UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After bursting on to the scene as true freshman in 2015 to make an immediate impact, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has been nothing short of spectacular for the Nittany Lions in just his second season in the Blue and White.
The centerpiece of a deep group of running backs on the roster, Barkley has proven his ability to completely shift the momentum of the game, showcasing a variety of dynamic cuts and explosive plays that often feature a leap, a hurdle, or even one of each.
Wednesday afternoon, Barkley was honored as the Graham-George Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year, while also earning First Team All-Big Ten honors.
As just the eighth sophomore to earn Offensive Player of the Year honors in Big Ten history, Barkley is among just four Nittany LionS in program history to win the honor and the first since Michael Robinson in 2005.
A quick scan of Barkley's season stats could easily make a sure case for the wealth of Big Ten postseason accolades, but they simply don't do justice to the level of intangibles he brings to the team.
Midway through the regular season, both Barkley and special teams and running backs coach Charles Huff agreed that patience is an area where he has grown significantly from year one to two.
"I keep a positive vibe on the sideline," Barkley said. "I'm patient and when my opportunity comes, I take full advantage of it."
Just a snapshot of the regular season Barkley racked up this season includes 15 rushing touchdowns, which ranks first in the conference and 12th nationally in the FBS standings. His 1,563 career all-purpose yards also ranks ninth in program history. Averaging 130.25 all-purpose yards per game, his tally is tops in the league and 30th nationally.
Against Michigan State, he broke the sophomore season scoring record with 102 points on the year, surpassing a mark set by Kevin Kelly in 2006. He also entered the season and extend his string of 14 straight games with at least one rush of 20 yards before his streak was snapped at Rutgers. It was the second-longest in college football in the last 20 years.
The list could go on and on, but when asked about what has been the key to his success this season, Barkley says he prefers to give credit where credit is due.
"The offensive line is the reason why I have been successful this year," Barkley said. "All my success has been due to them. Before every game I tell them, I go where you go, without you guys I'm nothing."
Barkley has certainly been on the go for the Nittany Lions from game one, posting his first of four 100-yard rushing games this year with 105 yards on 22 carries against Kent State. At 2-2 on the season, it was Barkley who clinched the first of Penn State's eight consecutive victories with the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Minnesota.
With one dynamic cut after the next, Barkley left the Golden Gophers guessing as he ran in for a 25-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to secure the win against the Golden Gophers, a memory he'll never forget.
"That's stuff you dream about as a little kid," Barkley said. "Being able to score the game-winning touchdown, especially in an incredibly place like Beaver Stadium, in front of the best fans in college football."
Barkley continued that momentum into the following week, registering his first career 200-yard rushing game with 202 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries against Maryland to become the 15th Nittany Lion to reach 200 yards in a game.
On the road at Purdue, he notched a sophomore record with 277 all-purpose yards, rushing for a career-high 207 yards and adding 70 receiving yards, for his second 200-yard performance. Among the nearly 300 all-purpose yards, Barkley highlighted the day with a career-long 81-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, marking the ninth-longest rush in program history and the eighth-longest touchdown run all-time.
The offensive line isn't the only unit Barkley is grateful for when it comes to his success this season, as he views the entire running back unit as just as competitive as ever, which only paves the way for continued success among the entire group."I've felt myself get better every single day because of those guys," Barkley said. "We push each other to be the best whether it's workouts, lifting, or whatever, we push each other and we try to get the best out of each other."