Ezekiel Elliott knew Saquon Barkley was ‘the truth’ long ago

Ezekiel Elliott knew Saquon Barkley was ‘the truth’ long ago

FRISCO, Texas — Ohio State was No. 1 in the country and fighting to defend its national title, but during a “Blackout” game on a Saturday night in October 2015, No. 26 in white did enough to catch the eye of Ezekiel Elliott.

The freshman running back from Penn State had not yet introduced himself to the college football world the way Elliott, the Buckeyes junior, had. But Saquon Barkley was on his way.

Elliott got the duel started by hurdling a defender late in the first quarter to reach a first down on a touchdown drive. Two plays into Penn State’s next drive, Barkley matched him by hurdling a 6-foot-3 safety.

“That was pretty cool to me, just to see him come back and do the same thing,” Elliott said this week inside the Cowboys locker room, as he prepared to square off against Barkley and the Giants on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.

After that first game, Elliott met Barkley at midfield to strike up a friendship, and in his postgame comments called “that freshman running back … definitely the truth.”

Three years later, Barkley remembered the night as “my coming out game on a national stage,” as he ran for 194 yards, but was still lamenting that it came in a loss. He certainly left an impact, though.

“[Barkley] made a couple of electrifying plays,” said Jets linebacker Darron Lee, Elliott’s Ohio State teammate. “Some people make electrifying plays and you hear how young they are, and then the stigma is that they should be pretty good as the years go on. But I can say from that point I knew he was going to be special from seeing those first couple of plays.”

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The two dynamic running backs have kept in touch since then and are looking forward to another prime-time showdown Sunday night.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Elliott said. “He’s special. He’s a guy that any play, he could take it to the house.”

“I’m a big fan of his game … so I’m excited to see him play live again,” Barkley said.

Both players were drafted with high picks in hopes of revitalizing their respective offenses directed by aging quarterbacks. The Giants passed on a potential franchise quarterback at No. 2 in April to pair Barkley with Manning. The Cowboys took Elliott fourth overall in 2016, coming off a 4-12 season, to help out Tony Romo.

Though the duo never ended up playing together after Romo broke a bone in his back and Dak Prescott ran away with the job, Elliott played a key role in bringing the Cowboys back to the playoffs.

“Our job is to stop [Barkley], so I don’t want him to do what Zeke did for us,” Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier said. ”But he’s that type of back.”

Elliott agreed with the idea that his success might have influenced the Giants to take Barkley, but said it was deserved regardless.

“I think honestly, he was the best player in that draft,” Elliott said.

They are alike in their ability to change a game with one run, either by initiating contact, turning on the jets, or hurdling over defenders — or even a combination of all three on one play.

“They both run hard behind their pads,” Lee said. “They both make electrifying plays. I think the playmaker aspect between them is very, very similar.”

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Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford compared Barkley’s running style to a mixture of Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, while cautioning he is not them yet because he has only played one game in the NFL.

But the last time Elliott shared the stage with the rookie, Barkley made sure to leave his mark.

“He’s over there preparing to win this game, and I’m preparing to win the game for my team,” Barkley said. “But I wish him the best of luck.”

— Additional reporting by Howie Kussoy, Mark Cannizzaro and Kevin Armstrong.