Around the Nation
It’s been awhile.
When you think Penn State, or hear people talk about it, typically minds tend to focus on it being Linebacker U and how ever since the days of Denny Onkotz and Jack Ham the Nittany Lions’ football program has been forever the staple for producing exceptional example of the sport’s ultimate seek-and-destroy position.
Not for nothing, but the Lions’ litany of running backs over the years has been quite comparable. Indeed, when it comes to college, Penn State falls somewhere around the magna or summa cum laude level there with the likes of Curt Warner, Lydell Mitchell, Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis toting the rock.
But it’s been awhile since Blue & White have had a back of their caliber do so. Sure, sure, Evan Royster is the school’s all-time leading ground gainer and played as recently as 2010. Silas Redd rolled up the 10th highest single-season rushing total a year later, too. Rodney Kinlaw and Tony Hunt posted the ninth-best and sixth-best, respectively, in that category within the last decade, too.
Really, though, the last time Penn State had a big-time back, the one who could take a game over and make, well, a pretty bad offensive line look pretty good, was Larry Johnson way back in the dark ages of 2002, when he physically imposed his will to a school-record and Heisman-worthy 2,087 yards effort that yielded the top four single-game performances in Lions’ lore.
Since him, PSU hasn’t had a bad to rest its hopes on … until now.
With freshman Saquon Barkley’s coming-out party last week against Big Ten rival Rutgers, when he blistered the visiting Scarlet Knights for 195 yards on just 21 carries, it appears the Lions finally have a runner to shoulder the load, to take some heat off his blockers, to alleviate the stress of his beleaguered quarterback.
Funny thing is, with the way the game was played and how PSU was behind the times, Johnson’s individual excellence 13 years ago did nothing to support the team’s success, since it really didn’t experience any. Unlike Warner, Mitchell, Carter and Enis spearheading national title-challenging campaigns, his superb work did nothing to offset a bad defense and even worse passing offense.
Since then, the Lions have evolved quite a bit. They even dipped into the dual-threat QB pool with Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark, with some serious success.
But now, it seems that feature back is a necessity for them to move forward once again as a big-time program, and Barkley, even with a small sample size, seems to be that back.
Hailing from the same Lehigh Valley high school, Whitehall, as legendary Penn Stater Matt Millen, Barkley checks in at 5-foot-11, 222 pounds, with swiveling hips and piston-pumping legs, looking like the second coming of Carter. Should the Lions enjoy similar success with him as to what they did with Carter, PSU fans would be quite happy, as Carter carried the Lions to an unbeaten 1994 season that was capped by a victory in the 1995 Rose Bowl and a No. 2 ranking.
You almost kinda hope things all shake out that way, just to end PSU fans’ whining … you know, when they’re able to move on from the sulking, or they’re elitist-based, entitlement-fueled denial.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org