Last week continued college football’s trend of incredible excitement and amazing finishes, if you were awake late enough to see them. The two most exciting games of the week both came to us by way of the Pac 12. If you’re active on Twitter, I’m sure you know the legend of the “Pac 12 After Dark”, and it delivered in a big way on Saturday with the USC Trojans escaping with a victory over the Texas Longhorns in overtime.
That wasn’t the only exciting game the Pac 12 gave us on Saturday, either. After a lengthy power outage in the final quarter, the San Diego State Aztecs finally got back on the field and finished off the upset of the Stanford Cardinal. Unfortunately for me; however, neither one of the games I chose to focus on last week lived up to the hype or came anywhere close to these stellar performances.
Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals came out and were completely out-matched from the very start. It was a great game if you were focusing on the potential first-round selections all across the Clemson front four. But if you, like me, were focused on Lamar Jackson, you were disappointed. It’s only one game, and it was against the best defense in the nation, but he seemed to have regressed a bit. The other matchup I focused on, Josh Allen against the Oregon Ducks, was just that: a duck. Allen once again came up short against a “Power 5” school, and any talk of him being a first round prospect is all but dead at this point to most draft pundits.
For this week’s marquee matchup, I’m shifting my focus away from the quarterback position for a week and taking a look at arguably the best running back in the country. The Big Ten is known for smashmouth, physical football. If you’re a fan of that style, you should be in for a treat on Saturday when Saquon Barkley and the Penn State Nittany Lions square off against Josey Jewell and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Coming into the year there was considerable debate as to which running back was the head of the 2018 NFL Draft class, Barkley or LSU’s Derrius Guice. After three weeks, Barkley has separated himself to me thanks to the contribution he gives you in the passing game. It’s not enough for a running back to just be a great runner, he needs to be effective in the pass game, too. That “head of the class” stature is going to be put to the test against Josey Jewell, arguably the top linebacker in the nation.
Up to this point, Barkley has faced some soft defenses in Akron, Pittsburgh, and Georgia State. That changes on Saturday. In the first week of the 2017 season, Barkley torched the Zips defense to the tune of 172 yards and two touchdowns. The week before, that same Zips defense gave up 127 yards and a touchdown to 2019 running-back-to-watch David Montgomery of Iowa State.
When Montgomery and the Cyclones went up against Jewell and the Hawkeyes in the second game of the year, Montgomery had a decent performance, racking up 112 yards and a touchdown. So the potential for success is there for Barkley, but it won’t come easy. Barkley is a better running back prospect than Montgomery to be sure, but it’s no given that he’ll have much more success.
Josey Jewell is the catalyst for the Hawkeyes defense, but he is by no means alone out there. The entire Hawkeyes defense has been aces this season, particularly when it comes to stopping the run. The season is young, but this young Hawkeyes defense has performed outstanding, to the tune of 23rd in the nation against the run. They’re giving up a paltry 97 rushing yards per game, and have only allowed opponents to score twice on the ground all year.
The Hawkeye defense has yet to face anyone of Barkley’s caliber, but the same can be said of Barkley against a defense like this. Saturday’s game is going to be another matchup of strength versus strength. Who’s going to come away with the upper hand? I can’t wait to find out!