PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley had been keeping his workload at a manageable level, averaging just 18.6 carries through Penn State's first nine games.
However, Barkley rushed a career-high 33 times last week against Indiana, picking up just 58 yards. It was almost as if the Nittany Lions thought they were close to springing Barkley on a big run. His longest carry last week was for 21 yards.
"It's hard to take a guy off the field that has a chance to break a play at any minute," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "He had one play down the sideline [against Indiana] where he stumbled and I think if he didn't stumble, he scores.
"He's had almost one of those runs a game where he's gotten the one big run that really jumps his production up. So yeah, we monitor it. I do like the fact that we didn't abort the run game and kept working it in there."
Barkley had the first big game of his career against Rutgers last year, rushing for 195 yards on 21 carries. He since has topped that total three times, with a new career high of 207 yards three weeks ago at Purdue.
Barkley finished the first half Saturday night with 60 yards on 12 carries.
Down three offensive tackles because of injury, Penn State started Ryan Bates for the second straight week at left tackle. Bates, a redshirt freshman out of Archbishop Wood High School, had started the season's first nine games at left guard.
Sliding into Bates' old spot was redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez, making his first start. Gonzalez saw his first meaningful action last week against Indiana, filling in for true freshman Connor McGovern.
McGovern, who left last week's game with an injury in the fourth quarter, warmed up but did not play in the first half against Rutgers.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Ryan Buchholz, who starred at Great Valley High, did not make the trip because of an undisclosed injury. Buchholz was fourth on the team in sacks with three.
ESPN's popular College GameDay show cited Penn State for its performance during its six-game winning streak, with analyst Kirk Herbstreit calling the team "the story of the year in college football."
"I think one thing we have to really remember is where this Penn State football program was five years ago," Herbstreit said, referring to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
"Bill O'Brien comes in to take over, he does a very good job considering the circumstance. He leaves to become a head coach for the Houston Texans. James Franklin comes in.
"People weren't real sure, is this the right guy? Four or five weeks ago, some of their fans are ready to fire James Franklin. They block a field goal and beat Ohio State and now they're in a position possibly to get into the Big Ten championship. Wow!
"That is the story of the year in college football for the job James Franklin has done and the job Penn State has done."
Holding on to the ball
Penn State's Miles Sanders muffed the opening kickoff, then kicked the football and touched off a scramble that saw Rutgers recover at the Nittany Lions 19.
Entering Saturday, the Lions owned a turnover differential of plus-5. After going four games without a turnover, they threw two interceptions last week against Indiana but still won the turnover battle because the Hoosiers lost five fumbles.
Penn State had 19 takeaways - 10 fumbles, nine interceptions - and had lost 14 turnovers on nine fumbles and five interceptions.