The marathon that was week one of the college football season is over. It had exciting games, surprising comebacks and a few unexpected wins. In the case of the NFL Draft, there were so many great performances to kick off the first week of college football. However, it is hard to find one more impressive than Saquon Barkley's game against Akron.
Surely Akron is far from a defensive powerhouse, but the variety in ways in which Barkley dismantled their defense was incredibly impressive and he showed off his versatile talents. On only 14 carries, Barkley picked up 172 yards (12.3 YPC) and two touchdowns while also catching three passes for 54 yards. In the end, it doesn't matter who Penn State played; gain almost 13.3 yards per touch for 226 yards is crazy no matter who the opponent is.
It is hard to pinpoint what Saquon Barkley is best at considering he is just so damn good at everything.
This is a great play by the offensive line to clear the first level, but Barkley takes full advantage by blowing by every other level of the defense. Barkley is no tiny, fast back. That is over 225 pounds shooting through an FBS defense with ease. A poorly placed step at the end of the run robbed Barkley of the touchdown, but it is still unbelievable to see speed like that.
More important than long speed for NFL backs is acceleration, however.
The way Barkley turns the corner on this sweep and gains ground is unreal. The athleticism it takes to round that edge and fire upfield so quickly is very rare. Than Barkley casually navigates his way through defenders on the way for a touchdown without losing speed. The agility and acceleration here are special.
Barkley, on top of everything else, is a very creative running back. Here the hole closes quickly and he is able to use his agility and slippery running style to break out of a dead play and reverse field. This isn't just athleticism, nor does it come across as reckless running. Barkley has instincts that indicate he has eyes on the back of his head where he is always find holes that aren't there. This is a special trait for a back as he can create well beyond the structure of an offense and create big plays for a team out of nothing.
Barkley surely gashed Akron as a runner, but he also made sure to pepper in some big plays in the receiving game.
Running backs sometimes function as main components of passing plays but is equally important for backs to be able to value as safety valves who can make a lot from a little. This play is a good example where Barkley comes out of the backfield for an underneath route and the quarterback is just able to dump underneath to him once he's gone through his reads. What is initially a four yard completion turns into a 10 yard gain and a first down due to Barkley's ability to immediately transition from receiver to runner and juke out and jump over Akron's defenders to pick up a first down.
Barkley is battling for the consensus top running back spot this year and is among the few leading the Heisman discussion. If his week one performance is any indicator, he should be in the driver's seat for both and he'll probably get mentioned in these weekly highlights a few more times by the end of the season.
Other Performances of Note:
- Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State: Ohio State ran into a bit of a scare when Indiana played the Buckeyes tough for an entire half. Luckily one of their star defenders was up to the task of winning the game for him. Ward let up some catches, but he also accounted for five broken up passes and a key interception in turning the momentum in the game. It's inevitable that cornerbacks get picked on and credit should be given to his opponent, Simmie Cobbs, for a strong game himself. However, Ward's resilience over four quarters and playmaking ability speak to an impressive toughness in the cornerback.
- Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville: Louisville started slow against the Boilermakers with receivers dropping passes and running backs fumbling on the goal line so Lamar Jackson took the game entirely into his own hands. Jackson passed for almost 380 yards and two touchdowns and added another 100 rushing yards on the ground. He was aggressive and precise throwing the football, something he struggled to consistently do last year. Lamar Jackson has always been a better passer than given credit for, but this year he looks even sharper. While a few of the other "top" quarterbacks struggled to start the season, Jackson dominating a game by himself should encourage people to put him in the legitimate quarterback prospect conversation.
- Ty Johnson, Running Back, Maryland: Maryland surprised quite a few people when they upset the #23 ranked Longhorns this weekend. I'm not sure why Texas was ranked in the first place but Maryland ran all over them with Ty Johnson. Johnson, in his inimitable fashion, averaged 11 yards per attempt on 12 carries and scored a touchdown. His game breaking speed was too much Texas and the Longhorns exposed their entire defense by trying to stop him. Johnson forced loaded boxes which allowed Maryland to pass the ball with relative ease against Texas. Johnson averaged over nine yards every time he carried the ball last season and was one of the true game breakers in the country. It's a crowded conversation for talented running backs in college football but more performances like that and Ty Johnson will get his due.