The Big Ten has produced its share of high-level running backs over the years.
This year is no different with the appearance of Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker, who continues a long tradition of running backs from the Big Ten taking the college circuits and eventually the NFL by storm.
From Jonathan Taylor at Wisconsin to Le’Veon Bell at Michigan State to Saquon Barkley at Penn State, some of the best running backs in the league at one point or another came from the Big Ten.
But Walker’s trip, at least in part, is different from the recent prominent Big Ten running back: He hasn’t been a 1,000-yard rushing threat so far, his third year, and he hasn’t been a feature until this year, either. . Nor is he a receiving threat from the backfield like Barkley, Bell and other contemporaries were.
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It’s not about what Walker can’t or hasn’t done so far. Rather, it’s a look at how over the course of the first half of the season, the Wake Forest transfer grew into one of the best running backs in the nation.
Walker currently ranks first in the Big Ten and second in the NCAA in rushing yards with 997 and fifth in the conference in rushing touchdowns with nine. He also had four games with more than 120 yards rushing, including two games with more than 200 yards rushing.
The Spartans are currently 7-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country ahead of a major showdown against enemy No. 6 and another 7-0 enemy, Michigan, and Walker is a big reason for the success of Michigan State.
Here’s everything you need to know about one of the pinch-running talents in the country.
Why did Kenneth Walker III transfer to the state of Michigan?
Walker started out in Wake Forest, where he spent his first two years playing for Dave Clawson.
He put his name on the transfer portal on January 5, 2021 and took it just one day to announce your next destination. It has worked well so far, Walker has been one of the best transfers in the nation in 2021.
Before transferring, Walker chose to leave from the Demon Deacons last two games of the year in 2020, citing COVID-19 concerns.
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Much of his decision to transfer was due to Wake Forest and Clawson’s type of offense, which Walker found limiting.
“At Wake, I felt like I couldn’t show all my skills,” Walker said. “I think I can be versatile. I can cut. I can run downhill. I think I’m an explosive runner.”
While Walker felt he needed a change of scenery, the Spartans felt their running game also needed a shot of life after ranking 13th in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game and averaging just 2.5 yards per carry last year.
“After last season, I felt like we needed someone to be an explosive playmaker,” said MSU running back coach Peagler. told CBS Sports. “We had a lot of good backs, but I didn’t feel like we had anyone who could hit his head on the goalpost every time he touched the ball.”
How good was Kenneth Walker III at Wake Forest?
Walker was not one of the defenders of the Demon Deacons during his time at Wake Forest and they were one of only three FBS teams to offer him an offer.
The other two were Kent State, where he was originally engaged, and Arkansas State. The Tennesse native finally chose Wake Forest, and after a relatively quiet but efficient 2019, he blew up a bit in 2020.
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In just seven games with Wake Forest last season, Walker found the end zone 13 times, which was third in the ACC and 10th nationally and probably could have increased those numbers if he did not go for the team’s last two games.
In all, in his two years at Wake Forest, Walker loaded the ball 217 times for 1,158 yards and 17 touchdowns.
How good has Kenneth Walker III been for Michigan State?
When Walker arrived in East Lansing, he was performing in a crowded, albeit troubled, back room.
The Spartans ranked 13th out of 14 teams in the conference in rushing yards per game. They were ranked in the top five nationally in number of runs reaching 10 or more yards.
They already added a three-star recruit and a transfer from Auburn before adding Walker and they still had two other fellow riders on the roster.
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But Walker added something completely different.
“If I had to describe myself in one way, I’d say explosive, explosive back,” Walker said in august before the season. Connor Heyward, one of the Spartans’ leading running backs last year, even went so far as to say that every time Walker touches the ball, it’s a “home run.”
The numbers confirm it. Walker has four games with more than 120 rushing yards, including two with more than 200. He’s also incredibly efficient, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and rarely turns the ball over, having completed 338 carries since 2019 without missing a single miss. , the longest current streak in the NCAA. .
Michigan State had the 122nd best running game in the nation last year, now it’s 32nd. And Walker’s impact has extended to the passing game as well, as the Spartans rank in the top 25 nationally in passing efficiency.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.