In the last football game Penn State played in, running back Keyvone Lee averaged 8.8 yards per carry.
But he only ran the ball four times.
Penn State lost to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl, 24-10, and finished 7-6.
It was a disappointing yet fitting end to the year for both Lee and Penn State.
Lee finished his sophomore campaign averaging just under five yards a touch but couldn’t establish himself as one of the Big Ten’s best backs.
On 108 carries (19th in the Big Ten), Lee finished with a relatively underwhelming 530 yards and just two touchdowns, never once eclipsing 100 yards in a game.
As early as the postgame Outback Bowl press conference, Penn State coach James Franklin expressed a desire to run more often.
“We need to run the ball more consistently,” Franklin said. “There’s no doubt about that. We can’t go away from (running).”
Franklin has continued to stress running the ball in the press conferences since. That motivates Lee as he heads into his third season at Penn State.
“It just gets me fired up,” Lee told reporters via Zoom Tuesday afternoon. “It just gets me motivated. It gets all of us in the running back room, tight ends, even the receivers. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do.”
There’s plenty of reason for Penn State fans to be excited about the running game in 2022.
Along with having Lee back, Penn State has not one but two touted freshmen coming in, with five-star Nick Singleton and four-star Kaytron Allen both already on campus for spring practice.
In Mike Yurcich’s first season as offensive coordinator, Penn State finished 11th of 14 Big Ten teams in rushing attempts and fourth in passing attempts. Lee sees there being more balance in the playcalling this season and feels that the work to create a more even offense has begun in spring practice.
“Penn State has always been a running team,” he said. “So I feel like, this year, they’ve realized that we run the ball and be successful. We’re going to do a little mix of running and passing, so that’s what I’m kind of liking. I’m looking forward to seeing that.”
Although technically a sophomore by COVID-era NCAA eligibility rules, Lee has played a prominent role in Penn State’s offense for two seasons and now sees himself as more of a leader for the younger backs to follow.
“I’m kind of liking it,” he said. “It’s kind of helping me grow as a person and a player on and off the field. So I’m liking it.”
Whether it’s Lee, who is coming into year three at Penn State, or Singleton or Allen, who are coming into year one, Penn State fans will be watching the running game closely. Lee understands that improvement from 2021 is expected and feels he and his backfield mates are up to the task.
“We have a lot to prove, and I can’t wait to prove the doubters wrong,” Lee said. “Last year, I don’t like to bring it up because it kind of hurts me a little bit, but we didn’t (have a player) rush over 100 yards. I did that in my career every other year before then, so I feel like we have a lot to prove. We have to let them know that we’re back.”