for the Giants.

“On their sixth birthdays this year on June 5, it was hilarious. They were cutting an Eagles birthday cake while wearing Saquon Barkley Giants jerseys.”