Michigan Suffocates Penn State Running Backs In Dominant Win

After weeks of explosive displays from Penn State’s running back room, Michigan’s defensive front did not allow it to make any noise.

In their return from the bye week, the Nittany Lions lost to Michigan 41-17. Arguably Penn State’s most consequential loss, outside of the final score, came from the teams’ disparities in the run game.

While Michigan racked up 418 yards on the ground, Penn State managed only 111 – and even that’s misleading. Quarterback Sean Clifford led the Nittany Lions on the ground with 74 yards (bolstered by his herculean 62-yard keeper), leaving the team’s trio of running backs with just 41 yards.

On six attempts, freshman Nick Singleton earned 19 yards. With an identical number of carries, fellow freshman Kaytron Allen racked up 16 yards. Junior Keyvone Lee only saw one carry, which he turned into six yards.

Their ineffectiveness also made it difficult for the passing game to find its footing. When a defense is confident it can smother the run, play calls for medium-length third downs become one dimensional.

For a majority of the game, Penn State’s offensive line was porous. Clifford had little time for his dropbacks and neither did the running backs. On eight first-down rushes, Penn State could only muster 20 yards collectively.

Many of the carries were met with defenders at the line of scrimmage. Unlike Michigan’s Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, the backs were unable to consistently withstand that pressure and bounce off the contact.

“We did not control the line of scrimmage in either half,” James Franklin said in his postgame press conference. “We weren’t able to run the ball or convert yardage situations to stay on the field.”

That’s not to absolve the running backs of their responsibilities. Nick Singleton in particular, had a rough outing. In addition to only averaging 3.2 yards per carry, he made multiple costly mistakes harming Penn State’s field position and earning the ire of his coaches.

In past conversion attempts and passing downs, Penn State has turned to running back Devyn Ford for stability. With Ford’s recent departure though, it appeared the team gave Singleton a chance to fill the role.

On a critical third-down scenario, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich dialed up a screen play. Singleton was the designated receiver. Clifford found him in space and Singleton took the reception for a 10-yard conversion.

The gain was called back by an offensive pass interference call on tight end Tyler Warren. In his post-game press conference, an agitated James Franklin chalked a lot of that up to Singleton’s sloppy execution of the route.

“We should have hit Nick a little bit earlier, but he’s got to stay behind the line of scrimmage,” Franklin said. “Literally went over that play in a team meeting. Details matter.”

As a result of the flag, Penn State’s offense faced a 3rd-and-19 situation. Ultimately, the team failed to pick up the first down and its subsequent fourth-down attempt also did not succeed.

On special teams, Singleton’s performance as kick returner was similarly underwhelming.

While attempting to field the second half’s opening kickoff, Singleton had trouble securing the football and got a slow start on the return. Two kickoffs later, Singleton tracked the ball to the 3-yard line and allowed it to bounce, presumably thinking it would end up a touchback. When the ball bounced back toward the field of play, Singleton frantically scooped the ball up and was promptly stopped at the 13-yard line – much to the frustration of special teams coordinator Stacy Collins.

Leading up to his team’s road matchup with Michigan, Franklin discussed his heightened expectations for Singleton and Allen.

“They’re not true freshmen anymore. It’s game five,” Franklin said. “We’re far enough into the season that… they’re no longer rookies. They’ve played enough football that they know what it takes and what the expectation is.”

Singleton, Allen, and the veteran Lee were already coming off a poor showing against Northwestern, where they combined for four fumbles. With the White Out and a Big Noon matchup with No. 2 Ohio State still on the docket, the spotlight is not going away.

If Penn State is to recover from Saturday’s definitive conference loss and avoid snowballing losses, the running backs will have to right the ship quickly.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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