There was no more exciting running back in college football last season than Ken Walker III
Seaside Joe 1193: How Walker ran through Nebraska and Western Kentucky to enter the Heisman race
It is quite clear from the engagement throughout this “Kenny on Kenny” series that Seattle Seahawks fans are excited about the prospect of adding Ken Walker III to the backfield this season and beyond. Maybe at the time of the draft, you thought that Walker was “just another running back with 4.38 speed” and that lucky circumstances in college allowed him to rush for over 1,600 yards with Michigan State last season.
Hopefully by now you have been on the same journey that I’ve been on throughout this process of discovery—I was not a Ken Walker expert prior to the conclusion of the draft—and together we’ve learned that he has never been a product of “lucky circumstances.” If anything, Walker had to overcome obstacles throughout his three-year college career and he created his 2021 Heisman candidacy on his own.
Walker was barely recruited coming out of high school, choosing Wake Forest over his only other Division-I offer; he immediately dominated at Wake Forest, a program that at the time hadn’t even been ranked in over 10 years; working in a slow-mesh offense that didn’t even do much to highlight his talents, Walker was a local star by his sophomore season and perhaps the top transfer of 2021; he chose Michigan State, a school coming off of a 2-5 season the year before; Walker immediately became the Spartans’ best back since Le’Veon Bell, rushing for over 220 yards in his debut and helped Michigan State finish 11-2, staying in the CFP race until November.
But none of that is nearly as impressive as it sounds—until you actually watch Ken Walker III play football and realize how HE creates yards. Yes, that’s right, I said it: Running backs can create yards!
Walker’s otherworldly joystick/dance dance revolution running style is hypnotic and those of you who have been following this series already know that. We have only just started to go through his Michigan State career, and that continues today with games against Nebraska and Western Kentucky.
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Previously on Kenny on Kenny: Walker’s freshman season, Walker’s career-day vs NC State, Walker’s holy shit moments vs Virginia, how Walker got to Michigan State, will Walker be a third WR, Walker’s 4-TD debut for the Spartans, Walker blows through Miami like a tornado
Nebraska was far from being the best run defense in college football last season. They ranked outside of the top-50 in yards per carry, rushing yards per game, and ranked 63rd in Y/C adjusted for strength of schedule.
Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen had 228 yards on 22 carries; Michigan’s Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum combined for 34 carries and 212 yards; Oklahoma’s Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks had 29 carries for 159 yards.
But facing Michigan State in Week 5, the Cornhuskers were swarming the ball whenever Walker had possession. Walker had 19 carries for 61 yards against Nebraska, resulting in a season-low 3.2 yards per carry, and many of his attempts looked like this one to start the game:
The opportunities to take flight were rarely presented for Walker, as his offensive line got dominated for most of the game against Nebraska’s defensive line.
That’s fine. Name any running back, he has games like this one. Name any player—nobody is perfect every week. There are still moments worth us reviewing. Let’s get in a pass blocking rep while we are here. Quarterback Payton Thorne is intercepted on this play, but not because he’s under pressure from the man rushing the weakside against Walker.
Walker makes no ground here, but he still manages to change direction twice in an attempt to find any lane.
Walker’s speed and broken tackle ability is on display for this eight-yard gain.
And this 10-yard pick up would be his longest gain of the game.
Meanwhile, this is only a six-yard run, but shows off Walker’s determination to gain every inch that he’s humanly capable of:
Ken Walker gets wrapped up at the 29, but he doesn’t stop moving his feet (eventually breaking free of the wrap) until the 34.
Saving the best for overtime
Nobody who reads Seaside Joe will be surprised when Walker becomes direct snap god in Seattle, should that happen. The Spartans and Cornhuskers went into overtime and on the first play, Walker nearly scores immediately on a direct snap. I counted four broken/forced missed tackles on this run.
This was not a dominant performance by Walker, but there were some typical “NFL starter” moments as usual.
Michigan State vs Western Kentucky
The next week, Walker had a much more favorable matchup against Western Kentucky, as Michigan State scored 42 points… in the first half.
Walker shows us a mini-stiff arm/part swat on this first down run to set the Spartans up with first-and-Goal. But if you thought that was interesting, how about a side-hurdle for a touchdown? Yes, a side-hurdle.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a move quite like that one, then Walker stretches out for his second touchdown of the first half.
Seahawks entering the Dance-Dance Revolution
During our journey through Ken Walker’s college career, nothing has been more exciting than his footwork, timing, and decision making when running through the chaos that is football defense.
His stop-start-go-push-push-push running style is mesmerizing. It can result in long gains for a long field, medium gains, or come in handy on goal line situations:
There are just few players who are this intriguing with the ball in their hands, starting behind the line of scrimmage. It’s a journey every time with Ken Walker.
Walker finished the game with 24 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns. At this point in his Michigan State career, Walker has played in five games and carried the ball 100 times for 680 yards (6.8 YPC) and eight touchdowns, plus another score through the air. By the end of his next start, Walker would be over 900 rushing yards. That’s next time on the Seaside Joe Ken Walker Experience—PLEASE SUBSCRIBE FOR MORE!