Penn State’s running-back-by-committee approach working
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Dressed in warm-up gear on Saturday, Saquon Barkley jogged lightly down the Beaver Stadium sideline to test the right ankle he injured three weeks ago in nearly the exact same spot.
But something wasn’t right. When the Penn State running back emerged from the tunnel two hours later, he was still dressed in street clothes. And although head coach James Franklin said Barkley ”looked awesome” at the team’s midweek practice, the electric player missed his second straight game.
This much is clear – Franklin has all the confidence in his running back corps with Barkley and junior Akeel Lynch (who’s out with a knee injury) unavailable. Nick Scott and Mark Allen have instilled those positive feelings.
They finished with 102 of Penn State’s 154 rushing yards in a 29-7 win over Indiana and save for a first-quarter fumble by Allen, have played mistake free.
”They compliment each other very well,” Franklin said. ”They both are running extremely hard.”
Franklin is cagey about injuries – he doesn’t address them unless they are season-ending – so the statuses of Lynch and Barkley won’t be revealed publicly until one or both of them take the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday. At this point, Scott and Allen are looking forward to the opportunity to keep their momentum going against a Buckeye defense that allowed 253 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Maryland on Saturday.
Allen and Scott have worked for the chance since they arrived at Penn State more than one year ago.
Members of Franklin’s first full recruiting class, Allen and Scott redshirted last season and were pegged as reserve backs before spring practice. But both emerged in April – Scott as a back with big-play potential and Allen as a shifty, perimeter player who could catch passes out of the backfield, a dimension Penn State’s offense has lacked since Franklin arrived.
Scott’s 51-yard touchdown in the team’s spring scrimmage, in which he spun through vaunted defensive tackle Anthony Zettel’s grasp behind the line of scrimmage, helped ease Franklin’s concerns about untested depth behind Lynch.
Scott was the team’s most consistent return man, best coverage player and solidified his spot on special teams in training camp. The team’s smallest player at 5-foot-6, Allen’s speed and ability to conceal himself behind bigger players made him an intriguing change-of-pace option, Franklin said. His mouth can be an asset, too.
”That guy has a lot of energy,” wide receiver Saeed Blacknall said. ”Mark has always been a good spark to the team, getting everyone pumped up and getting the juices flowing.”
But then Barkley arrived and ripped off highlight-reel runs in training camp and in three of the team’s first four games for three touchdowns and an 8.8-yard average per carry.
He and Lynch were both hurt in the second quarter against San Diego State, however, and Allen stepped in and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on his first touch of the game. Scott’s been close to breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown and is averaging more than 31 yards per return. He’s gotten a break on return teams since his offensive load has increased and his 11-yard touchdown sparked a sluggish offense to a win over Army last week.
Scott did it again with a 35-yard run on Penn State’s second play on Saturday where he and Allen split carries at eight apiece. So far, Scott has carried 27 times for 125 yards while Allen has 26 carries for 78. Both have four catches, Allen for 44 yards and Scott for 43.
”Whoever gets hot is hot,” Scott said. ”When he gets out on the field, I’m rooting him on, I’m hoping he makes big plays and then I understand when I go out there I’ve got to take advantage of my opportunities.”