Saquon Barkley’s Freshman Campaign: How It Stacks Up To The Best
If you haven’t been lucky enough to watch Saquon Barkley’s freshman season unfold, not only do I feel bad for you, but I have a question: Where have you been for the past four months?
“SaSa” Barkley has juked, jumped, and hurdled his way into the hearts of Penn State fans this season, while earning accolades and setting records with ease. He has drawn comparisons to Penn State greats such as Ki-Jana Carter and D.J. Dozier, so a question arises: How does Saquon’s freshman campaign compare to the best running backs to play in Beaver Stadium?
First, we must look at how Barkley performed in his first season as a Nittany Lion. Keep in mind while reading these numbers that:
- Barkley was only named starter midway through the season.
- He missed two games against weak defenses to injury.
- He only had one carry for one yard in his debut versus Temple.
On the rushing front, Barkley carried the ball 165 times for 1,007 yards and seven touchdowns. He broke off numerous highlight reel runs, including a long run of 56 yards. What isn’t as well documented is Barkley’s catching ability out of the backfield. As a recruit he was praised for his soft hands and ability to make plays as a ball-catcher, and that skill has translated well to the college level. He grabbed 15 passes this year for 148 yards and one touchdown, giving him an average of 9.9 yards per catch. When all was said and done, Barkley had 1,155 yards as a freshman in just over 10 games — not including runs called back for penalties, such as this electric run against Ohio State.
For statistical purposes, D.J. Dozier is the closest comparison to Barkley that can be made for a Penn State running back. Barkley’s 1,007 yards this year beat out Dozier’s 1,002 — which was the Penn State record from 1983 until Barkley broke it against Michigan State. To go along with those 1,002 yards, Dozier also put up 7 scores on the ground. He caught 19 balls for 189 yards and caught one touchdown pass as well. These numbers are tremendously similar until you realize that Dozier set his record with 12 full games to work with. Dozier went on to rush for over 3,200 yards for the Nittany Lions over his illustrious four year career.
Many analysts and fans liken Barkley’s play to one of Penn State’s greatest stars, Ki-Jana Carter. His quick and elusive play style mimics Carter’s in many ways. As a freshman, however, Ki-Jana had nowhere near the stats Barkley owns. From a pass catching angle, Carter had no productivity, totaling a grand total of zero catches, and was only slightly more successful as a rusher, going for 264 yards and four touchdowns on 42 attempts. Carter went on to place second in the 1994 Heisman Trophy vote and ended up as the first overall draft pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
A name that most Penn Staters know well is Evan Royster. Royster set the Nittany Lions rushing record in 2010, racking up 3,932 yards total on the ground. As a freshman, however, Royster got off to a slow start. He rushed 82 times for just 513 yards and five scores. He only caught three balls for 18 yards to go along with his modest rushing totals. Barkley’s build, balance, and explosiveness has drawn comparisons to the Nttany Lion great.
This year, Barkley was pegged as a freshman All-American by many outlets, and deservedly so. Barkley outrushed every Penn Stater before him in their respective freshman campaigns and did so with humility. It’s fair to say that Barkley had the greatest rushing season of any Penn State freshman football player to date.
Saquon Barkley has a bright future ahead of him at Penn State, so if you haven’t been watching already, I would suggest you start now.