PASADENA, Calif. - Eye black smudged and uniform grass-stained, Saquon Barkley walked into the locker room with his head high.
Despite the sting of a 52-49 Southern California win in the Rose Bowl's final seconds, Barkley's face betrayed no emotion. He was hurting, of course, but the sophomore running back had every reason not to hang his head.
In the thriller, he couldn't be stopped.
On Penn State's first second-half drive, he juked his way past several USC defenders on his way to a jaw-dropping, 79-yard touchdown run that will be talked about long after this season.
"Earlier in that game, Coach [James] Franklin told me someone had to make a play," Barkley said. "I kind of took that personally."
"He's a special player," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "He made guys miss downfield and kept running. Guys were chasing him down."
Barkley provided the second-half start Penn State needed. And more.
The Lions not only took a 28-27 lead, their first of the day, but the explosive run sent Joe Moorhead's up-tempo offense into overdrive.
Penn State's next offensive play?
A 72-yard juggling catch by wide receiver Chris Godwin, who impressed all by himself with nine receptions for 187 yards.
Franklin wasn't sure he had ever seen a more productive quarter. McSorley concurred, saying he was in awe of Barkley's long touchdown run.
Earlier in the season, Barkley said he felt he may have been trying to do too much, to force an electrifying 80-yard run every time he touched the ball. And in Penn State's 49-10 loss to Michigan in September, Barkley logged 15 touches for a mere 59 yards.
At Rose Bowl Stadium on Monday, however, the 5-foot-11, 223-pound Barkley looked fresh. He wasn't trying to make anything happen. It just did.
Barkley finished the day with 25 carries for 194 yards, five receptions for 55 yards, and three touchdowns.
Later in the third quarter, Barkley caught a 7-yard pass at the edge of the end zone. He looked up and pointed to the sky, then jumped into the air to chest-bump his teammates. The quarter was Penn State's second-half offense at its best.
"Saquon has made big plays all year long, Mike Gesicki has made big plays all year long. Godwin has made plays all year long," Franklin said. "But, you know, we didn't do enough.'
After the gut-punch of a loss, Franklin said he was already looking to improve on this year's success next season. The good news for Penn State?
Barkley, among a bevy of other playmakers, will be back.