COLUMBUS, Ohio – Bad news, Buckeyes fans. After giving up 164 yards on the ground to Wisconsin’s Corey Clement last Saturday in Madison, Ohio State’s next test will come against the player that gave Clement a blueprint for his success.
That player is Penn State sophomore Saquon Barkley, and he’s the Big Ten’s best running back. In 2015, a then-freshman Barkley ran over, through, and around an NFL draft pick-laden Buckeyes defense to the tune of 194 yards on 26 carries. Watching that performance, Clement said, helped him understand what he needed to do in order to find running room against Ohio State.
“He did an excellent job of being patient,” Clement said of Barkley. “Allowing holes to open up for him, and just relax.”
There’s no relaxing in Columbus with the 5-foot-11, 223-pound Barkley on the horizon.
“I’ll say this about Penn State,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said during his weekly news conference on Monday. “They’ve got a first-round (NFL draft pick) at tailback.”
While that may be the case, what Penn State has in Barkley may have snuck up on Ohio State a year ago in Columbus, that won’t be the case this Saturday night in Happy Valley. Ohio State knows the bread and butter of the Nittany Lions offense will be wearing No. 26.
“I remember him last year for sure,” Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard said Monday. “We weren’t really expecting him, we weren’t really talking about him as much last year, and he kind of came out of nowhere making crazy runs, crazy plays – hurdling guys – and he was hard to tackle and pretty elusive, and a big, strong guy. We’re definitely going to be a lot more focused on him this year than we were last year.”
Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley agreed with Hubbard’s assessment of Barkley. Ohio State will have its hands full on Saturday night and there’s only one way to try to stop it.
“Watching him play last year in the few games that I watched plays, he’s a special, special talent,” Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley said of Barkley, said Monday. “As far as running the ball, he’s the full package. He can make guys miss, he can run physical, he’s fast, strong — all 11 Bullets will have to be flying to him.”
To do that, the Buckeyes will have to not only prepare for Barkley, but they’re also facing another coaching staff — like Wisconsin’s — that will have had the week off prior to playing Ohio State. To counter that, though, the Buckeyes need to stick to the basics.
“(Wisconsin) threw a lot of things at us that we weren’t expecting,” Hubbard said. “They had a bye week and a lot of time to prepare for us and they schemed us up a little bit.
“We just have to focus on gap control, and not getting greedy and aggressive, in practice. If you’ve have the B-gap, don’t try and poke your head in the A-gap trying to make a play. Stay in the B-gap, because we’ve got everything covered in the defense. It’s just going to take a lot of focus in practice. We don’t really change anything, we always want to stop the run, but it’s just more motivation.”
In six games thus far in 2016, Barkley has 582 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries, good for just under 5 yards per carry, and two games where he’s eclipsed the century mark. However, he’s heating up at the right time as Penn State’s completely retooled offense irons out its kinks under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
In his last game against Maryland on Oct. 8, Barkley rolled over the Terrapins for 202 yards, a new career high, topping the 194 against Ohio State last season. After Saturday’s struggles with Wisconsin and Corey Clement — and Barkley’s elite talent on the minds of the Buckeyes — Meyer said his team needs to make the simple plays to stop the big ones.
“I’m going to give you the coach-speak answer,” Meyer said when asked how to stop defense from being gashed again by Barkley on the heels of Clement’s performance. “You got to tackle well and make sure your gap is sound. That’s No. 1 on the hit parade as far as Penn State, to stop them – you won’t stop him – but minimize the impact the running back has on us.”