‘We’ve Got To Get Those Guys Touches’: Spreading The Ball Around Key To Penn State Football’s Offensive Strategy

Penn State is 3-0. The Nittany Lions have easily dispatched every opponent they’ve faced this season by a wide margin. However, Penn State is still far from its ceiling.

During Sean Clifford’s last year directing the offense, the young running back room of Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton became the first rushing duo to each record over 850 yards in a single season and only the third duo to rush for 800 yards each.

The emphasis opponents had on defending against Clifford’s arm and receiving corps often opened up gaps in the defense for the running backs to exploit for large gains. Singleton alone recorded seven runs over 40 yards, five of which were touchdowns, and a long rush of 87 yards a season ago.

Through the first three games of the new season (one of which was against an FCS opponent), Singleton and Allen are both averaging five yards a carry. Singleton’s longest run was a 16-yard touchdown against Illinois, while Allen broke an 18-yard run against the Illini for his longest of the year.

The offense has had good games from its running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, just not all at the same time. James Franklin believes the key to unlocking the running backs and making the offense whole is to develop Drew Allar’s reputation.

“We’ve got to consistently show people that we can throw the ball over their heads,” Franklin said. “Although I think Drew [Allar] has shown what he can do and what he’s capable of, I still think people are going to say to themselves, ‘We can’t allow Nick [Singleton] and Kaytron [Allen] to beat us.'”

Perhaps the biggest aid to the running back room’s success last year was the fact that defenses didn’t expect much from a pair of freshman running backs. Unfortunately for Allen and Singleton, the secret’s out. Eventually, Allar should be able to relieve the pressure.

Franklin says that the running backs are handling this year’s situation with patience, knowing that they’ll get their opportunity soon.

When Penn State opened up Big Ten play against Illinois, Allen was held to 54 yards, while Singleton managed just 37 yards on the ground during a day that saw virtually no one on the offense succeed.

“I think in the Big Ten, you look at statistically, we play good defense around here,” Franklin said. “There’s going to be games where we’ve got to grind it out.”

Franklin linked what happened to the running backs on Saturday to the season opener in West Virginia when the tight ends had just one catch for nine yards.

The tight end’s performance against West Virginia was surprising, as Franklin has had a long line of talented players at the position, many of whom are still playing in the NFL.

While the tight ends only gained nine yards in the opener, they still impacted the game in a different way. Franklin sees the tight ends as another important factor in getting the running backs room to run. Even though they could’ve gotten more touches in any particular game, they impact the running game and pass game in a way that isn’t measured on the stat sheet.

“Having a room like that is going to be important to us,” Franklin said. “It’s allowed us to be balanced in the run and the pass game. So, yeah, it’s part of our big picture plan and model here.”

Increasing the threat of every position group so that defenses are forced to prepare for everything is an emphasis for Franklin, but he’s maintained that he won’t force the ball to someone who isn’t open, and the game will ultimately develop the way it develops.

Franklin knows that he has a team filled with playmakers, and spreading the ball around will open up the playbook exponentially.

“There’s no doubt about it, whether it’s the tight ends or its KeAndre [Lambert-Smith] or our running backs, we’ve got to get those guys touches,” Franklin said. “When that happens, usually good things follow.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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