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Penn State's Running Back Room Changes Again

The Lions have lost three backs since January — for good reason. The freshmen have taken over.
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Freshman running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen certainly upgraded Penn State's run game this season. In doing so, they dramatically altered the room as well.

Penn State this week lost a second running back since August, as Devyn Ford no longer is with the team. Coach James Franklin said that Ford left the team to concentrate on academics. However, Ford also left before the team's fifth game, which, had he played, would have burned his potential redshirt this season.

Now, Ford can transfer to another program in 2023 and have two seasons of eligibility. It's a wise move for Ford, if he wants to play running back full-time. Franklin had praised Ford for "accepting his role," which likely did not include starting at Penn State.

For the Lions, Ford's decision continued a dramatic positional overhaul that began in January. The Lions have lost three scholarship backs since last season. Noah Cain transferred to LSU, Caziah Holmes is on Florida State's roster and now Ford has departed. Cain and Ford were a highly touted tandem of Penn State's 2019 recruiting class.

That leaves Penn State with three scholarship backs in Singleton, Allen and Keyvone Lee. For a team that rotates backs, the margin of error has grown thinner. Not to mention that all three fumbled against Northwestern (albeit in difficult conditions).

Yet coaches know that such change is likely in the transfer portal era.  Penn State knew this was possible last year when it signed Singleton and Allen, perhaps the nation's best running-back tandem of the 2022 recruiting class.

Even before the season, running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider said the freshmen had changed the tenor of the position room and the offense.

"What those kids have done for our team, in my opinion, is made us tougher," Seider said of Singleton and Allen during the preseason. "They made the older guys tougher, they made them compete. The offensive line blocked different. They made our defense tackle different. Because they run with an attitude like they're pissed off on every play, which is what you've got to have to play that position."

Penn State running back Nicholas Singleton

Penn State running back Nicholas Singleton rushed for 87 yards but fumbled twice in the Lions' 17-7 win over Northwestern.

Allen and Singleton have rushed for a combined 766 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging a combined 6.4 yards per carry. Both Allen and Singleton had 21 carries Saturday, topping 20 for the first time this season.

Singleton gained 87 yards, while Allen had 86, all in the second half (he did not play in the first half because of a coaching decision). The two will dominate Penn State's run game for the remainder of the season.

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"This isn't the entitlement era," Seider said. "My job is to win. If I'm playing the best player and he isn't helping us win, there's going to be somebody else coaching them. If you're the best player your junior or senior year, then you need to act like it."

What does that mean for the future? Lee has two seasons of eligibility after this one (he played as a freshmen during the 2020 COVID season). He could consider transferring as well, requiring Penn State to address running back in its 2023 recruiting class.

The Lions have a commitment from Landon Montgomery, Pennsylvania's top-ranked back in the 2023 class, though he sustained a season-ending injury in August. Penn State certainly will pursue another running back in this class.

For this season, Penn State knew it would play the freshmen. But now, the Lions have a bit less margin of error.

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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.