Football's run defense has an immense challenge Saturday in Barkley
The Spartans’ run defense will face an immense challenge this weekend against No. 7 Penn State, and more importantly Saquon Barkley.
After containing Northwestern’s Justin Jackson to just 41 yards rushing and only giving up 64 yards on the ground, the Spartans’ rush defense will face what is arguably their biggest test of the season.
A key factor in Penn State’s 7-1 record has been the junior running back's improbable performance so far this season has placed him as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
“To stop that guy, I don’t even know. … I don’t think it’s a way to stop him and there’s no way you can, but he’s a great back,” sophomore Raequan Williams said. “It’s just a great challenge to go up against people like this. I feel like it’ll be fun going up against him and being able to stop the run because that’s what we’ll have to do.”
Barkley has rushed for 801 yards on 138 carries this season and enters Saturday’s matchup with nine touchdowns.
Although Barkley’s play has garnered national attention, linebacker Chris Frey believes the gameplan is the same as it has been all season.
“Just got to play us; do our thing,” Frey said. “Something we say all the time is ‘11 execute.’ You do your job and fill your gap, DBs cover and do everything we need to do, there isn’t going to be anywhere for him to run. We have a very good defense. We have a very good front seven. When we’re going to play a team like this, with a running back like this, we’re going to step our game up, and we’re really excited to go up against a guy like him.”
Barkley’s special teams play has made him even more of a threat to opposing defenses.
Last weekend against Ohio State, Barkley returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
The 5-foot-11 Pennsylvania native has returned 11 kickoffs for a total of 378 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s obviously an NFL talent,” defensive end Kenny Willekes said. “He has incredible speed and quicks, good jump cuts, so we just got to fly to the ball and tackle well. “
Willekes, similar to Frey, said the key to stop Barkley is to continue what they have been doing all season on defense.
“We just got to come ready to play like we do each and every week — fast, physical and aggressive, obviously,” Willekes said. “Saquon brings a huge challenge. Their entire offensive is very explosive, so we just got to be up to the task and come ready to play.”