Penn State Football: Running Game Shouldn't Be An Issue For Fans, Yet
After any single game it's easy to overreact to any given performance. An average player could have had a career day and a great player could have had a bad one.
The same can be said for a unit of players. Such was the case in Penn State's victory over Syracuse this past weekend.
While the Nittany Lions played well enough to win, a lot of Penn State fans zeroed in on the teams struggle to run the ball; averaging under three yards per carry. According to Penn State's official stats the Nittany Lions carried the ball 38 times for a net total of 57 yards.
Is that a cause for concern? As far as the big picture of the season too early to tell, but an average of 1.5 yards a carry is a troublesome trend for Penn State fans and coaches alike.
On the one hand head coach Bill O'Brien wants to be able to run the ball at will, on the other hand the Orange loaded up the box and were content to stop the run -- daring true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg to beat them deep. An offensive line can't block everyone headed its way and unblocked defenders usually means a short run for the offense. The more balance Penn State is able to create between the pass and the run the more teams will play an equally balanced defense.
Interestingly enough, Penn State ran the ball 22 times last season in a Week 1 loss to Ohio for a net total of 87 yards, close to the Week 1 total this year. It took the Nittany Lions 16 fewer rushes to reach the same total but O'Brien called 11 more passing plays last season in Week 1 than he did this year. As a result, a more balanced attack demanded a more balanced defense by Ohio.
That balance is something O'Brien understands.
"First of all, the running game, the game plan starts with me," O'Brien said. "I thought the guys blocked hard up front, I don't know why people think that the offensive line struggled. The offensive line when the play was called properly and the right play was put into the game, the offensive line blocked very well."
"We have a very good offensive line. The problem was the coaching; starts with me. We've got to do a better job with the running game, and we're going to work hard on it this week and hopefully you will see improvement this week against Eastern Michigan."
So for now, it's full speed ahead with the running game, according to running back's coach Charles London. But if the trend continues of low running averages per carry, it could spell trouble by the time conference play comes around.
"We just have to keep doing what we are doing," London said on Thursday. "I think a lot of it starts with coaching. That was talked a little bit about the other day. We have to do a better job coaching and do a better job putting our guys in better positions in the run game for execution. A lot of it was first game stuff, and Syracuse did a good job. They played well up front. We are going to just keep continuing to work our techniques and work our fundamentals, and we know it will pay off down the road."
*Some mathematical mistakes were made in the original version of this story. The article has since been updated to reflect net rushing gains.*