Kansas State University

K-State running back Alex Barnes turns limited action into big production

K-State running back Alex Barnes is averaging 7.8 yards per carry, more than two yards better than any teammate.
K-State running back Alex Barnes is averaging 7.8 yards per carry, more than two yards better than any teammate. The Wichita Eagle

No Kansas State running back has seen less action than Alex Barnes this season.

His 27 carries rank behind Jesse Ertz (111), Charles Jones (95), Justin Silmon (48) and Dalvin Warmack (32). And they don’t rank much ahead of fullback Winston Dimel (19) or backup quarterback Joe Hubener (16).

Barnes, a redshirt freshman from Pittsburg, is often relegated to a handful of second-half snaps in K-State’s crowded backfield. But that may soon change if he continues to average a team-high 7.8 yards per carry, a full 2.1 yards better than anyone else on the roster.

“He truly is playing well,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday. “I like the way he plays, I like the way he practices and I think he has got a bright future ahead of him.

“He has got very good size and has some strength to him in regard to explosiveness. At the same time, he has pretty good vision. He can redirect himself and change directions better than you would think someone who has a little bit of size to him could do.”

Barnes’ talents were on full display last week against Oklahoma State. The 6-foot-1, 221-pounder performed so well it was difficult to single out his best play.

Was it the 27-yard run he made in the second half in which he used his speed to bounce to the outside and then used his power to bulldoze a tackler? Or was it the crushing block he delivered in the first quarter that sprung Dimel for an untouched 10-yard run into the end zone?

Barnes only saw eight carries against the Cowboys, but he made the most of them, rushing for 72 yards and blocking for his teammates on offense and special teams.

“I do whatever the situation calls for,” Barnes said. “I felt like I blocked well. I was able to help open holes for Jesse and Winston on some runs. It also felt good to get out and run. I don’t particularly look at myself as a player who specializes in one thing. I like to stay well-rounded.”

That approach could mean increased usage for Barnes when K-State plays its next game at Baylor on Nov. 19. The Wildcats seem committed to splitting carries between their top four running backs, but the coaches distribute rushing attempts differently each week.

For the first time, Barnes led K-State running backs in carries (eight) against Oklahoma State, out-touching Jones (seven), Silmon (five) and Warmack (three).

Snyder said Barnes would have seen more action earlier this season had he not been slowed by “rehab work” related to minor injuries.

“He is over that now,” Snyder said, “and I think he will be able to play more.”

Those that block for Barnes look forward to that opportunity.

Barnes has a punishing running style that makes him difficult to tackle. Perhaps the stat that best defines him is his lack of negative runs. He has gained yardage on all 27 of his carries. Even his worst runs accomplish something.

“That guy really lowers his pads,” tight end Dayton Valentine said. “If it is a play where one guy would get one yard, he will get three or four just by sticking his nose in there and running hard.”

Power running has long been Barnes’ strength, but he is beginning to expand his talents to speed running and pass protection. In time, he also hopes to evolve into a receiving threat on passing downs.

His goal is to eventually become a complete running back for the Wildcats.

Barnes is already doing enough to merit increased playing time.

“He is tough to tackle,” K-State defensive lineman Kyle Ball said. “You can’t just arm tackle him. He will run right through it. Every time he gets the ball in a game I just get pumped, because he runs people over. … He is a great running back.”

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett