By Michael Donovan
USC will have a lot to handle when it plays Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
The Nits’ Saquon Barkley was a first-team All-Big Ten pick due in large part to his 1,302 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
But Barkley also caught 23 passes for 347 yards (15.1 average) and scored three touchdowns, all on the same pattern — a “wheel route”, or a variation of it. A year ago, Barkley averaged just 8.1 yards per reception on 21 catches.
Barkley circled out of the PSU backfield and flew by overmatched linebackers three times for scores — 40, 44 and 18 yards — against Pittsburgh, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The last one victimized Badgers star T.J. Watt down the right side. He didn’t have a chance.
On wheel patterns, PSU and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead caught defenses in man coverage against Barkley and took advantage.
Barkley said Friday he grows nervous when he hears that play called in the huddle.
“Yes, especially when I see a linebacker,” Barkley said during PSU bowl media day.
“I personally feel that if a linebacker’s playing man coverage with me on that wheel route, and he comes underneath the route and it’s speed-on-speed, I don’t feel like anyone’s really capable of staying with me.
“A lot of times (the ball) is over the shoulder and that’s not an easy catch. … When I get that (play)call, I kind of get a little jittery and a little anxious because I know that could be a big play.”
Barkley made it a preseason goal to improve as a receiver and a blocker and said he studied Stanford star Christian McCaffrey, a dangerous player as a runner and receiver, in a quest to get better.
“In the beginning of the year and in the offseason, I said that I wanted to become a complete back,” Barkley said.
“I studied and watched (Stanford star) Christian McCaffrey, how he was able to pretty much do it all. And I wanted to expand my game and being a receiver was one of the things I wanted to expand, also.
“Obviously, I’m not satisfied with that. I feel I can do better. I was blessed with opportunities to be able to make plays and be put in position to make plays for the team. ‘JoeMo’ (Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead) gave me chances to make plays.”
Barkley added: “I don’t want to be a one-dimensional running back, I want to be different, I want to be able to do it all. I want to be able to catch, be able to run and be able to block, I want to be able to run you over.”