MONSTER CHALLENGE: Saquon Barkley, Penn State to face top-ranked defense in Fiesta Bowl
Saquon Barkley and the Penn State offense will face quite a challenge against Washington’s top-ranked run defense, but Barkley was able to get a bit of a scouting report from another one of the nation’s elite running backs.
“I talked to (Stanford’s) Bryce Love out in Atlanta and see how he attacked them,” Barkley told reporters Tuesday during a Fiesta Bowl media event in Scottsdale, Ariz.
What advice did Love give Barkley?
“It wasn’t really advice, because our offensive styles are completely different,” Barkley said. “So even when you watch the game you can’t really watch how they attack them because the personnel is different. We have completely different personnel.
“So I just asked him how he attacked the defense. What was his mindset? Was it more speed? Was it more power? And if you watch the game, he uses a lot more speed. And he had a really good game, had success against that defense. So I wouldn’t say it was advice, but he did give me some tips and some things to help me come into this game that I’ll definitely pass along to the other running backs.”
The Huskies allow only 92.3 yards rushing per game, leading the country. They played Stanford a month ago and lost, 30-22, with Love having a big day as he carried 30 times for 166 yards and three TDs.
However, Penn State’s offensive line isn’t anywhere near as good as Stanford’s, so Barkley will face a different challenge going up against a Washington defense led by stud defensive tackle Vita Vea.
“It’s a fun challenge,” Barkley said. “The same way you approach that is the same way you approach every other game, especially in the Big Ten. I think in the Big Ten we’re well known for rush defense. Going against like Ohio State and Michigan and Michigan State and those teams week in, week out, I think they helped us prepare for this moment.
“Their front seven is really good. Their D-linemen are really good. I’m pretty sure you guys are all aware of Vita Vea and stuff like that. But we approach it watching the game plan and seeing how they attack it and how they attack running backs different.”
Just about every team this season attacked PSU’s offense with the same game plan — do whatever it takes to shut down Barkley and make everyone else beat you.
The Nittany Lions have been able to take advantage of that pick-your-poison approach, primarily because quarterback Trace McSorley had such a big season.
But even though Barkley hasn’t put up huge numbers all season, McSorley knows one reason the offense is so successful is because Barkley commands so much attention.
“As a quarterback and being able to share the backfield with him, one, you can see it in how a team’s trying to attack us,” McSorley said.
“A lot of teams have tried to add seven, eight, nine guys to the box to try to stop the run and contain him. And that’s left us with really good matchups outside, one-on-ones or being able to take advantage of some things there. And then, I mean, the passing game, he’s become a tremendous receiver for us.”
New offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne will be calling the plays in Saturday’s game, and his challenge will be trying to outsmart a Huskies defense that has had back-to-back great seasons.
Washington advanced to the College Football Playoff last year, and while its offense was terrific, its defense was every bit as good.
“Great defense,” Rahne said. “They do a nice job of playing fast. They’ve recruited some great players. And then they’ve coached them very well. They have great fundamentals. They use their hands very well. They play physical. They play fast.
“So it’s a great opportunity for our guys to go against some future next-level players and test our skills against those type of guys. And I’m just excited because I know I’m going against some great coaches on the other side and it’s always a challenge to do that.”
Saquon Barkley is widely expected to turn pro after the Fiesta Bowl, but he has yet to confirm that speculation. He was asked about it Tuesday and once again was non-committal.