Penn State demonstrated an inability to move the ball at times in 2015, but that harsh truth is in spite of the fact that the Nittany Lions had quite possibly the nation’s top freshman tailback in their backfield.
Saquon Barkley burst onto the scene in the second week last season and immediately took the job from the previous starter Akeel Lynch. In fairness, Lynch didn’t do anything to lose the job. It was because Barkley was playing a special brand of football.
Barkley played in just 11 of the team’s 13 games while also carrying the ball just once in the season opener against Temple, and still eclipsed 1,000 yards behind a historically bad offensive line. The freshman from Coplay, Pennsylvania ran for 100 or more yards on five occasions in 2015 and averaged 5.9 yards per carry on the season.
Lynch has since transferred so he can get a little more playing time elsewhere, but Barkley should have a great complement in 2016 with incoming freshman Miles Sanders.
James Franklin has secured a firm commitment from the nation’s top tailback prospect, and Nittany Lions fans expect him to make an immediate impact. Sanders originally planned to be the fifth commit to enroll early at Penn State, though Woodland Hills doesn’t allow students to graduate early, meaning he’ll be joining the rest of his teammates in June rather than January.
Barkley will still be the workhorse, but the addition of another high-profile tailback may be a embraced as to reduce the risk of injury and possibly lengthen his career by shaving carries off of his total each game. A range of 20-25 carries is the sweet spot for a great running back like Barkley. Northwestern‘s Justin Jackson is a tailback who can be as deadly as any, but if he continues to carry the ball 30 or more times every game like last season, he’ll break down quickly. Sanders can help Barkley in that respect, as well as add an immediate home run threat in an offense that will be in a state of transition.