Watching Penn State play against Temple two weeks ago was not a fun time for anyone. It wasn’t fun for Head Coach James Franklin; it wasn’t fun for Offensive Coordinator John Donovan; it wasn’t fun for running backs Akeel Lynch or Saquon Barkley and it certainly wasn’t fun for quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Christian Hackenberg was sacked 10 times and threw more picks (1) than he did touchdowns (0). Temple Running Back Jahad Thomas rushed the ball 29 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Penn State Running Back Akeel Lynch (Jr.) ran the ball 10 times for 78 yards, however most of that production came from a 42-yard touchdown run. And Running Back Saquon Barkley only got one carry during the entire game and ran it for one measly yard.
Clearly James Franklin had some changes to make going into week two when Penn State would face the University of Buffalo. And changes he would make.
Penn State went to the running game against Buffalo, handing off the ball 39 times while throwing it only 27 times. This is a stark difference from week one against Temple, when the Nittany Lions ran the ball only 28 times and threw the ball 25 times. Big difference, right?
The real difference in week two, however, was whom Penn State was handing the ball off to. While Lynch (19 rushes for 46 yards vs. Buffalo) came into the season as the lead back, it was Barkley who really impressed. The true freshman running back had 12 rushes for 115 yards and a touchdown and gave the Nittany Lions the spark they needed to win their first game of the season.
Fast forward to this past Saturday night.
A night game at home, plus being the first conference matchup of the season made this game important enough as it is. The fact that Rutgers suspended so many of its players and its head coach put this game into must-win territory.
While Rutgers was severely undermanned, Penn State still needed to execute its game plan and carry over the positives from the game against Buffalo in order to earn its second win of the season.
James Franklin must have realized what he had in running back Saquon Barkley after his performance against Buffalo, as he fed the true freshman the ball 21 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Barkley, who initially had committed to Rutgers, changed his mind and picked Penn State as his home once James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley. Franklin is probably thanking the old gods and the new that Barkley picked the Nittany Lions over the Scarlet Knights, as the running back has run for over 300 yards in the last two games. Junior running back Akeel Lynch also ran the ball 10 times for 120 yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown run.
Clearly James Franklin has two very capable and explosive running backs, along with a talented yet struggling quarterback Christian Hackenberg (who hasn’t been sacked in two weeks by the way) and a dominant defense. These are the keys to Penn State’s two game winning streak.
Unlike against Temple, Hackenberg has had time in the pocket to throw and has only turned the ball over once, the running backs have rushed for 530 yards and the defense has only allowed 17 points.
This is how Penn State is going to win games. Run the ball. Don’t turn the ball over. Play good defense. Penn State is paying defensive coordinator Bob Shoop almost a million dollars a year to keep this defense as dominant as possible. A year and three games into his contract and he is keeping his end of the deal. Now its time for Franklin and Donovan to earn their contracts. Run the ball James. Run it.