Player to Watch: Kent State Quarterback Woody Barrett Presents a Tough Test for the Penn State Defense

By Nick Polak on September 13, 2018 at 9:29 am
Sep 1, 2018; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Dawson DeGroot (24) tackles Kent State Golden Flashes quarterback Woody Barrett (15) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium.
Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks is an unenviable task for a defense, which explains why so many teams across the country have adopted at least some sort of option attack into their offensive game plan. When you have a quarterback who is capable with their legs and has a good enough arm to keep a defense honest, there's not much that can be done to stop them. Guys like that don't grow on trees, and it takes a very special athlete to be able to torment a defense through the air and on the ground. Kent State, however, thinks they have that in quarterback Woody Barrett.

Barrett, once a blue-chip dual-threat quarterback recruit, initially signed with Auburn as part of the class of 2016. He was the sixth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class and the 218th-ranked player in the entire country. After Jarrett Stidham transferred into Auburn, Barrett went the junior college route and eventually ended up in Kent.

Now he's the man running the show for new head coach Sean Lewis, and he's giving the Golden Flashes reason for optimism. Though they were unable to complete their upset of Illinois in week one, Barrett has already racked up a relatively impressive stat line during their 1-1 start.

Woody Barrett Through 2 Weeks
426 60.3% 6.3 3/3 118.7 135 4.8 2

This won't be the first time Penn State faces off with a mobile quarterback, having just taken on Pitt's Kenny Pickett in week two. However, the two are slightly different kinds of runners. Pickett gains the majority of his rushing yards when the play breaks down and he has to make things happen, whereas Barrett is much more of a threat to keep the ball on the option and take off with it.

Koa Farmer and the linebackers will be pivotal for containing Barrett on the ground. (Photo: Matthew O'Haren - USA TODAY Sports)

This was evident in week one when Barrett went for nearly 117 yards on the ground (with a McSorley-esque touchdown) in a narrow loss to Illinois. He didn't have to use his legs much in their blowout win over Howard, with both of his running backs racking up yardage.

For Penn State, the formula appears to be rather simple- contain Barrett's legs and force him to beat them through the air. The Nittany Lion secondary is an opportunistic one and could find themselves coming down with an interception or two if they can force Barrett to put the ball in the air more than 30 times.

They'll only be able to do that, though, if they can keep him in the pocket. The Lions made a key adjustment with their defensive ends against Pitt that allowed them to much more successfully corral the run game, and they'll have to stick with that plan and stay focused on their gaps to stay in control.

The Penn State linebackers are still getting their feet under them in 2018, and putting them in spots where they're continuously chasing Barrett through the middle of the field could be a recipe for disaster.

If the defense is able to come up big against the very talented quarterback, however, it could be a very positive omen for things to come as the team enters Big Ten play the following week.