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Penn State Football: The Best Time To Pull The Stars? No Good Answer, But There Are Better Ones

by on September 02, 2017 9:24 PM

As Penn State took the field to start the second half Saquon Barkley lined up deep in the endzone to return the kick. On paper, it makes sense, Barkley is Penn State's best player and he has the best chance to break a big play at any moment.

But in reality Penn State was up 35 in a game it was in no danger of losing. In 2016 Barkley returned three kicks, with two of those returns happening in the Rose Bowl, the other against Pitt. In those cases it made sense, big games with big stakes, and in the case of the Pitt game in need of a spark.

Against Akron though it's hard to justify. Maybe it works, but maybe up 35 Penn State loses its best player to an injury that he never had to be on the field for.

So when do you take a player out of a blowout? Depends who you ask.

"I felt like we managed it well," James Franklin said after the game. "We’ve all seen example after example when maybe fans or people think the game is out of hand or over, and it’s not. You better put yourself in a position that you feel the game is in control to make the change and go to the second teams. I thought we managed it pretty well. Typically with my defense, that’s an area when I communicate with those guys, they’re probably a little less, they play a lot of guys in general, but making that change of getting the [Jason] Cabindas and the Marcus Allens out of the game."

"There’s probably some times where I’d like to do it a little bit earlier and typically what happens is on the headset, I usually start out making recommendations and then sometimes when the recommendation isn’t taken, then I make the call. That happens a little bit more with our defense, I think our defensive coaches are so competitive, just like our offensive guys are, and they don’t want to take those guys off the field. So I think we could be a little bit better there, but overall I thought we managed it well because I’ve seen examples after examples of games that are high 30s and someone comes back in the second half and wins that game."

While what Franklin says isn't untrue, it isn't as though Penn State is playing soccer where substitutions are permanent. If Akron scores, put Barkley back in, if Akron doesn't score, keep him out.

So there has to be a balance, you can't use a player conservatively out of a fear of injury, but you have to imagine a certain amount of pragmatism. Akron isn't going to come roaring from behind out of the blue and if one touchdown changes the course of the game up 35 Penn State's problems are bigger than player health.

But at the end of the day if the players don't mind, then it might be a futile thought experiment.

So when do they want to come out? Never, but more to the point:

Saquon Barkley:

"I don't see nothing wrong with that, I don't see nothing wrong with it. I want to be back there and I want to be in special teams, I want to help and run down on kickoff, block on a punt return of block on a kick return. I don't see nothing wrong with it, to play with that mindset up 35 "why am I back here" you play with that mindset that something bad might happen, if something is going to happen it's going to happen and I'm a firm believer in that."

Mike Gesicki:

"I think Coach Rahne did a great job putting me on the field, taking me off. When Saquon had a really long run, that was John Holland's series, he was going in no matter what unless it was third down or a red zone opportunity or things like that, but so Coach Rahne he's got that in mind. He says that I don't need to play as many snaps as I did last year so he's definitely watching out for me and watching out for my health, but ultimately I want to be there until the coaches take me out."

Trace McSorley:

"Not really, just being in there, keep being in there as long as I'm in there put points on the board and if Coach Moorhead or Coach Franklin tell me it's my time to be on the sideline and put a headset on I'll do it."

So Penn State's best players don't want to leave the game. That's not exactly a surprise, but it does mean if Penn State is a part of a few more blowouts, it might be up to the coaches to keep things in check. And while playing stars in the second half a blowout isn't the worst thing ever, getting them off the field doesn't have to be rocket science either.

And if you're trying to win a national title of a conference championship, how you feel down the road might be more important than right now.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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