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Sanders Equipped To Match Or Exceed Barkley’s Season Rushing Totals

Replacing a player as talented as Saquon Barkley is nearly impossible. Barkley dazzled and amazed Nittany Lions fans time and again during his three years in Happy Valley.

Even so, James Franklin and co. should be feeling just fine about their running game this season. Miles Sanders will likely prove a worthy heir to the throne in the backfield, and could even put up bigger numbers than Barkley during his time as a Nittany Lion thanks to a few key sticking points.

The O-Line Is Really, Really Good

Barkley was a human highlight reel during his time in Happy Valley, spinning, juking, and hurdling his way into the end zone on countless occasions.

However, Barkley would often make a handful of huge plays and then be held relatively quiet the rest of the game. He was more or less on his own at times during his collegiate career because Penn State’s offensive line couldn’t consistently get a good push off the line of scrimmage.

This forced Barkley to cut back and try to make some magic happen, which we all know he was able to do on multiple occasions. However, Barkley constantly having to improvise led to a fair share of negative plays, as well.

Miles Sanders shouldn’t face that same problem this season. The Nittany Lions return four out of five starters from last year’s offensive line, and the experience gained from last season coupled with another off-season of conditioning, training, and improving should do wonders for the unit as a whole.

Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne spoke to his excitement about the unit earlier this month at media day.

“I’m really just looking forward to the consistency that those guys are going to bring,” he said, “but also the competition within that room that is going to allow us to be better day in and day out, but also be better as the season progresses.”

The Same Scenario Played Out At Georgia

Look at the crop of talent that’s come and gone through Athens, GA and you’ll see a backfield situation eerily similar to Penn State’s.¬†Georgia, which is known as #RBU in the same way that Penn State is #LBU, has a habit of cycling through talented running backs.

Todd Gurley was the starter for the Bulldogs during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and was good enough to be a top-ten selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Once Gurley left, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel began to share a majority of the touches out of the backfield through last season.

The duo was extremely productive, rushing for a combined total of more than 1,800 yards in each of the past three seasons. Now that Chubb and Michel were selected within five picks of each other at the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bulldogs will turn to another talented pair in D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien.

James Franklin has set up the Penn State backfield to cycle through running backs much like Georgia does — first with Saquon Barkley, now with Miles Sanders, and further down the line with guys like Ricky Slade and current commit Devyn Ford.

The Nittany Lions are set up very nicely for both this season and the foreseeable future, even without Barkley leading the way.

It’s (Finally) Sanders’ Time To Shine

There’s a reason Sanders was the No. 1 running back in his recruiting class: The guy can play, even though he was stuck behind Barkley. As Barkley steps in for the New York Giants, junior Sanders¬†is the go-to guy in the backfield and will finally get his chance to take on a leadership role and show what he’s capable of.

“The one thing I’ve seen from Miles that’s changed is he’s assumed a leadership role,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said. “He’s a guy who has been a little bit in the background for obvious reasons, but I think he’s stepped out and really gone into a leadership role. That’s critical for our football team.”

In limited minutes, Sanders has averaged 6.7 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns during his two seasons in Happy Valley. That yards per carry number will probably go down a bit because of the increase in carries he’ll see, but it does show that he can hold his own as a full-time starter.

Following in the footsteps of an icon like Barkley was never going to be an easy situation for Sanders, but it shouldn’t take long for him to become a fan favorite in his own right.

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About the Author

Matthew Fox

Matt is a Senior from Lansdale Pennsylvania majoring in Broadcast Journalism. He loves sports, and is still patiently waiting for the Philadelphia Flyers to win a Stanley Cup. If you would ever like to reach out to Matt you can email him at [email protected].

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