The day many Kansas State fans have been waiting for is finally here.
Alex Barnes, a freshman running back that is averaging an eye-popping 7.9 yards per attempt, is expected to make his first start Saturday when K-State takes on TCU at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
“It will be pretty cool going into a hostile environment like TCU and getting my first start,” Barnes said earlier this week. “I can’t wait.”
Neither can the army of K-State supporters that have lobbied for Barnes to lead the Wildcats’ backfield rotation all season. Many have wondered what K-State’s offense would look like with Barnes in a workhorse role, instead of the change-of-pace look he has previously provided, and they are about to find out.
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After rushing for 232 yards and five touchdowns in his past two games, becoming the first freshman in school history to eclipse 100 yards in back-to-back appearances, K-State coach Bill Snyder thinks Barnes is ready for more.
“He’s going to continue to become better and better and better and the sky is the limit for Alex,” Snyder said. “He’s still learning, he’s still in the developmental stage, but he’s taken advantage of his opportunities and has proven that he’s a very, very fine player, and I love his capacity to be an explosive player.”
Barnes showed off his explosiveness last week when he capped a 31-yard touchdown run by diving past a Kansas defender and plunging into the end zone.
Two weeks ago, he hurdled over a Baylor defender as he crossed the goal line.
He owns K-State’s top two offensive highlights of the season. But what truly sets him apart from other running backs is his ability to gain yards after contact. Barnes has rushed the ball 56 times this season, and all 56 have gone for positive yardage. Even when he gets hit behind the line of scrimmage, he finds a way to move the ball forward.
“He can be physical and stay on his feet and he has good low-body strength,” Snyder said. “I have seen all of those plays where he dives at the pylon, and that goes with the territory, but what impresses me is he gets hit again and again and stays on his feet and pushes the pile. He gets those extra two, three and four yards on snaps that a lot of guys will go down at that time. He makes a big difference.”
Barnes will have an opportunity to make an even bigger difference than normal against the Horned Frogs. The Pittsburg freshman has only seen a big workload in one game, rushing for 129 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries against Baylor.
Last week, he turned 10 carries into 103 yards and a score. Otherwise, he has been limited to single-digit carries, mostly in the third quarter behind senior Charles Jones and sophomore Justin Silmon.
It will be fascinating to see what Barnes does as an every down back. Though his statistics were incredible against Kansas and Baylor, neither of those teams had strong run defenses. TCU does. It enters the game allowing an average of 168.8 rushing yards.
Texas running back D’Onta Foreman, the nation’s leading rusher, needed 31 carries to reach 165 yards against TCU last week.
Barnes will face a difficult test in his first start.
After 11 games of unpredictable usage, he will be ready.
“My dream is starting to become a reality,” Barnes said Tuesday at the Vanier Family Football Complex. “I’m starting to realize that. I’m starting to realize I have an opportunity and I can really take advantage of it. That’s something I’ve always looked forward to and something I’ll continue to work toward to put my best foot forward every time I’m on the field.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State at TCU
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
TV: Fox Sports 1
Other story lines
1. TEXAS STATE CHAMPS: Kansas State has already defeated Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech this season. A win over TCU would give the Wildcats a 4-0 record against teams from the Lone Star State. The last time that happened was 2011 and K-State fans bought shirts to commemorate the accomplishment.
2. BATTLE FOR FOURTH: K-State can clinch sole-possession of fourth place in the Big 12 standings by beating TCU. The Wildcats will tie the Frogs for fourth with a loss. K-State players are using that as motivation. After being picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, they want to exceed expectations by as much as possible.
3. HORNED FROG HEARTBREAK: K-State’s last two games agaisnt TCU have not gone well. In 2014, the Frogs gave the Wildcats their first conference loss 41-20. Last year, TCU rallied from a 35-17 halftime deficit to win 52-45.