Penn State’s running back depth takes a hit
Penn State suffered its first significant injury of the 2018 season, just in time to test its depth ahead of a major Big Ten showdown.
Backup running back Mark Allen will miss the rest of the season after suffering an injury during practice last week, head coach James Franklin confirmed Tuesday during his weekly press conference.
The senior Allen didn’t make the trip for the Nittany Lions’ 63-24 win over Illinois last Friday despite rushing for touchdowns in each of the previous two games, and his absence elevates true freshman Ricky Slade to the top backup spot for Saturday’s primetime showdown with No. 4 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.
“He’s in great spirits,” Franklin said of Allen. “Mark’s got a very bright future. He’s going to be very successful, whatever he chooses to do. He’s talking a little bit about maybe getting into coaching. We’ve got a lot of love and respect for Mark and what he’s been able to do in his career here. But you won’t see Mark again this year playing on the field.”
Junior Miles Sanders, a Woodland Hills graduate, has carried most of the load for Penn State at running back this season, and his 495 yards rank him sixth in the nation in rushing. But Slade has seen plenty of action this season, gaining 147 yards and scoring four touchdowns on 25 carries. But the top-rated running back prospect in the 2018 recruiting class has also had issues with ball security; he fumbled twice in the win at Pittsburgh, then put the ball on the ground again against Illinois.
Without the reliable Allen at the ready, Franklin knows the Nittany Lions have to count on Slade to protect the ball better, starting this week.
“Ricky is doing some really nice things for us as a true freshman, is getting better every single practice,” Franklin said. “His attitude, his work ethic, his demeanor has been really good. We’re excited about his future.”
Of course, the Buckeyes have an injury issue of their own to worry about this weekend, and Franklin knows just how much they’ll miss a star defensive end.
Junior Nick Bosa underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury last week, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed earlier in the week that Bosa wouldn’t suit up Saturday. Bosa had 14 tackles and four sacks in less than three games this season before going down with an injury, and Franklin had high praise for his ability to wreck a game for an opposing offense.
“He’s one of the better college football players I’ve ever seen on tape,” Franklin insisted. “He is obviously big and strong and athletic. But his motor is I think what separates him. There’s a lot of big, strong, athletic guys out there, but very rarely do those big, strong, athletic guys have the type of motor that he has play after play after play after play. It’s impressive.
“He’s a guy that really stands out to me when you watch the tape, and how much respect that you have for how he plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. There’s a lot of talented players that aren’t using their talents to the level they should be, and he’s a great example of how the game is supposed to be played.”
Chase Young, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, got the first chance to fill Bosa’s sizable cleats last week against Tulane. He has two sacks, two hurries and three tackles for loss this season.
Better than strong
Penn State’s passing game has been solid statistically all season, led by senior quarterback Trace McSorley, and McSorley and backup Sean Clifford have combined for 10 touchdown passes this season.
But, Franklin reiterated something Tuesday that he first mentioned after Friday night’s win in Champaign: The passing game needs to be more “detailed, precise and efficient” moving forward.
Specifically, he said that’s everything from assuming the proper splits at the line of scrimmage, to running routes the proper depths, to picking up blitzes to delivering the ball accurately. The Nittany Lions’ receivers have had issues catching passes this season, although they were much more sure-handed against Illinois.
“This is going to be a game where there’s going to be very few balls caught where there’s not someone hanging on you,” Franklin said. “There are going to be contested catches, and we’re going to have to win our share of those contested catches on both sides of the ball.
“They are going to make plays; we’re going to make plays. And we can’t flinch. And it’s going to be that way for four quarters. The details and the specifics and the fundamentals and the techniques, at the end of the day, are what’s going to win for you.”