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A Penn State ISO for 2022: More YAC

The Lions' ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing yards after contact. 'We've got to be first,' running back Keyvone Lee said.

Even though everyone has professed to moving on, Penn State's running backs weren't far from reminders of last season during spring practice.

"You were last in the country in yards after contact," running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider said during one practice, according to The Athletic's Audrey Snyder. "Keep reminding yourself of that."

If Seider's ranking was a bit low, his sentiment at least was correct. Among Penn State's multiple offensive issues last season was an inability to gain yards after contact. The Lions weren't quite last in the country but, according to Sports Info Solutions, did rank last in the Big Ten and 123rd nationally in YAC.

Penn State rushed for 757 yards after contact, per SIS statistics, a number that was insignificant in the Big Ten. Ten conference programs ran for at least 1,000 yards after contact, and three — Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin — ran for more YAC than Penn State ran for entirely (1,402).

Though head coach James Franklin attributed the run game's issues to a variety of factors, the backs know this one stands out.

"It just makes you mad and drives you really hard," said running back Keyvone Lee, the team's top returning rusher. "We've got to be first. We can’t be last. I hate being last."

The run-game emphasis that permeated spring drills will extend into fall. Freshman running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen earned plenty of reps, and generated plenty of conversation, during spring drills as players who could energize the run game.

In addition, veteran Devyn Ford stood out during the Blue-White Game, averaging 5.6 yards per carry in limited action, and head coach James Franklin more than hinted that competition would extend into training camp.

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"We didn’t have the production that we wanted [last year], and it’s not just on [the running backs]," Franklin said. "There’s a number of factors for that. Then on top of that, you bring in two talented high school players who are competing at a pretty high level right now. That’s impacted it as well. Everybody's feeling the heat and the competitive juices, which I think is great."

Last year, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich presided over an offense that did not produce a 100-yard rusher for the first time since 1978. This spring, Yurcich fell on that sword rather tersely.

"We're going to execute better," Yurcich said of the run game in Year 2, "we're going to coach it better, we're going to play better."

The refresh began this offseason, and Seider continued making that point throughout spring drills. As Lee said, the mindset has changed.

"This spring we came in and were running the ball all day," Lee said. "I like it."

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.