Franklin: Too dependent on freshmen running backs
Ideally, a third-year starter with an All-Big Ten receiver would be the dominant one-two punch that defenses would key in on. Many thought that would be the case for Penn State this year.
Instead, it’s been all about the freshmen running backs, when they’ve been healthy, that is.
True freshman Saquon Barkley leads the team with 373 yards rushing and three touchdowns despite the fact that he hasn’t started yet. He was sidelined last week against Army after suffering an injury in the first half against San Diego State. The Lions were also without starter Akeel Lynch, who went down in the first half against SDSU, as well.
In his place, freshman Mark Allen got the start. Fellow freshman Nick Scott ended up leading the team with 12 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown.
With Barkley and Lynch both potentially sidelined again on Saturday against Indiana, James Franklin was asked about his limited offensive options.
Is PSU too dependent on Barkley & freshman RBs? Franklin: "I don't know what else to do. That's all we got … so, yeah, we are dependent."
— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) October 6, 2015
If Franklin had it his way, the Lions would be able to drop back and let the passing game do the work. But offensive line issues still linger and Christian Hackenberg has only completed 52.8 percent of his passes.
The 2014 B1G leader in receptions, DaeSean Hamilton, would also have a bigger role. He only has 15 catches for 185 yards in five games this season. Chris Godwin has stepped up in the passing game, but this is still an offense that’s seen most of its production come from freshman running backs.
Lynch is the only non-freshman of the seven Lions backs that have registered carries this year. As a result, they’ve made up for 65 percent of the rushing production.
While Franklin would obviously welcome that production vs. no production, the issue could be dealing with the peaks and valleys that come from an inexperienced group. And with a limited passing game, that’s not easy to deal with.
Franklin on striking a balance with run/pass/shot plays and penalties impacting 3rd downs. "Our margin or error right now is small."
— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) October 6, 2015
Franklin and the Lions will look to get the aerial attack going when the nation’s second-worst pass defense comes to Happy Valley on Saturday.