Miles Sanders Puts Together Breakout Performance Against Illinois
Penn State’s contest against Illinois served as running back Miles Sanders’ breakout performance of the 2018 season.
Sanders finished the game with exactly 200 yards on the ground and three touchdowns en route to a 63-24 victory in the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten opener. He put together his first-ever 200-yard performance and recorded his first hat trick of touchdowns in the victory.
The Pittsburgh native tallied a total of over 100 yards for just the second time in his career; he finished the Nittany Lions’ week two victory over Pitt with 118 yards. He also scored multiple touchdowns for the second time in his career, topping his two-touchdown performance in the team’s 2018 opener against Appalachian State.
A lot was made about Sanders transitioning from Saquon Barkley’s understudy to the No. 1 running back on the depth chart, but he’s filled the role admirably and looked extremely good as the full-time starter.
Sanders averaged 6.7 yards per carry as Barkley’s backup during his first two seasons as a Nittany Lion, a number that many thought was unsustainable. He’s actually eclipsed that total through four games this season, as his 495 rushing yards on 71 carries in 2018 gives him a season average of 6.97 yards per carry.
Head coach James Franklin called Sanders’ performance “mature” and praised his ability to prevent negative plays.
“You don’t see us with as many tackles-for-loss,” Franklin said postgame. “I think [Sanders] is doing a better job of sometimes taking an ugly three-yard run. As a running back, you want to bounce everything, so getting a running back to lower his shoulder and fight for two or three yards is important. Miles is doing a really, really good job of consistently getting us positive yards.”
Sanders himself credited much of his standout performance to his offensive linemen and the rhythm the offense found throughout the game.
“I appreciate the O-line,” he said. “They do a great job every game. This game was even better, not just for myself, but for everybody. When we get into a rhythm, we’re dangerous.”
Penn State’s starting running back gave offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne plenty of love for the job he did in terms of playcalling throughout Friday’s game. He has plenty of faith in Rahne, who is four games into his first season in charge of the Nittany Lions’ offense, but also sees plenty of room for improvement as far as ball security and discipline.
“We got all the confidence in coach Rahne,” he said. “He’s a smart guy. We have all the confidence in the world in him, and we have the tools to be as explosive as we want to be. We can even be way more better than we were today [with ball security and penalties].”
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