It’s hard to forget what Saquon Barkley did against Ohio State last season.
Buckeyes coach and three-time national champion Urban Meyer certainly remembers.
Sure, the Nittany Lions fell to Ohio State 38-10 at “The Horseshoe” in 2015, but Barkley put on a show. Gashing an Ohio State defense filled with current NFL players — Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Eli Apple and Vonn Bell, to name a few — the then-freshman running back racked up 194 rushing yards.
Being able to play against those guys, some tremendous athletes and tremendous players, it did give me a confidence boost. It showed me that I was able to play at that level. Saquon Barkley, Penn State running back
“The kingpin of the whole offense is that tailback,” Meyer said Tuesday on his Big Ten teleconference. “I thought he hurt us last year.”
A day earlier at his weekly press conference, Meyer called Barkley a “first-rounder tailback” and said you can’t stop the dynamic threat, only minimize his impact when the teams meet at 8 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
So, what does Barkley think of that kind of praise from one of the nation’s top coaches?
“It’s cool to hear,” Barkley said Wednesday. “It means a lot to know that coaches are taking notice of you, but you also know that coming into the game their gameplan is going to be schemed around you.”
But Barkley likes the attention. In his mind, if he’s keyed in on, someone else on the Penn State offense will take advantage.
“That just opens up stuff for everyone on the team,” Barkley continued.
Last time the Nittany Lions faced Ohio State, the only aspect of their offense that really clicked was Barkley. Christian Hackenberg completed 7 of 13 passing attempts for 120 yards, and Penn State finished with 195 team rushing yards — Barkley’s production, plus one more yard.
Barkley’s showing was somewhat of an aberration for Ohio State’s defense, too. The Buckeyes allowed only two teams (Michigan State and Maryland) all year to accumulate more rushing yards in a game than Barkley’s 194.
Personally for the back, that game was a pivotal one in his young career. He piled 195 rushing yards on Rutgers a month earlier, but dismantling a defense as fine-tuned as the Buckeyes was totally different.
“Being able to play against those guys, some tremendous athletes and tremendous players, it did give me a confidence boost,” Barkley said. “It showed me that I was able to play at that level.”
Barkley doesn’t want to dwell on the past too much, though. He said he’s focused on delivering this weekend.
Despite losing so much NFL-caliber talent, much like their offense, the Buckeye defense restocked their unit. Ohio State ranks sixth nationally in yards allowed per game (280.3) and third in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed per contest (120.8).
“They lost a lot of guys to the draft, but they did a really good job this year of replacing them,” Barkley noted. “They’re fast, quick and play to the ball well.”
Ohio State did look vulnerable in last week’s 30-23 overtime win over Wisconsin, letting Badgers back Corey Clement run for 164 yards, including a 68-yard scamper. Barkley watched the primetime contest and came away impressed with Clement’s patience, especially on the longer gain.
Of course, the sophomore starlet showcased his ability to break loose last year against the Buckeyes. He recorded five runs of 14 yards or more, highlighted by a 56-yard breakaway rush. Considering he’s coming off a career-high 202-yard performance against Maryland before the bye week, Barkley could be primed for another electric evening.
“Keep sticking with the scheme, keep sticking with the gameplan,” Barkley said, “and eventually something’s going to pop open for you.”