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Penn State Football: Count On Beachum in the Lions' Running Game

by on August 18, 2011 1:36 AM

Penn State sophomore Silas Redd may be getting all the preseason black ink at running back.

But when it comes to playing time for the Nittany Lions, he's still green. There’s no question who has more playing experience.

It’s a snap – Brandon Beachum.

Granted, Beachum missed all of the 2010 season while recovering from major knee surgery, the result of a very bad injury suffered late in the 2009 season.

But, as Beachum enters his third season, he is far and away the Nittany Lions’ most experienced tailback.

He has 503 snaps at Penn State under his belt. That’s nearly three times the 177 that Redd had as a freshman last year.

PATERNAL FEELINGS

And it’s what Beachum, a utilityman of the highest order, did with his time that has impressed Joe Paterno. The week after Beachum was hurt against Indiana in 2009, Paterno was uncharacteristically lavish in his praise.

“Beachum is obviously a big loss,” Paterno said at the time. “He was a kid that played on special teams as well as played fullback, tailback. And he was a great kid on the practice field.

“Beachum is all over the place for you. Anything you ask him to do, he does well. … Beachum is one of those guys, he’s a coach’s player.”

Beachum, a senior with junior eligibility from Struthers, Ohio, spent the 2010 season rehabbing and playing on the Nittany Lions’ scout team. Now, he says, “I’ve never been better. I’m 110 percent of what I was.”

On the play in which he was injured in 2009, Beachum tore both his anterior cruciate ligament and his medial collateral ligament, and injured his patella.

“It was the whole shebang,” he said, forcing a smile. “I never watched tape of the play. I get freaked out thinking about it. I’m good now.”

He’s paid his dues in the weight room and now has his sights on carrying the load at running back. Despite some big flashes from Redd in 2010, as he ran for 477 yards, the Nittany Lions are relatively inexperienced at feature back – Beachum’s half-thousand snaps aside.

Veterans Joe Suhey and Michael Zordich give the Lions depth and experience at fullback, but neither is built for 15 or 20 carries a game.

PUT UP YOUR DUKES

That leaves Redd and Beachum, as well as redshirt sophomore Curtis Dukes, as the primary rushers. If you’re counting snaps, Dukes only carried the ball twice last season.

The three will need to carry the rushing load after two key Nittany Lion losses at running back. Evan Royster has graduated, leaving Penn State as the school’s all-time rusher, with 3,932 yards.

When he set the record in 2010, Royster anointed Redd his heir apparent. “By the time he’s done here,” said Royster, “he’ll break the all-time record.”

Senior Stephfon Green is gone as well, kicked off the team by Paterno within the past two weeks. It was unlikely Green would have made a major impact anyway. He missed time with injuries each of his first three seasons, as his production went into a free-fall – from 105 carries for 578 yards, with a 5.5-yard average as a freshman, to 48 carries for 188 yards and a 3.9-yard average as a junior.

CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

Statistically, you can make a case that Beachum’s rushing numbers are nearly the same as Redd’s.

Take away Redd’s 131-yard performance against Northwestern, when Royster gained 134 yards against a soft defense that was completely befuddled by a Matt McGloin pass-happy comeback. (Green carried once for 21 yards vs. the Wildcats, and also consider that in Penn State's 125-year history Punk Berryman and Tony Sacca both rushed for over 100 yards in a game -- 75 years apart.)

Do that, and you’re left with similar career rushing numbers for Beachum and Redd. Beachum has rushed 52 times for 227 yards, a 4.4-yard average. And Redd has carried the ball 66 times for 306 yards, a 4.6-yard average. Aesthetically, Redd is prettier, but this ain’t synchronized swimming.

And you might have to question the durability of Redd, a 5-foot-10, 209-pounder. Over the final four games of the 2010 season, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and gained only 109 yards overall on 31 carries. That’s 281 percent of his Northwestern carries for only 83 percent of the yards.

As you can tell, I’m not quite yet in the Redd zone.

A NOVEL IDEA

Beachum, at 6-foot and 227 pounds, is decidedly built for the long haul.

And that will be key for the Lions’ final three regular season games. While Penn State can mostly get by with the pass for the first nine contests, any success in the November stretch run of Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin will be built on vintage Big Ten football circumstances – cold, hard and on the ground.

It will be the tale of the two seasons, and Penn State will need a dickens of a running game.

Mistakes will be magnified and subtleties will win and lose games. That’s where, for Beachum, it is the best of times.

“This past spring I did a lot of work on technical things,” Beachum said. “Not so much just running. It’s reading blocks, knowing timing, being patient when you get to the hole, being explosive when you’re getting through the hole.”

CARRIED AWAY

Those are things that also come with being on the field for 41 dozen plays. Still, he says, don’t discount his ability to carry the football.

“I’m a sound runner,” Beachum said. “I don’t think you’ll see many mistakes out of me whatever my deal is – whether it’s running the ball, blocking or catching the ball. Obviously I think I’m a tough runner. I know defenses are going to have a tough time bringing me down, because I am going to make sure of it.”

Just imagine if he's right:

For the Nittany Lions, despite the bitter chill of November, it would be quite a day at the Beachum.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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