Who Holds the NCAA Single-Game Record for Most Rushing Yards?

In the more than 150 years of college football, there have been quite a few spectacular performances on the ground by some of the game’s best running backs. Chances are you will recognize most of the top performers that make the list. Some might not be as familiar. Here’s a look at the five running backs who top the NCAA single-game record for most rushing yards.

5. Tony Sands, Kansas (Nov. 23, 1991) — 396 yards 

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The Kansas Jayhawks may be known for their basketball tradition, but on this one November day in 1991, the football program made national headlines. Jayhawks senior running back Tony Sands set an NCAA single-game record for most rushing yards and finished his career in style by amassing 396 yards on an NCAA record 58 carries, which still stands today. Sands had an incredible 34 carries in the second half alone as he totaled 240 yards en route to setting the record. 

4. LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU (Nov. 20, 1999) — 406 yards 

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LaDainian Tomlinson was one of the greatest running backs in Western Athletic Conference history and, in 2000, he led the nation in rushing with 2,158 yards. However, during a game in 1999 against UTEP, Tomlinson set the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a game and in the process became the first running back to surpass the 400-yard mark. On 43 carries, Tomlinson gained 406 yards and scored six touchdowns.   

3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (Nov. 15, 2014) — 408 yards 

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Melvin Gordon became the second-ever running back to top the 400-yard plateau when he did it in 2014 against Nebraska. What was most impressive is Gordon gained 408 yards on just 25 carries for an incredible 16.3 yards per touch. He also added four touchdowns. 

His performance set an NCAA record for most rushing yards in a game and was a huge reason why he finished the season with 2,587 yards, which is second all-time in a single season behind Barry Sanders.

2. Jaret Patterson, Buffalo (Nov. 28, 2020) — 409 yards 

The diminutive 5-foot-9 Jaret Patterson of Buffalo sent a message to the college football world on Nov. 17, 2020 when he rushed for 301 yards against Bowling Green, the top NCAA rushing performance of the season. Then, on Nov. 28, Patterson topped his own personal best by rushing for 409 yards against Kent State on just 36 carries for an impressive 11.36 yards a carry. 

His performance was good enough for second-best in the NCAA single-game record for most rushing yards. What turned out to be equally impressive was Patterson tied the NCAA mark for most rushing touchdowns in a game with eight.  

1. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma (Nov. 22, 2014) — 427 yards 

In 2014, just a week after Melvin Gordon set the NCAA single-game record for most rushing yards, Oklahoma freshman running back Samaje Perine stepped up and topped it. Against Kansas, Perine carried the ball 34 times en route to gaining 427 yards, for an average of 12.6 yards per carry. He scored five touchdowns, each longer than 27 yards. 

Perine’s record has stood for six years. Patterson has been the only running back who has threatened the mark. It’s just a matter of time, however, before another back has a history-making day and sets the NCAA record for single-game rushing yards.

All stats courtesy of the NCAA.