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Running Back Development Pays Dividends In Penn State’s Offensive Onslaught Against Indiana

Penn State football starting quarterback Sean Clifford has seen a lot of players come in and out of Happy Valley.

The sixth-year gunslinger has shared a locker room with guys like Saquon Barkley, Micah Parsons, Trace McSorley, Journey Brown, and Jahan Dotson. He’s seen the entire college career arc of some bona fide stars.

He hasn’t seen anyone like Kaytron Allen.

“The way he works, the way he excels… He’s the most improved I think I’ve seen in, probably, my career in such a short time,” Clifford said from the bowels of Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana, Saturday.

Allen played a massive part in the Nittany Lions’ 45-14 blowout win over Indiana. “Fatman” finished with a game-high 158 all-purpose yards and an absurd three touchdowns. He now has eight scores on the season, which ties Noah Cain and Nick Singleton for the program record among true freshmen.

Forecasts called for lots of wind and rain and, while it stayed dry, gusts neared 30 mph. Franklin said postgame Penn State was preparing for running the ball more. It did. The Nittany Lions finished with 49 rush attempts to their 35 passes, and the strategy worked.

Clifford struggled to get the ball downfield and the offense finished 2-for-7 on balls thrown more than 20 yards. Sometimes the throws were there, but the wind or other factors made it too risky. That’s exactly what happened on Allen’s biggest play of the night, which was a check-down he took out of the backfield for 45 yards.

“We actually had the shot down the field. It was such a tight window,” Clifford said. “But, you know, when you can flick it out and get 60 or 50 or whatever he went for, it makes your job pretty easy.”

Allen’s most explosive play came through the air, but he made his money on the ground against the Hoosiers. He gained 86 yards at a 4.8-yard-per-carry clip and looked great carrying the football.

He made impressive cuts, showed patience and backfield vision, and was physical when he needed to be — especially near the goal line.

Allen’s big day was a welcomed sign for a Penn State offensive line that was missing three starters. Phil Trautwein’s crew flexed its depth and put together a great performance, but having an explosive duo of rushers in the backfield didn’t hurt.

“You know you don’t have to make an amazing block for the play to work,” lineman Bryce Effner said.

“It makes it more exciting,” tight end Brenton Strange added. “If you open up that one hole, all they need is one hole and it can be a home run.”

Allen’s three touchdowns made him the star of the show against Indiana, but don’t let that overshadow a great night from Nick Singleton, who put Penn State on the board in the first quarter.

Singleton finished right behind Allen in the ground game, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and adding 72 total yards. The Governor Mifflin prospect has fallen a bit in the shadow of Allen as of late, but he’s just as impressive of a runner.

Franklin quipped after the game that Singleton is a “threat to score at any point.” He has that home-run speed, which was mostly on display against Auburn. Effner recalled one of his runs from Jordan-Hare Stadium in his postgame media scrum.

“Singleton is kinda like a bottle rocket. You kind of point him in the direction you want him to run…It’s like when you’re standing too close to the train station and the train goes by,” the lineman said. “[When he passed me] it was like trying to chase after the sun going over the sunrise.”

The success of Allen and Singleton has become par of the course for the Nittany Lions this season, but as Clifford suggested postgame, their rapid development has been unusual and exciting.

They’re both just true freshmen. Strange asked the duo after the game how old they were just to remind himself. He knew the answer but was still impressed when he remembered Allen scored three touchdowns in an away Big Ten matchup as an 18-year-old.

“You guys have seen it the last…games, but I’ve been seeing it since the spring and it still impresses me,” the tight end said.

This year, the success of the running back room has become the norm again. So much so that it seems hard to imagine that Ja’Juan Seider’s crew went all of 2021 without a single runner eclipsing 100 yards.

In a windy Indiana game, Penn State counted on its running backs instead of recognizing them as a liability. And its two stars are still just true freshmen with an elite true freshman quarterback prospect waiting for his chance, too.

Allen and Singleton’s development has been integral to the success of the offense, but it’s been a team effort. Effner & Co. knew they couldn’t run the ball well last year and worked tirelessly over the offseason to return to a standard.

“All the animosity towards the run game at Penn State the last two years has hurt a lot,” Effner said. “We wanted the offensive unit as tight, as well-oiled as possible.”

No animosity here anymore.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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