After A 330-Yard Onslaught, Penn State’s Rushing Attack Is Back In Full Force
What Penn State’s rushing attack accomplished on Saturday night was nothing short of incredible, especially when you consider how far the unit has come since 2014. Penn State’s running game went from being a mere afterthought to becoming the focal point of the offense in the span of a year, and it looks like we’ve only begun to see what this unit is capable of.
In breaking down the running game’s success, a bulk of the credit must go to Penn State’s offensive line, and the remarkable performance the unit displayed against the stout — yet depleted — Rutgers defensive line. Take a look at the still-frame captured at the beginning of Akeel Lynch’s 75-yard touchdown scamper to get an idea of how well this unit performed.
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Notice how there’s roughly seven yards between Paris Palmer and Derek Dowry, with not a single Rutgers defender in the area. This is no coincidence. The gaping hole that allowed Lynch to gallop down the field was the product of perfect execution up front. Palmer kicks out the defensive end, taking him completely out of the play, while Derek Dowry and Angelo Mangiro drive their assignments back, staying engaged and keeping them from disrupting the play. This is the type of execution up front that Penn State severely lacked in week one, but credit Herb Hand with coaching his unit up and preparing them to come out and produce against Rutgers.
Think of it this way: two weeks ago, Penn State’s offensive line could barely pick up a blitz down the middle. Now, it’s mowing down defenders and making the Nittany Lions relevant on the ground.
Guard Brian Gaia summarized the line’s collective thoughts on the unit’s performance, capturing the pride all five starters share in facilitating such an incredible performance from the team’s running backs.
“Our preparation throughout the week showed tonight, and we proved that we can play, and that we’re confident in ourselves,” Gaia said after the game. “It’s great having backs like Barkley and Lynch playing behind you, because it helps you when you open up those holes and know that the running back is going to take advantage of it and make those big plays.”
As imperative as the offensive line’s performance is to the running game’s success, there are no results without Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley. The spectacle the duo put on in front of 103,000 fans was stunning, and gave the nation only a brief glimpse of what could be in store.
Watching Barkley weave his way through traffic was like watching a renowned painter create a masterpiece; his sheer awareness to recognize daylight, and subsequent execution when hitting the hole was fascinating to watch. Barkley’s 195 yard, two touchdown performance bore stunning resemblance to performances of the game’s greatest runners. The great Gale Sayers once said, “Give me 18 inches of daylight, that’s all I need.” It certainly seems like Barkley took that line to heart on Saturday, turning what should’ve been marginal gains into explosive plays. Barkley’s performance was downright special, and considering that he’s only a freshman, there may be plenty more to come.
With questions surrounding Christian Hackenberg’s ability to lead the offense, it may be time for John Donovan to focus less on beating opponents through the air, and more on letting his two-headed rushing attack set the tone and become the focal point of the offense.