The 2018 Heisman campaign for Trace McSorley began in the Fiesta Bowl
The Fiesta Bowl was all about Saquon Barkley.
Saturday’s game was expected to be the final collegiate outing for the superstar running back, who is expected to declare for the NFL Draft at any time. This was the last chance to catch Barkley toting the rock for Penn State and drink in one of the most athletic and physically gifted backs ever to carry a football in the college game.
Barkley didn’t disappoint. He set a Fiesta Bowl record in the first half, taking a handoff 92 yards to the end zone to give the Nittany Lions a 28-7 lead in the second quarter, the longest carry in the bowl’s history. He effortlessly hurdled Washington defenders, much like he’s done all season long. And when the final gun sounded, he had racked up 137 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and added 38 yards on seven catches.
His efforts propelled Penn State to a 35-28 win over the Huskies, pushing the Lions to an 11-2 finish to the season. The former Heisman frontrunner put an exclamation point on an incredible career on Saturday evening.
Barkley wasn’t the only player donning the blue and white to make a statement in Glendale, though. Quarterback Trace McSorley quietly — I use that term loosely — began his 2018 Heisman campaign in the Fiesta Bowl.
McSorley’s performance would’ve been the topic of conversation on Saturday had Barkley not been in Penn State’s backfield. The junior gunslinger completed 32-of-41 passes (78%) for 342 yards and two touchdowns. He showed off his mobility again, too, rushing for 60 yards on 12 carries.
McSorley hit DaeSean Hamilton downfield for a 48-yard touchdown strike on the first possession of the game, a throw that was beautifully dropped into the hands of his receiver. He used nine different receivers throughout the game, spreading the Washington defense beautifully.
But most impressively, McSorley was clutch for the Nittany Lions on third down.
Penn State faced 17 third down situations on Saturday, putting the ball in the hands of their star quarterback on 12 of those attempts. All 12 times, McSorley converted. If he hadn’t proven he possessed that clutch gene enough in the past, he certainly showed something against the Huskies.
McSorley looked like a Heisman-caliber quarterback all afternoon.
The offense is going to look a lot different for the Nittany Lions next season and McSorley will surely endure some new challenges. Barkley (likely) won’t be in the backfield next year. Leading receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki are gone, too. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead left for the head coaching job at Mississippi State.
But in Glendale, McSorley looked like he could make any throw, extend any play, regardless of who is surrounding him on the field. Saturday wasn’t his day to make a statement, but he did it anyway.
Barkley’s performance will lead most of the headlines coming out of the Fiesta Bowl. And if it’s not about his 137-yard day, it’ll surely be about his decision to return to Happy Valley for one more year and take the leap to the next level. For a player who’s been so instrumental in a program’s success, Saturday should’ve been his moment.
The Fiesta Bowl is going to be remembered as the final game for one of college football’s best running backs. It’s also going to be considered the starting point of McSorley’s Heisman run.