Prior to last night's game, Penn State Nittany Lions fans were on the edge of their seats for most of the day wondering if Penn State freshman running back Saquon Barkley was going to make his return after missing the Nittany Lions last two games. About 45 minutes prior to kickoff, they received the good news. Barkley was a go.
Going into the game, if Penn State was going to have a chance to win they needed Barkley to live up to the hype that had been surrounding him through the first five games he had played in. The last question remaining was, "How can Barkley run against the nation's top teams and defenses?"
Penn State fans quickly found out the answer. Early in the first quarter, Barkley was able to bounce out to the side and burst downfield for a 40-yard touchdown that would've put Penn State up 10-0 in the first quarter. But a Brian Gaia holding call brought the touchdown back. Ultimately, the holding call derailed Penn State's offense the rest of the game.
Coming into last night's game, Barkley had 373 yards over four games, but taking a look at his stats for each game reveals that in his first game against Temple, he received just one carry for one yard. That means during his next three games, the true freshman running back rushed for 372 yards and three touchdowns.
The defenses he played against in those three games were Buffalo, Rutgers and San Diego State. None of the three teams have anywhere near great defenses. Against San Diego State, Barkley had 62 yards on eight carries in the first quarter alone before going down with a ankle injury. Barkley was well on his way to a 150-to-200 yard performance.
After missing the next two games for Penn State, Barkley came into Saturday and appeared to have not skipped a beat at all or show any ill-effects of his ankle injury. All the freshman running back did was account for 61 percent of Penn State's offense and rushed for all but one of Penn State's total rushing yards on Saturday night.
The eastern Pennsylvania native showed that he could play against the best and dominate. While Penn State still has to play the likes of Michigan and Michigan State the rest of the season, the Nittany Lions are going to have a chance in every game just because of Barkley's skills and talent.
The scariest part about Barkley, he's rushed for 567 yards over four games, in all reality with one of the worst offensive lines in the nation.
Now, let's take a closer look at Barkley's stats after his stellar performance last night.
Entering last night, Barkley averaged 8.8 yards per carry with 373 yards on 42 carries. After almost rushing for 200 yards on Ohio State's defense, Barkley's yards per carry actually dropped to 8.3 yards per carry.
In the four games where he has received at least five carries, Barkley has averaged no less than 7.5 yards per game. His yards per carry, per game so far have been the following; 9.6 (Buffalo), 9.3 (Rutgers), 7.8 (San Diego State), 7.5 (Ohio State).
In his first two Big Ten games this season, Barkley has rushed for 195 (Rutgers) and 194 (Ohio State) yards respectively.
Out of 223 FBS players who have at least 50 carries this season, Barkley's 8.3 yards per carry ranks fourth in yards per carry, only behind Georgia Southern RB Matt Breida (10.3) , Florida State RB Dalvin Cook (8.7), and Baylor RB Shock Lindwood (8.5).
Barkley's 567 yards is second among all FBS freshman running backs, only behind Iowa State freshman Mike Warren who has 652 yards on 93 attempts this season.
Out of the 62 players in college football who qualified with at least 50 attempts and 500 yards, Barkley ranks the following.
Attempts: 68 (T-61 - tied for least)
Yards: 567 (T-47th)
YPC: 8.3 (4th)
TDs: 3 (53rd)
Out of the 68 Big Ten rushers who have at least 10 attempts (counts QBs - sneaks, sacks, etc), Barkley comes in at the following:
Attempts: 68 (20th)
Yards: 567 (6th)
YPC: 8.3 (1st)
TDs: 3 (T-16th)
Barkley's cumulative stats after games against two Big Ten opponents are 47 attempts for 389 yards and two touchdowns. That averages out to 23.5 attempts per game, along with 194.5 yards per game, and one touchdown.
Compare that to NFL top running back prospect and Ohio State Buckeye star Ezekiel Elliot, who through three Big Ten games has averaged 23.6 attempts, 177.6 yards per game, and two touchdowns per game.
Again, Barkley is doing all of this as a true freshman and behind one of the worst offensive lines in the country. An offensive line that has allowed 24 sacks over seven games this season.
Sure, one can say that Barkley played three of his four games games against below average defenses who have trouble stopping he run, and that Ohio State's rush defense isn't exactly the best in the country, but when one rushes for almost 200 yards against the defending National Champions as a true freshman, they're making a statement. A statement saying: "Welcome to the Saquon Barkley show ladies and gentleman."
In simple terms, Saquon Barkley had his true coming out party on Saturday night against Ohio State, and is showing the college football world that he is going to be a legitimate contender as one of the best running backs in the country for the remainder of the season and the next two seasons at least.
When all is said and done, if Barkley is able to continue his play, Penn State fans may be witnessing one of the top running backs in Penn State history and the without a doubt the best running back since Larry Johnson in the early 2000s.