University of Washington

Huskies have faced some of the best in college football. Now they get Penn State’s Saquon Barkley

There’s a potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick and the Heisman Trophy finalist. Don’t forget the all-time Pac-12 leader in passing yards and touchdowns, either.

No. 11 Washington (10-2) has faced some of the best talent college football has to offer this season. Examples include UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, Stanford running back Bryce Love and Washington State’s Luke Falk. UW can now add Penn State running back Saquon Barkley to its list.

The Huskies will get a crack at Barkley and the No. 9 Nittany Lions (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Barkley’s numbers are impressive: He has run 199 times for 1,134 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has 47 catches for 594 yards and three TDs. And Barkley is also a special teams threat, with 15 kickoff returns for 426 yard and two TDs.

His early season Heisman buzz may have disappeared but he’s considered by USA Today to be the best running back going into the 2018 NFL Draft. At 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, he’s a blend of power, speed and strength. He’s an every-down back who can also be used as a receiver.

In other words, he has UW’s attention.

“He’s a great player and he’s going to present a great challenge for us,” Huskies linebacker Tevis Bartlett said.

Figuring out how UW will stop Barkley is going to be a conversation piece leading up to the Fiesta.

There’s an argument to be made on either side starting with those who believe Barkley could replicate what Love did to the Huskies’ defense.

UW entered its Nov. 10 contest at Stanford with the No. 1 defense in college football. The Huskies allowed three rushing touchdowns all season and made life hellish for every running back they played.

Love, however, showed a running back can have success against UW. He finished with 30 carries, 166 yards and three touchdowns to send the Huskies to a 30-22 loss.

The Cardinal produced a game-winning blueprint on how attack the Huskies. It all starts with having a dynamic running back, which the Nittany Lions possess.

Does this mean Barkley could go off for a big day in the Fiesta? What can the Huskies expect from Barkley? And are there any similarities he shares with Love?

“I would say similar but Saquon is like get the ball and go,” Huskies linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “Bryce Love is kind of more patient in the backfield. Saquon gets the ball and you can already tell what he wants to do with the ball.

“He’s already read the defense and knows what to do. Love pretty much waits and chooses his gaps well.”

If Stanford provided a road map on how to beat UW’s defense, know a similar thing exists for stopping Barkley.

All you need is an elite rushing defense. The Huskies should be in good shape. They do have the No. 1 rushing defense in college football.

The plan, according to Bartlett, isn’t complicated. It’s “going in and tackling and getting off blocks and sticking to your assignment.

“It’s not hard. It’s just hard to do,” he said.

Barkley and the Nittany Lions have already faced three of the nation’s Top 10 rushing defenses with mixed results.

Northwestern is ninth against the run, and they lost, 31-7 to Penn State. Barkley ran 16 times for 75 yards and touchdowns.

Michigan – 21st against the the run No. 3 total defense – go worked over by Barkley, too. He ran 15 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 53 receiving yards and a touchdown. Penn State won 42-13.

His next two games weren’t so fun.

Ohio State (seventh against the run) held Barkley to 14 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. Barkley’s touchdown came from a 36-yard run and he was kept to a season-low 2.1 yards per carry. Penn State lost 39-38.

Michigan State is fifth in defending the run and the Spartans held Barkley to 14 carries, 63 yards and no rushing touchdowns. Penn State took a 27-24 loss that dashed its College Football Playoff semifinal dreams.

“I think Saquon Barkley is really fast but you can see where he’s running through a lot of tackles,” Bartlett said. “But (Barkley and Love) both have really good vision, they have that top-end speed where they can hit the big run.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark