There were smiles on faces other than Saquon Barkley, his family and agent when the New York Giants made the Penn State tailback the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft in June.
Inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ohio State coaches and players were glad to see one of their all-time tormentors leave college football.
The Buckeyes, though, might see a budding Barkley Part II when they play the Nittany Lions on Saturday night at Beaver Stadium. Miles Sanders, a five-star recruit from Pittsburgh who waited two years to start, has run for 495 yards and five touchdowns in four games.
In a 63-24 victory over Illinois last Friday, Sanders ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
Marlene Sanders, his mother, told him, “This is what you have been waiting for."
It’s not just Sanders who has helped Penn State (4-0) rack up a team record 50 or more points in three straight games and become the fourth Big Ten team to score 60 or more points in two straight games.
But coach James Franklin did apply the Lions’ age-old philosophy by saying, “When you run the ball good things happen."
Sanders says it starts with the line of left tackle Ryan Bates (11 career starts), left guard Steven Gonzalez (19), center Michal Menet (three), right guard Connor McGovern (25) and right tackle Will Fries (12).
“There has to be trust between (the running backs and quarterback Trace McSorley) and the O-line," Sanders said. “That has been one of our main things to do this season — to run the ball effectively. They are playing more physical. They are finishing blocks 10 yards down the field. Their effort was spectacular (against Illinois). They ran for 200 yards, not me. It’s just doing my job, really. It’s about giving 100 percent effort every play and making good decisions."
There were problems when Sanders tried to copy Barkley the first two games by hurdling defenders and running sideways in an attempt to break long runs. Seven times he was thrown for a loss.
“Getting a running back to lower his shoulder, go right through a crack, get 2 to 3 yards and keep us on schedule is important," Franklin said. “And I think he’s doing a really good job of that."
Sanders is trying to become more of a straight-ahead runner. He gained 17 pounds during the offseason through the weight room and checks in at 224. He stands 5 feet 11.
“I’m running with more power and I’m more physical," he said. “I’m hitting the hole harder. I’m taking those 2-yard runs, those 3-yard runs and those 4-yard runs instead of trying to bounce it out and trying to make the big play. I don’t want to hurt our offense and put us in tough situations trying for the home run. I had to learn that the first two games. I’m doing better at that."
Bates said Penn State “can accomplish anything with Miles and Trace in the backfield." He said the offensive line is doing a better job of paving the way for them.
“We’re all on the same page," he said. “We trust each other. We have a lot of depth this year, and that’s something we haven’t had in the past."
As for himself Bates said, “I watch film of my redshirt freshman year to now, and I’m thinking, ‘What the heck was I thinking?’"
But there’s no question everything starts with McSorley. In two-plus seasons he has been the starter in 30 victories, accounted for a team career record 91 touchdowns passing and running and has a nation-high streak of 36 games having thrown for at least one touchdown.
“I think Trace has been the face of Penn State," former receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “He’s a big, crucial part to Penn State."