Best Running Back Performances of the last 15 years

posted September 26, 2017 in CommRadio, Sports by Joe Murphy

After carrying fourth ranked Penn State to a last second 21-19 victory, Saquon Barkley has been propelled to the top of the Heisman leaderboards and who could blame them? His 358 all-purpose yards set a school record and he shined when the stage shined brightest.

The record setting performance is one of the best in recent memory, using his signature hurdle to fully cement the game. That play may go down as Barkley’s Heisman moment, but he is not the only running back to put together a monster performance that screams of Heisman potential. Below are some of the best running back performances in the past 15 years.

Melvin Gordon vs Nebraska, Nov. 15, 2014

To start a list of the best single game performances, why not start with the guy who broke the record first in 2014. Gordon torched Nebraska for 408 yards and four touchdowns on only 25 carries. The scariest part about that number was that he didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. It was unfortunate for him that the record did not last long or that he finished second to Marcus Mariota for the Heisman and in rushing yards in a season with 2,587.

Semaje Perine vs Kansas, Nov. 23, 2014

A record that stood for almost 15 years was broken in a mere eight days. Oklahoma’s freshman sensation pounded the hapless Kansas for 427 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 34 carries. Perine completely bowled through a weak Jayhawk defense as the Sooners only completed three passes the entire game with one going to the star running back. His game was incredible, but is slightly forgotten as he did not finish in the top 10 for the Heisman that season.

Ezekiel Elliott vs Oregon, Jan. 12, 2015

Another running back that finished on the outside of the Heisman voting, Elliott took out his frustration in the National Title Game against Heisman winner Mariota. His 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns sunk the Ducks as they were unable to wrap up the star sophomore throughout the game. People can argue that he had a better game against Alabama, but the championship game performance stands out more.

Christian McCaffrey vs Iowa, Jan. 1, 2016

In McCaffrey’s run to the record books, there were many games that stood out as some of the best in college football’s recent history. McCaffrey only scored twice in the Rose Bowl, but his 368 all-purpose yards speak for themselves as he opened the game with a 63-yard weaving punt return touchdown. The yard total is very similar to Barkley’s, but McCaffrey only had 24 touches to Barkley’s 43. Many people argue that he should have won the 2015 Heisman Trophy over Derrick Henry and his Rose Bowl game proves that he was worthy of the award.

Reggie Bush vs Fresno State, Nov. 19, 2005

While the list did not go in any particular order, Bush’s game against Fresno State was his defining moment on his run to the 2005 Heisman. He gained 513 all-purpose yards, which to this day is the most by any player in the Pac-12, on 34 touches. The signature play of that game was a 50-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter where Bush stopped on the sideline, faked as if he was going to put the ball behind his back and reversed his field for the score. Bush simply dominated throughout the season and his performance against Fresno State was the cherry on top.

Honorable Mentions:

Saquon Barkley’s Rose Bowl performance against USC was remarkable and started his Heisman campaign this year, but only one game is allowed for the discussion and his performance against Iowa was clearly better.

Willis McGahee’s six touchdown performance against Virginia Tech is worth a mention, but it happened outside the 15 year time window.

Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email