If you follow Penn State football as closely as we all do here at Black Shoe Diaries, then you were probably familiar with the name Saquon Barkley ever since James Franklin and staff successfully flipped him from Rutgers just a month or so into his Nittany Lion tenure. When Saquon (along with the rest of the 2015 class) signed the dotted line, our resident recruiting ninja Nick had this to say:
Despite the massive talent he possesses, Barkley will still be in a dogfight to earn early playing time. Akeel Lynch will be Penn State's starting running back in 2015, that much is all but certain. After that, Johnathan Thomas was touted as the future of the position after an impressive year behind the scenes as a redshirt. Mark Allen was named the scout team play of the week numerous times throughout the season, and although a position change may be in his future, the other 2014 running back recruit, Nick Scott, still remains as well. In his own class, Barkley will have to compete with Andre Robinson, even though the two play with different styles.
Needless to say, not only did Saquon carve out early playing time for himself, but he did so much sooner than anyone expected. Mired in a tight game with Buffalo heading into the fourth quarter and seeking some kind of spark on offense, Barkley entered into the game and from there, burst onto the scene with his incredible hurdle over a Buffalo defender that helped set up a game-sealing touchdown for the good guys. The following week in a night time clash against Rutgers amidst a striped-out Beaver Stadium, Saquon had his coming out party under the lights, rushing for 195 yards on 21 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Unfortunately for Saquon, a promising first half performance against San Diego State the next week turned sour when he suffered an ankle injury that would ultimately cause him to miss the next two-and-a-half games.
Fully healed and ready to go under the lights of Ohio Stadium, Saquon introduced himself to the rest of College Football Nation, rushing for 194 yards on 26 carries, one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise frustrating 38-10 defeat to Ohio State. It was the type of performance that finally forced opponents to game plan around him, with the primary focus being to shut him down and force somebody else to beat them. Despite these new efforts to minimize him, Saquon still managed two more 100+ yard performances against Northwestern and Michigan State, respectively. In fact, despite missing nearly three games' worth of action, Saquon became Penn State's first-ever freshman tailback to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.
Looking ahead to this year, a full offseason's worth of strength training and conditioning should make Saquon a more durable back. Granted, with Andre Robinson now available after redshirting last season and five-star running back Miles Sanders coming into the fold, he probably won't have to worry about being forced to carry the ball 25-30 times in games and can keep his legs a little more fresh for all those high-yardage bursts he has proven time and again to be capable of doing.