Saquon Barkley’s Fiesta Bowl performance a fine parting gift

By | December 31, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz.Penn State junior running back Saquon Barkley was non-committal before the Fiesta Bowl when discussing his future.

“It’s hard because it’s right in front of you,” he said Thursday at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale. “I’m human. I have taken time to think about it. I talked to [coach James] Franklin about it before the season even started. I talked to my family about it. The best way I try to deal with it is to live in the moment and appreciate the time I have here.”

Barkley wasn’t ready to announce his future plans on Saturday evening. He wanted to drink in the night, but if Penn State’s 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium was his last performance for the Nittany Lions before declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft, he gave Penn State fans quite a parting gift.

Barkley carried 18 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a 92-yard TD run that gave Penn State a 28-7 lead at 9:01 of the second quarter. It was the longest run in Fiesta Bowl history, breaking the previous record of 84 yards by Penn State’s Chafie Fields against Texas in 1997.

“He’s probably as good as advertised,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “He is a big, strong, athletic guy. He must have jumped us four times and then outrun us. We knew if he gets a step, he’s really, really fast. I think he’s an excellent player.”

On the long touchdown run, Barkley said the coaching staff designed a play to get the defense looking to the sideline. Barkley took the handoff and ran off left tackle.

“We kind of picked that up watching film,” he said. “Once we did our little fake cadence, they looked to the sideline and we said, ‘We got ’em.’”

If Barkley chooses to turn pro, he would likely be considered the best running back prospect in the nation by a wide margin. NFL.com did a poll of league executives, and Barkley raised comparisons to such NFL players as the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt and the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.

“I was at the game a few years ago when Elliott and Barkley shared the same field,” one executive told NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah. “As impressive as Elliott was, Barkley was the better player. They have similar skill sets, but Barkley is better in every area.”

After the game, Barkley and a few teammates took a lap around the stadium floor to honor and high-five the Penn State fans that made the trip and far outnumbered Washington’s fans.

“I think we have the best fans in college football,” Barkley said. “I just wanted to say thank you to the fans. This 2017 team will never be back together. The seniors will go on to play football or go on to be successful businessmen or whatever they pursue in life. We’re so thankful for all the support they had for us all year.”

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