Kenneth Walker channels Galloping Ghost in legendary performance
Nearly a century ago, Illinois running back Red Grange solidified his place in college football lore with a legendary performance against Michigan.
Four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game. A final line of 212 rushing yards, 126 return yards and 5 touchdowns. It led to a star turn so significant that the NFL would not be here today without snagging “The Galloping Ghost” as its first drawing card.
Football fans born after he played and after he died still know Red Grange’s name.
And if they’re still playing college football a century from now, you can just about guarantee that the name Kenneth Walker III will still be spoken with reverence in East Lansing.
Walker’s showing against Michigan on Saturday afternoon was one for the ages: 23 carries for 197 yards and 5 touchdowns in the first Top-10 showdown between these rivals since 1964. Every ounce of his effort was needed for the 37-33 win that leaves the Spartans with a path to the College Football Playoff heading into November.
These weren’t just cheap plunges over the goal line, though there was one 1-yarder in the mix. Walker’s other scores were from 27, 8 and 58 yards out before he completed Michigan State’s rally from a 16-point deficit with a 23-yarder in the fourth quarter.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 30, 2021
Walker punches his ticket to New York
There’s too much football left to say anything is secure in the race for the Heisman Trophy. But it is going to be very hard for voters to leave Walker off their ballots after witnessing what he did in the most prominent game of the noon television window.
Barring a very bad set of health circumstances, Walker proved he belongs in New York City as one of the 3-5 finalists who will vie for this year’s Heisman.
You want a big game on a big stage? Very few players will have a chance to top what Walker did in the biggest game against his school’s biggest rival in 57 years.
On top of that, Michigan’s defense has been among the nation’s best all season.
The Wolverines entered the game 25th in the country against the run. They were tied for 21st in fewest runs over 20 yards allowed. And most significantly, second in scoring with 14.3 points allowed per game.
Walker accounted for more points against the Wolverines (30) than any team that has played Michigan this season.
Battling the running back bias
Running back was the premier position for Heisman winners in the 20th century, but the game’s evolution has left that feeling prehistoric.
Only 3 running backs have lifted the Heisman since 2000 — Reggie Bush (2005), Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015). Each of those backs was on a team that played for a national championship.
Ron Dayne (1999) is the last running back to win a Heisman but not play in the national championship game.
Fortunately for Walker, the Spartans are still alive for consideration to do the former. There are massive tests to close out the schedule in Ohio State and Penn State, not to mention giant-killer Purdue lying in wait next week.
If Michigan State can make a run to the College Football Playoff, Walker may be the rare running back with a Heisman breakthrough in this era.
What happens from here this season can only enhance Walker’s legend. Nothing on the field will detract from what may well be the finest individual performance by a running back against the Michigan Wolverines since 1924.
Its legend may outlive us all.