Matt Millen made an observation on the broadcast during Penn State’s loss to Iowa on Saturday that the Nittany Lions don’t have the personnel to run the RPO offense that they are running.
Three weeks ago, after the loss to Maryland, James Franklin even said something to that effect himself.
“We’re not putting people in conflict with the RPO stuff because there’s not enough respect for the running game right now,” Franklin said then.
Penn State already has lost its top three tailbacks — Journey Brown, Noah Cain and then Devyn Ford against Iowa — and star tight end Pat Freiermuth’s season is over because of an injury.
Making matters worse, the offensive line has not played particularly well this season.
In light of all that, his own words and Millen’s comments, Franklin was asked Wednesday night about the RPO and how he balances what the team wants to do with its schemes with the personnel losses the offense has endured.
“The biggest thing is getting the run game going, and then being able to put people in conflict where they have to respect the runs that we’re running,” Franklin said. “I think that’s the important thing.
“Obviously, with the way the season has played out with opt outs and with injuries and things like that, it makes it challenging, there’s no doubt about it. But the first thing we have to do is get the run game more consistent and established. That has been impacted by the running backs that we have lost.
“And now we’re trying to get these young guys some experience and try to create more space for them to be able to make plays. Then once that happens and people feel like they have to commit to stopping it with the extra defender, it’s going to create opportunities in the RPO game.”
Franklin is correct in all of that. But it all depends on a big IF.
It’s all about IF the running game can find some level of consistency to force defenses to be honest and respect the RPO. IF that happens, then Sean Clifford or Will Levis can perhaps utilize the RPO to keep defenses guessing, thereby opening up the passing game.
However, the issue the Nittany Lions face is that the big IF may never happen in the running game.
Penn State did run the ball well against Nebraska’s poor defense, rushing for 245 yards. Against Iowa, though, the Lions managed only 62 yards rushing (sacks included), which certainly hurt the RPO offense because the Hawkeyes didn’t have to be all that concerned with the ground game hurting them.
Ford’s status for this week is unclear. Franklin said they hope to find out Thursday or Friday if he can play Saturday at Michigan.
If Ford can’t go, the Lions will be down to true freshmen Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee, both of whom have played more recently but are still very much learning the ropes.
“As of right now, we’re depending on the two young guys,” Franklin said.
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