I’ve never subscribed to the adage that if you have two good quarterbacks or two good goaltenders you have none. That’s certainly not the case right now for Penn State Football.
While I understand the premise and the issues that that perceived
dilemma may produce, I still believe it’s always a good problem to have. It’s certainly better than having two not-so-good quarterbacks. (See San Francisco vs. Philadelphia, NFC Championship game, January 29, 2023).
But if you ask a Nittany Lions fan to name the most dynamic one-two running back punch in Penn State Football history, he or she would be hard pressed to name even one and there’s a reason for that.
Oh sure, Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders finished 4th and 5th in rushing in the NFL this past season respectively, so recency bias might land those two as a possible guess.
But, in Happy Valley, they weren’t really a thunder and lightning act. They were more like a thunder and drizzle show, if that.
While Barkley and Sanders played together at PSU in 2016 and 2017, Barkey received the, wait for it, Lion’s share of the carries those two years and in turn, he carried the Lions’ offense with
1496 and 1271 yards respectively.
Sanders accounted for only about 15% of his predecessor’s
numbers those two seasons, and wasn’t asked to step up until Barkley was a New York Giant, and Sanders did with 1274 yards in 2018 for the Nittany Lions as a junior.
So, it’s certainly an understatement to say that this past season was eye-opening watching true freshmen running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen do their thing. Both, let me repeat that, both, set freshman rushing records last season by shattering Barkey’s and D.J. Dozier’s freshman records of seven rushing touchdowns in a single season.
Singleton finished with 12 scores on the ground while Allen wrapped up his freshman campaign with 10.
Here’s where I am going to give credit to the Lion King, James Franklin, for sticking with the two-back system last year instead of leaning towards a lead dog only to potentially create some dissension among the ranks.
Can you really blame him?
Franklin did the right thing when he had Barkey and Sanders at his disposal.
Sanders might be having a better pro career, but only because of injuries and environment but pound for pound, carry for carry, Barkley was the best running back the program has ever seen.
Barkley capped his college career with back to back seasons of 18 rushing touchdowns and finished his amateur football career with 43 all told and finished as the 2nd leading all-time rusher at Penn State with 3,843 yards, 91 yards behind only Evan Royster who played one more college season than did Barkey.
Yes, were many, dare I say, one-hit wonders that have come through Happy Valley … Larry Johnson finished his final year with 20 rushing touchdowns. Ki-Jana Carter topped that with 23
in that magical yet mythical championship season of 1994. Lydell Mitchell outdid them all with 26 back in 1972 in just 11 games, if you’re keeping score at home that’s almost two and a half rushing touchdowns per game. And no, that wasn’t a typo.
Only time will tell what’s in store for these two young men as pertains to their college football careers.
But, Franklin appears to be managing the situation to a fare-thee-well, especially in this day and age of the transfer portal.
Singleton finished his freshman campaign with 156 carries for 1,061 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns while his counterpart, Allen, topped off his inaugural campaign with167 carries for
867 yards and 10 ground scores, The two combined for 157 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 18 carries in the Rose Bowl finale, a 35-21 win over number eight ranked Utah back on January 2nd.
If Nit fans are disappointed about the recent flip-flopping of former NC State wide receiver Devin Carter, I don’t believe they need to worry about a similar outcome with either of their blue-chip true sophomore running backs heading into next season.