By SCHUYLER DIXON
The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley are friends from their days as foes at Ohio State and Penn State.
Now that they’re set to share the field for the first time as pros, the running back of the Dallas Cowboys remembers his only college encounter with Barkley, the promising rookie of the New York Giants.
To wit, the matching hurdle plays that Elliott recalls when Barkley was a freshman for the Nittany Lions and outgained the reigning offensive MVP from the first championship game in the four-team playoff era a season earlier. Elliott’s Buckeyes got the bigger prize, a 38-10 win.
“I went out and hurdled a guy and literally the next drive he comes back and hurdles one of our guys,” Elliott said. “That was pretty cool to me just to see him come back and do the same thing.”
Just as in that scenario three years ago, Elliott is the established star after leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2016, and Barkley is the first-year upstart. As for the bigger prize tonight, the NFC East rivals need the win with both coming off season-opening losses.
“We don’t worry about that,” first-year Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “That’s fun for everybody to talk about outside the building. We didn’t do enough in the first game to win the game, and we’re working to do what we can to win this next one. Period. End of story.”
It could be just the start of the Elliott-Barkley story. Friends since that night in Columbus, Ohio, after Barkley rushed for 194 yards while Elliott had 153 yards and a touchdown, they are now among the most important pieces for storied franchises trying to get back to the Super Bowl.
And each was the first running back taken in his draft: Elliott fourth overall in 2016 and Barkley at No. 2 this year.
“They’re powerfully built guys,” Shurmur said. “When I say ‘collision balance,’ in the hole, guys bouncing off, and they can keep their balance. [Elliott’s]production in his first two years had nothing to do with us selecting Saquon, but they’re similar in a lot of ways.”
Things to consider as these rivals meet within the first two weeks of the season for the sixth time in seven years:
∫ EYES ON THE RUNNERS:
The Cowboys need to establish Elliott earlier than they did in a 16-8 loss to Carolina, but will need more help from a passing game still trying to figure out life after Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.
The Giants wouldn’t mind getting more from Barkley, even though a 68-yard touchdown in a 20-15 loss to Jacksonville made him the franchise’s first to debut with a 100-yard rushing game (106). Now he’ll try to be the first Giants rookie since Eddie Price in 1950 with consecutive 100-yard outings.
∫ DON’T FORGET THE BLOCKING: There are questions up front for both teams coming out of the openers. Giants right tackle Ereck Flowers drew tripping and holding penalties on the first series after an offseason move from the left side. Free agent addition Nate Solder had a holding penalty at left tackle.
The Cowboys are still adjusting to Joe Looney at center with four-time Pro Bowler Travis Frederick out indefinitely with a nerve disorder. Rookie left guard Connor Williams was beaten for two sacks. And one of the mainstays, five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, had a pair of penalties.
∫ BECKHAM’S BACK: In his first game since an ankle injury 11 months ago and since signing $95, five-year extension, Odell Beckham Jr. had 11 catches for 111 yards against the Jaguars. The star receiver has had his moments against the Cowboys, most notably the leaping one-handed catch for a touchdown as a rookie four years ago. That was one of his two games against Dallas with two TDs. He has five scores in six games against the Cowboys.
∫ NOT SO SPECIAL: Giants punt returner Kaelin Clay, signed after the final cuts, had 4 yards on three returns. He fumbled the last one at the Giants 19-yard line, but he is getting a second chance. The Cowboys cut Dan Bailey, the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, in favor of Brett Maher. The CFL veteran missed his first NFL kick, from 47 yards, when the Cowboys were trying to get within seven points late in the third quarter.