In front of home crowds, Justin Jackson and Saquon Barkley (may have) delivered the perfect farewell
It only took 57 seconds to realize that Saquon Barkley was going to have another special day in Happy Valley on Saturday afternoon. If that was the final time the crowd in Beaver Stadium got to see the prized running back in the Penn State blue and white, he was going to make it memorable.
Barkley didn’t disappoint.
The Nittany Lions back caused a roar on the third play of the game, dancing past Nebraska’s defensive line then bolting 65 yards to kick-start the scoring. Another remarkable moment for one of the game’s most gifted athletes. But it didn’t end there. Barkley tacked on an additional 93 yards and reached the end zone twice more to help Penn State down Nebraska 56-44.
When it was all said and done, Barkley ended the day with 224 all-purpose yards — 158 of which came on the ground — and three scores. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in three seasons and recorded his 39th-career rushing touchdowns, setting a new program record.
If that was Barkley’s last appearance in Beaver Stadium, he concluded it with the perfect bookend.
Clear across the B1G, 590 miles from State College, Pennsylvania, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson was putting on a show of his own.
On 31 carries, Jackson racked up 166 yards as the Wildcats slammed Minnesota 39-0. He, too, eclipsed the 1,000-yards for the season in front of a home crowd at Ryan Field. Jackson became only the second player in B1G history to hit that milestone all four years, joining former Wisconsin star and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
Jackson’s big day also resulted in a secured spot among the B1G’s elite running backs. Those 166 yards propelled the Northwestern star into the conference’s top five all-time rushing leaders, currently seated at No. 5. He needs just a single yard to pass another Badger, Montee Ball.
Saturday was a special day in Evanston, too. Though, unlike Barkley, we can be certain Jackson’s performance against Minnesota was his last on the Ryan Field turf. He’s got just two games remaining in a Northwestern uniform — the season finale against Illinois and a bowl game — and then his college career is over.
Jackson has no choice in the matter.
Maybe that’s how it should be for Barkley, too. While the Penn State running back ultimately has the final decision to return for one more go-round or declare for the NFL Draft, he might not get the opportunity to turn his helmet and shoulder pads on a higher note.
Barkley will end his career with over 5,000 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons in State College. He’ll go down as one of the most versatile, athletic and talented backs in program, B1G, maybe even college football history. Closing the curtain after a 224-yard, three-touchdown performance only feels appropriate.
Jackson will leave Northwestern with more than 5,000 rushing yards and at least 38 touchdowns — his total after Week 12. He’ll be regarded as one of the most consistent ball-carriers in the conference’s history.
Doesn’t that 31-carry, 166-yard day seem fitting now?
Saturday was truly the perfect sendoff for a couple players who will be remembered as two of the best running backs in B1G history. Both rushed for over 150 yards and eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season in front of a home crowd. Jackson and Barkley walked off their respective home fields as winners.
Very few careers end in that fashion.
That’s how it will end for Jackson. It’s how it should end for Barkley, too.