Penn State football’s rushing attack falters in win over Purdue
Throughout fall camp, James Franklin emphasized the importance of running the football effectively.
However, in Penn State’s 35-31 victory over Purdue on Thursday night, the running game wasn’t a factor in the offense despite scoring five touchdowns.
The lack of a running game isn’t something new for the Nittany Lions, as a year ago ranked No. 113 in the nation in rush yards per game and failed to have a player reach the century mark in rushing yards.
The blue and white was unsuccessful as a team in reaching 100 rushing yards falling two yards short, and its longest carry of the matchup was 12 yards from Keyvone Lee in the fourth quarter.
True freshman Kaytron Allen led the team in yards racking up 31 on eight carries, with his longest rush being nine yards.
The Nittany Lion coaching staff mentioned in fall camp that it was going to be a four-man backfield, but Allen, Lee and fellow freshman and five-star Nicholas Singleton only received carries.
The rotation between the running backs featured mixed results, with the backs being on the bench for long periods between drives.
Lee started the game, followed by Singleton, who was force-fed the ball receiving five rushes in his first collegiate drive but didn’t see the field again until midway through the second.
Franklin will continue to utilize the rotation until “somebody takes over and gets real hot,” however, the team averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on Thursday.
After the contest, Franklin noted he didn’t feel the drive-by-drive rotation affected the running backs finding their rhythm.
“If we thought that that would prevent [running backs from getting hot], we probably wouldn’t do it, right?” Franklin said.
Contrary to Franklin’s belief, Lee mentioned he had some difficulty adjusting to the rotation.
“It is a little bit,” Lee said. “But at the same time, like I said, I just made the best of my opportunities.”
Lee was the blue and white’s leading rusher the prior two seasons but was held in check on Thursday night, recording just 30 yards on nine carries.
The Petersburg, Florida, native’s best play came in the fourth quarter, but it was through the air and not on the ground.
With Penn State trailing 31-28 with under two minutes remaining, quarterback Sean Clifford orchestrated an excellent two-minute drill capped off with a Lee touchdown out of the backfield.
Despite catching the game-winning touchdown, the junior running back wasn’t feeling confident about his performance in the first half.
“I was kind of losing faith and losing hope at the beginning of the game, and things weren’t going the way I wanted it to go,” Lee said. “I just got the opportunity and made the best of it. I needed that game-winning touchdown.”
Having your most productive running back for the past two campaigns losing faith in himself isn’t a great spot to be in for Franklin, but luckily he stepped up when his team needed him most.
The rushing performance in the season-opener provides a stepping stone for the rest of the year because it wasn’t much improved from last year.
Many fans were expecting the Nittany Lions to dominate on the ground with the additions of Singleton and Allen, but that didn’t transpire.
“It didn’t really go as planned,” Lee said. “But we did some good things in the run game, and we made a lot of improvements from last year, so there’s a lot to learn, and there’s a lot that we can watch and get better at.”
Along with the running back room, the offensive line was a major point of discussion surrounding Penn State this offseason.
While the running game struggled and Parker Washington, a wide receiver leading the team in yards per carry, doesn’t suggest the offensive line excelled, Lee mentioned the offensive line is “way better from last year,” even calling them a rallying point.
Lee is battling it out for increased playing time over the two true freshmen in Allen and Singleton, but he noted he’s proud of how the two young stars played and serves as a mentor for them.
“They played their hearts out, and I’m proud of them. They grew since they first got here to now, and I’m going to continue to push them and continue to help them get better,” Lee said. “I basically told them to be yourself, block out all the distractions and noise and just play how you want to play.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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