Alex Barnes is starting to look like the best running back in the Big 12.
For now, it’s a subjective competition between Barnes, Kansas star Pooka Williams and Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill. But it’s getting hard to ignore Barnes after his past two games. He has been unstoppable.
Barnes was certainly the best running back on the field during Kansas State’s 31-12 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium. Not only did he lead the Wildcats on offense with 181 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries (plus three catches for 51 yards) he ran circles around Hill, who finished with 41 yards on seven carries.
And Barnes did it all against the Big 12’s best run defense. The Cowboys entered the day allowing 117.8 yards on the ground, a number that ranked 23rd nationally. Add on Barnes’ 250 yards and three touchdowns against Baylor last week, and it’s hard to think of a hotter running back anywhere in college football.
“He is catching the ball out of the backfield, he is making people miss, he is running really, really hard,” K-State running back Dalvin Warmack said of Barnes. “I mean, Alex is a strong kid. You look out there and defenders don’t want to tackle him. He is 240 pounds and can squat and bench a house.”
“Yards after contact is what is really impressive with me,” added quarterback Skylar Thompson. “Any running back can hit a hole and just go. What I feel like is so good about Alex is he can make people miss in a tight area. It’s going to take two or three guys to take him down most of the time. I have got a lot of respect for him.”
Barnes is up to 788 yards and nine touchdowns on the year, putting him on pace for the best statistical season for any K-State running back since Daniel Thomas. Barnes almost certainly will become the first K-State running back to eclipse 1,000 yards since John Hubert. On Saturday, Barnes became the first K-State running back since Darren Sproles to rush for at least 175 yards in back-to-back games.
Barnes is also the Big 12’s current leading rusher.
There is some concern that his body may not be able to handle 30 carries each week. But Barnes isn’t worried.
“That’s better for me,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. I have always wanted to carry the load and that sort of thing. I enjoy it.”
His emergence comes at an ideal time for the Wildcats.
They needed to win this game badly and keep their bowl hopes alive after a 2-4 start. They needed to enter their bye week with hope and momentum. Most importantly, they needed to prove last week’s game against Baylor was no fluke.
K-State seemed to establish an identity in that game. The offensive line, which seemed to sleepwalk through most of the first five games, came to life and opened up huge holes. Barnes took advantage with one long touchdown run after another. Could that be repeated, especially against a much-improved run defense like Oklahoma State?
The answer: yes.
The Wildcats (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) still need to improve in the passing game, and K-State coach Bill Snyder said as much after this game. He fears opposing teams will notice how often they ran the ball against the Cowboys (4-3, 1-3) and sell out to stop Barnes in future games. They have to be ready to counter that.
There’s some truth to that, but it’s not like Snyder fooled Oklahoma State by running the ball. The Cowboys were ready for it. They just couldn’t stop it. K-State scored touchdowns on four straight drives in the second half, and Thompson only attempted eight passes.
The Wildcats didn’t just win the battle up front. They dominated.
“Every time we got the ball we kept pushing it down the field,” K-State right tackle Dalton Risner said. “If you watch the play calls, very similar plays down the entire field, almost to the point where the defense knew exactly what was coming. And that just proves what we are willing to do and how physical we are willing to play.”
Barnes, who deflected credit to his offensive line for opening holes and his defensive teammates for keeping Oklahoma State off the field, is the perfect running back for that style. And he is showing it.
A few more games like this, and he can prove himself as the best running back in the conference.