As a true freshman against the reigning national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, Saquon Barkley had his coming out party on primetime television. Barkley diced up the veteran-led defense to the tune of 194 yards on 26 carries — behind one of the worst offensive lines in the nation.
In 2015, he was one of the most elusive backs in the country. Per Pro Football Focus, Barkley only played 474 snaps, but he forced 67 missed tackles on his 182 total touches. An astounding 53.2-percent of his yardage came on rushes (21 rushes) that gained 15-plus yards. With the awful offense line that he ran behind, that is a pretty impressive statistic.
What makes Barkley so special is his elite vision, combined with his one-cut quickness and his surprising strength. He has the ability to make it look like he’s playing in slow-motion when he sees a slight crease, then quickly exploits it.
In 2015 against the Buckeyes, he showed his full arsenal of weapons: he stiff-armed Raekwon McMillan and Tyvis Powell to the turf, burst through a hole and out-ran the entire defense to a 44-yard touchdown (that got called back), made Vonn Bell look like a MAC free safety on a one-on-one tackle in the hole and then broke Joey Bosa’s ankles before he hurdled over Powell in the open field. What a performance at the ‘Shoe by the then 18-year old.
Here’s an example of his full skill-set:
This was one of the many impressive runs of the night. There are two Ohio State linebackers patrolling the A and C gaps, while the defensive linemen held their own.
Barkley saw the defensive lineman driving down towards the hole, so he made a quick jump-cut — splitting the lineman and the linebacker.
Barkley used his elite acceleration to quickly accelerate through the hole.
With the secondary using good pursuit angles, they forced Barkley to cut back and go the other way. Gareon Conley grabbed onto Barkley, who then dragged Conley while the cornerback hung onto the running back’s undershirt. Barkley finished the run by gaining an additional 20-plus yards.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Bronx, NY native hurdles a defender — or two — on Saturday night. He tends to take advantage of defenders who want to cut his legs out from under him.
On this play, Joey Bosa easily beat his man and Barkley stood face-to-face with the future No. 3 overall pick. He made a very impressive cut that broke Bosa’s ankles, quickly accelerated to the right side of the line of scrimmage and come upon Tyvis Powell — who was filling the hole. Powell dropped his hips to make a form tackle and Barkley hurdled him with ease. That is an example of elite athleticism.
Fast forward to this season. Through six games, Barkley has already surpassed his total touchdowns (9-to-8), and already has 128 touches. He’s the feature back and he’s running out of a spread system, rather than last year’s pro-style, blah offense. The spread offense definitely suits his skill-set and gives him more space to make plays. What’s even scarier, is that Barkley is bigger, stronger and faster than he was in 2015.
This is what he’s up to now:
Lined up in shotgun, Barkley took the handoff and exploded through a huge crease that his offensive line created. He easily broke through an arm tackle from the Temple linebacker, then had the safety one-on-one in the open field. Barkley got the safety off-balance with a slight cut to the left, then put his foot in the ground and cut right, making the defender look incompetent. He broke one last tackle and went for six.
In terms of overall talent, Ohio State should win this game without a problem. It’s always tough to go on the road, at night in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes are clearly the better team. What is alarming though, is how the defense played against Wisconsin’s predictable and vanilla running game. The typically sure-tackling Buckeyes missed a ton of tackles and made a good running back look great. As a true freshman against a boatload of NFL players, Barkley was almost able to rack up 200-yards against the 2015 defense. Barkley has been relatively bottled-up this season — mostly due to defenses basing their game plans solely on him — only rushing for 59-yards against Michigan and 63-yards against Minnesota. The best thing for the Buckeyes would be to take an early lead and make Penn State’s young quarterback beat them.
If Barkley hurdles a player en-route to a touchdown, the Buckeyes could be in for an unnecessary dogfight.