When asked about what the future held Saturday night, Saquon Barkley said he was excited about the present and left it at that. There was no personal announcement, no NFL draft declaration made at University of Phoenix Stadium.
But if Barkley played in his final Penn State game in the Nittany Lions’ 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, he left a lasting memory.
Ninety-two yards, six points and one more signature Saquon moment.
“We just split the Red Sea,” Barkley said, recalling his invigorating 92-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. “Your job as a running back is to make your guy miss. I was able to make that guy miss.”
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In doing so, he set off fireworks on the Penn State sideline and in the red seats to his left.
The Coplay native’s dash — the longest run in Fiesta Bowl history — demonstrated yet again that the kid can do anything. He can lower his shoulder for the extra yard, haul in passes out of the backfield and jump over a man whenever he feels like it.
But what the back does best is burst through an open hole and leave defenses wondering what just happened. It’s in those moments that Barkley, who finished with 137 yards on 18 carries, can be truly appreciated.
His teammates see it that way, at least.
“He’s the best football player I’ve ever seen in person,” senior wide receiver Saeed Blacknall said. “For him to do that in the Fiesta Bowl, we needed a big play like that. We needed a spark. He delivered it.”
Blacknall, like most of the Nittany Lions who have been around a while, aren’t surprised by the jaw-dropping moments Barkley provides. The receiver said it was only a matter of time before Barkley — who was limited to 23 yards on five carries before that run — ripped one open. Fellow wideout Juwan Johnson said he was waiting for the back to do something crazy.
Senior guard Brendan Mahon, sitting at his locker with a big smile on his face, was giddy to have witnessed another Barkley run like that.
“I’m definitely going to miss blocking for Saquon,” Mahon said. “These last three years have been fantastic. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Seeing 26 in the open field is a special feeling. Runs like today, that 92-yard run; that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
Barkley gave credit to recently promoted offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne for dialing up the play.
“We designed something to get the defense looking to the sideline. We kind of picked that up watching film,” the running back said of the Huskies. “And once we did our little fake cadence, they looked to the sideline, we said, ‘We’ve got them off the line.’”
And it showed. Barkley went untouched through the left side of Penn State’s offensive line and bolted past Johnson, who sealed off a Husky cornerback. Washington safety Jojo McIntosh dove at Barkley, who was already 27 yards downfield, but the back shrugged it off no problem.
Rahne wasn’t stunned.
“We handed it off and I said, ‘He’s gone,’” the play-caller said. “As soon as he got to the one-high safety, I was pretty sure he was gone. That’s what makes him so special. He can take a 20-yard run 92 yards.”
That’s what makes Barkley so fun to watch. It’s what made him the player he was at Penn State. At any moment, fans, media, players and especially the other team knew what he was capable of doing.
For three years, Barkley used those electrifying, dizzying moments to cement a legacy.
And in his likely encore, Barkley added yet another run to his never-ending highlight reel.