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What We Learned From Penn State Football’s 2022 Regular Season

After going 11-11 over the previous two seasons, No. 11 Penn State football rebounded this season with a 10-2 record, resulting in a 2023 Rose Bowl berth.

The Nittany Lions will take on No. 8 Utah in “The Granddaddy of Them All” at 5 p.m. on Monday, January 2. It’ll be Penn State’s fifth Rose Bowl appearance and first-ever matchup against the Utes. It’s safe to say Penn Staters are fired up.

Before we fully turn our focus toward Pasadena, it’s time to take a look back at what we learned from Penn State football’s impressive, bounce-back 2022 regular season.

The Running Game Is Back

How good are Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen?

The two true freshmen burst onto the scene this season and helped revive what was a pedestrian running game last season. They became the first true freshman teammates in the Big Ten’s history to each rush for 800+ yards in a single season.

Singleton’s explosiveness was on full display this season, as he totaled 941 rushing yards (fifth-most in conference) and 12 total touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving, and one kick return). The Pennsylvania native’s uncanny ability to break off big runs added a much-needed explosive element to Mike Yurcich’s offense.

Allen, on the other hand, served as more of a bruiser for the Nittany Lions. He posted 830 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns (nine rushing, one receiving) while leading the backfield with Singleton.

Simply in terms of statistics, the improvement in Penn State’s running game this season was glaring. Last season, the Nittany Lions had the second-worst rushing yards per game mark in the Big Ten with 107.8 yards per contest. James Franklin’s squad improved that number by nearly 80 yards this season with 182.1 rushing yards per game, which was the fourth-highest mark in the conference.

As Penn State heads into next season with a new signal-caller at the helm, the lethal running back duo will certainly help take pressure off Drew Allar in what’ll presumably be his first year as Penn State’s starter.

Abdul Carter Is The Real Deal

A true freshman linebacker, who wears No. 11, shined for Penn State this season with his sideline-to-sideline quickness and impressive acceleration. No, we’re not talking about Micah Parsons. We’re talking about Abdul Carter.

Carter appeared in all 12 games for the Nittany Lions, starting six of them, and led Manny Diaz’s in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (10.5), and forced fumbles (two). Additionally, he trails just behind Ji’Ayir Brown in total tackles with 55.

Carter’s sudden emergence as one of Penn State’s best defenders has earned him plenty of national recognition. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and was a third-team honoree by the coaches. Additionally, he’s one of five finalists for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year.

Coming into the season, linebacker was viewed by many as the biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball. Carter not only answered questions for this season, but he’s set himself up as a cornerstone of Diaz’s defense heading into 2023.

Starting Sean Clifford Was The Right Move

This will surely upset some people. Despite constant calls for Drew Allar, starting Sean Clifford at quarterback this season was absolutely the right decision.

Penn State came into this season with no clear-cut expectations following a mediocre two-year stretch. With Clifford at the helm, the Nittany Lions undoubtedly exceeded whatever expectations people handed them with a Rose Bowl berth. The fourth-year starter played a pivotal role in that, whether people want to admit it or not.

Clifford started all 12 games and threw for 2,543 yards while completing a career-high 63.6% of his passes. Additionally, he tossed 22 touchdowns, which was the second-highest total in the Big Ten.

While Allar’s future may be bright, he’s currently an unknown. Starting an unknown over a veteran quarterback, who has had past success (2019 Cotton Bowl victory and the program’s all-time leading passer, to name a couple), would’ve been the wrong move. Penn State’s evident 10-2 record and upcoming trip to Pasadena further prove that point.

Despite the constant criticism and negative attention, Clifford has remained positive and has focused on what’s important to him. Now, he has the chance to go out with a bang on January 2 at Rose Bowl Stadium.

The Offensive Line Is Much Improved

If you’re looking for one of the main reasons for Penn State’s success this season, you can point to the offensive line. What was once viewed as a revolving door at times last year has turned into a strong unit for James Franklin’s team, despite significant injuries throughout the season.

The Nittany Lions have been without several offensive linemen at times this season, but it hasn’t hindered the unit’s performance. When Olu Fashanu, Hunter Nourzad, Landon Tengwall, or Caedan Wallace went down, the likes of Drew Shelton, JB Nelson, and Bryce Effner filled in adequately.

In 2021, the offensive line allowed the most sacks in the Big Ten with 34. Additionally, as previously mentioned, the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack ranked toward the bottom of the conference, too.

The script completely flipped this year. The Nittany Lions have allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the conference with 18 and have one of the stronger running games in the Big Ten. It truly all starts up front, folks.

It appears the momentum is still building for this position group, too. Fashanu, who has been projected as a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and Nourzad both announced they’re returning to the team for another season in 2023, providing a major boost for the unit’s outlook.

Transfers Played A Pivotal Role

In a day where the transfer portal has become so relevant and controversial, Penn State did well for itself in the portal leading up to the 2022 campaign. Three impactful players were added during the offseason, including Mitchell Tinsley, Chop Robinson, and Hunter Nourzad.

Tinsley was the Nittany Lions’ second-most leading receiver with 45 catches for 528 yards and four touchdowns. In his final year of eligibility, he served as a solid one-two punch at wideout with Parker Washington.

Robinson stepped in as a transfer from Maryland after just one season with the Terps. He provided the Nittany Lions with a much-needed boost off the edge this year with 8.5 tackles for loss (third-most on the team) and four sacks (second-most on the team). The Maryland native added to a talented room full of defensive ends that includes Adisa Isaac, Dani Dennis-Sutton, and Nick Tarburton.

Nourzad, while only starting four games on Penn State’s offensive line due to injury, proved to be a valuable asset while on the field for the Nittany Lions. He helped improve an offensive line that struggled mightily last season, and with him announcing he’ll be back for next season, will presumably be a big part of the unit in 2023.

The Program Has Fully Recovered From The COVID Season

This is more of a big picture take, but what a difference two years make. The 2020 COVID-19-impacted season was a disaster for Penn State football. The team started the season 0-5 and finished with a mediocre-at-best 4-5 record. Then, to follow it up with a 7-6 record in 2021 continued the mediocrity.

Now sitting at 10-2 with a trip to Pasadena looming, the Nittany Lions have completed their comeback story…and the future looks bright. Despite the expectation that James Franklin’s squad will lose a handful of impact players this offseason, there are still many players on the team to be excited about.

Singleton and Allen are rising stars in Penn State’s backfield, while Carter’s potential at linebacker is off the charts. Key pieces on the offensive line will be back in 2023, and the Nittany Lions’ tight end room in strong. Oh, and did we mention former five-star quarterback Drew Allar is set to take over at the helm next season?

Be optimistic about the future, Penn Staters.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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