Sanders takes roles as starter, leader seriously

UNIVERSITY PARK — He may not be Saquon Barkley, but Miles Sanders certainly put on a show that for even a fraction of a second reminded fans of the promise that was to be after the All-American back left for the draft.

With Barkley now doing his thing for the New York Giants, the Nittany Lions have turned to Sanders to not only take over duties as a running back, but also fill the void in leadership.

That’s something Sanders has improved on drastically over the course of the season saying it’s “something I didn’t do nearly as much as I do now.”

It’s an area that coach James Franklin addressed after Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

“He is very confident. His leadership has been excellent — with the offensive line, with the offensive side of the ball,” Franklin said. “People may say at times he might have been frustrated, but you never saw that. You never saw that with his teammates. One of the things I am very proud of is guys on our sideline never with bad body language or demeanor, which is very important to us. I think Miles is a great example of that.”

Then there’s the part that is followed closely by the fans — having to replace the production.

Sanders played a critical role in helping the Nittany Lions beat the Badgers at their own game. He rushed for 159 yards on 23 carries in that contest. That helped him surpass 1,000 yards for the season.

Those numbers can be attributed to his running style. Sanders is not a flashy type who is often going to spread the field and run right to left or vice versa. It’s also not typical to see him leap over a defender like he did to a Wisconsin safey Eric Burrell. Rather, he’ll be seen dropping a shoulder and running north.

He also has the patience and wherewithal to allow the Lions’ offensive line to create openings, allowing him to get that extra yard or two.

“I try to take that seriously. When running the ball, you never want to lose yards and hurt the offense so I try to take the tough two yards, tough three yards by just being patient and hopefully, the gaps get bigger and you get bigger yards,” he said.

Moving forward, Sanders hopes he can just help the team finish the season on a winning note. His goal of helping the Nittany Lions win a national championship won’t be happening this year, but the team does have a good chance of getting a berth in a New Year’s Six Bowl for the third straight year. They just need to get past Rutgers and Maryland.

All by himself

The Nittany Lions need just one more win with McSorley lined up behind center to make him the winningest quarterback in program history with 30. Not bad for a program that has had Michael Robinson, Kerry Collins, Todd Blackledge and McSorley’s predecessor, Christian Hackenberg.

“This is exciting. He’s a winner,” Sanders said of McSorley. “Coach Franklin talks about that a lot. Dude just likes to win and will do whatever it takes to win. So to have a quarterback like him, it kind of gives you confidence.”

One thing at a time

Sanders is eligible to enter the NFL Draft after this season. He says he has not given any thought into it.

“I’m just focused on playing football, honestly. It never really crossed my mind,” he said.