In preparation for the Rose Bowl, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley watched film of legendary Southern California running back Reggie Bush for inspiration.
But after he captivated the nation and dropped the jaws of every person who saw it first-hand, Bush might be stealing a move or two from the Nittany Lion sophomore tailback.
Barkley lit up USC and altered the game significantly with a one-of-a-kind, 79-yard touchdown run, highlighting the signature performance of his promising career.
The Coplay native dropped 249 all-purpose yards (194 rushing) and three touchdowns on the Trojans, dazzling even in a losing effort in “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
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Penn State coach James Franklin was proud of Barkley, but was disappointed that the Nittany Lions couldn’t score one more time to sweeten the evening with a win.
“Saquon has made big plays all year long, Mike Gesicki has made big plays all year long, (Chris) Godwin’s made plays all year long, so I’m really proud of those guys,” Franklin said. “But, you know, we didn’t do enough.”
In the end, Barkley couldn’t have done much more.
Early in the game, all Penn State had was Barkley. The Nittany Lions recorded only 38 offensive yards in the first quarter, 36 of which were on the ground from Barkley.
By halftime, Barkley already had 79 rushing yards — and those numbers would only grow.
On Penn State’s first play of the second half, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead dialed up a play, a “great call” according to Barkley.
And it’s easy to see why he thought it was a good decision. The sophomore took a handoff on the right side, avoided one tackler in the backfield, and bounced it outside.
“The O-line blocked it perfectly,” Barkley said, “they got me one-on-one with a guy and I was able to make him miss.”
Then he made four cuts and shimmied twice, putting the USC defenders on skates.
As Barkley coasted up the field with Godwin helping fend off Trojans in-pursuit, it became more and more clear that he’d score. The Penn State cheering section, consisting of a vocal one-third or so of the Rose Bowl stadium, went bananas.
Twitter blew up accordingly, as well. Anyone and everyone with a pulse and interest in college football marveled at Barkley’s patience, burst and sheer talent.
For the player himself, he took the entire second half on as a challenge.
“(At halftime) coach Franklin told me that someone’s got to come up and make a play,” Barkley recalled. “I kind of took that personally.”
That wasn’t the only time he made it into the end zone, either. Barkley put Penn State on the board with a 24-yard scamper in the second quarter, cutting USC’s early advantage to 13-7. He also caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to put Penn State up 49-35 late in the third quarter.
Despite the game going south from there on out for Penn State, Barkley, still in shock over the loss, was able to put the night — and 79-yard score — in perspective.
“I was just satisfied to get in the end zone,” Barkley said. “Any chance to get to score a touchdown, especially in the Rose Bowl, it’s special to you.”