Penn State Week Mic Check: What's the Rush?

By Chris Lauderback on November 20, 2019 at 3:05 pm
Mich Parsons leads Penn State's defense with 75 tackles so far this season.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With Ohio State's biggest game-to-date set for Saturday at noon against Penn State, Ryan Day held court with the assembled media yesterday at the WHAC. 

Boasting a 9-1 overall record, the No. 9 ranked Nittany Lions rely on a stingy run defense which ranks No. 1 in the country in yards per carry allowed at just 2.19 per attempt. Meanwhile, James Franklin's pass defense has proven a little leaky at times. 

When asked about Penn State's run defense by our very own Dan Hope, Day admitted quarterback Justin Fields might have to take over through the air (or even with his feet). 

Q. When you look at this Penn State defense and I think they’re number one right now in yards per carry allowed, how important is it for Justin to be ready to have to put the team on his back if that situation comes up?

RYAN DAY: Yeah, of course, he has to, that’s what he has to be ready for that’s what he’s working for all week is to be in that game and come down and win the game in the fourth quarter like J.T. Barrett did, like Dwayne Haskins did the year before. That’s the game we’re in. So it’s going to take everything we have.

Beyond that impressive yards per carry allowed metric, there's no doubt the Nittany Lions have a tough run defense on paper. 

Led by an incredibly talented linebacker in Micah Parsons, Penn State ranks No. 4 in the country giving up only 75.9 rushing yards per game and they slot No. 11 in the country with only eight rushing touchdowns allowed. 

IDAHO 0.14 4.10 FCS
BUFFALO 3.17 4.45 66
PITT 0.96 3.65 108
MARYLAND 1.76 4.71 47
PURDUE -0.68 2.66 128
IOWA 2.33 3.86 95
MICHIGAN 3.44 4.08 78
MICHIGAN ST. 2.68 3.59 112
MINNESOTA 3.03 4.08 78
indiana 2.94 3.83 98

Franklin's squad has only allowed three teams to run for more than 100 yards through the first 10 games. 

The question is, how much of their success in stopping the run is the result of facing some fairly mediocre rushing attacks? 

Speaking strictly from a yards per carry perspective, Maryland's running game is the toughest the Nittany Lions have seen to date. The Terps average 4.71 yards per carry, good for No. 47 nationally. To Penn State's credit, it held Maryland to 1.76 yards per carry in a 59-0 win back in late September. 

Buffalo ran for 3.17 yards per carry behind Jaret Patterson's 71 yards on 23 carries in a 45-13 win for Franklin's squad in game two. The Bulls average 4.45 yards per carry over the balance of the season-to-date, good for No. 66 in the land. 

Looking at the best Big Ten rushing teams on Penn State's schedule-to-date, Michigan ran for 141 yards on 3.4 yards per carry, Minnesota tallied 121 yards on 3.0 per attempt and Indiana posted 91 yards on 2.9 per try. 

While Michigan ran for that 3.4 per tote, Wolverines running back Zach Charbonnet averaged 5.4 per carry, totaling 81 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-21 Penn State win. 

Overall, seven of Penn State's 10 opponents-to-date rank No. 78 or lower in yards per carry. Make no mistake, give credit where it's due as the Nittany Lions have held every single opponent to a lower yards per carry than their respective season totals but Saturday could be a much different test. 

Ohio State enters the game ranked No. 4 in the nation averaging 6.15 yards per carry. J.K. Dobbins leads the way at 7.0 per try, Master Teague isn't far behind at 6.5 and Justin Fields sits at 4.5 per attempt. 

Only twice in 10 games have the Buckeyes ran for an average of less than five yards per carry. Florida Atlantic held Ohio State to 4.93 yards per try in the season opener (48-for-237) and Rutgers kept the Buckeyes to 4.93 per attempt (44-for-217) last week. 

Against two of the better rush defenses Ohio State has played, Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Buckeyes had little trouble moving the ball on the ground. 

Day's squad averaged 5.28 yards per carry ( 50-for-264) against a Badgers defense that ranks No. 24 in yards per carry allowed (3.47).

Against a Spartans defense slotted No. 13 nationally giving up 3.08 yards per rushing attempt, Ohio State averaged 6.59 per carry (49-for-323) in another blowout win. 

Games are played on the field and not within spreadsheets – and while Fields could very well light up Penn State's seemingly weak secondary – it's a good bet the Buckeyes will also enjoy some success in the run game. 

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