Penn State running back Nicholas Singleton (10) scores a touchdown against Maryland during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in State College, Pa. Singleton and Kaytron Allen have Utah’s attention ahead of the Rose Bowl.
Barry Reeger, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — True freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen entered Happy Valley with high expectations.
Singleton was ranked as the top running back nationally in the 2022 class by 247Sports. Not far behind was Allen, who was slotted as the No. 12 running back.
It’s safe to say that Singleton and Allen have met, and exceeded, the high expectations placed upon a Penn State running back.
Singleton, who is from Reading, Pennsylvania, has 941 yards and 10 touchdowns on 149 carries this season. He’s already set a freshman record this season, scoring the most touchdowns by a freshman in Penn State history, and is looking to set another Nittany Lions record against Utah in the Rose Bowl.
Singleton is just 135 yards away from Penn State’s freshman rushing record of 1,076 yards, set by Saquon Barkley.
“Obviously you want to be a thousand-yard rusher. It would mean a lot, but really my hope is just to win the game,” Singleton said.
Singleton and Allen have split running the ball pretty evenly throughout the year.
Allen makes up the other half of the one-two punch. He’s rushed for 830 yards and nine touchdowns on 156 carries.
“When the opportunity presented itself, Nick and Kaytron have really been able to play well, not just as running backs in the traditional manner of carrying the football, but also in protections, on special teams, in route running and being a threat in the passing game, which is important, that we have well-rounded, complete backs,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
“They’ve just continued to gain confidence and gain production as the year has gone on.”
At this stage of their careers, the freshman duo are the best Penn State running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider has coached in his five seasons with the Nittany Lions.
“At this stage, this early, they’re the two best that I’ve ever coached. To play in the Big Ten, what’s known for great defense, to dominate the way they have,” Seider said.
Friday’s media day at Rose Bowl Stadium was the first time the two players were interviewed by the media while at Penn State — the team does not usually make true freshmen available to the press.
As media members surrounded Singleton and Allen, Seider looked on, beaming.
“I’m sitting here like a proud dad. Just watching your two kids get in front of everybody on a big stage and they deserve it. They’re part of the reason why we’re here. They help carry this team. They carry themselves like veterans throughout the year,” Seider said.
Penn State running back Kaytron Allen (13) runs against Rutgers during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Piscataway, N.J. Penn State won 55-10.
Adam Hunger, Associated Press
Allen and Singleton aren’t just close on the field, they’re close off of it. They are both rooming together at the Rose Bowl.
“We always talk. That’s my brother. So we always talk about everything,” Allen said.
“We feed off each other a lot. We always compete every time we touch the field,” Singleton said.
Splitting carries can be a tough thing to do for running backs, but both Allen and Singleton are taking it in stride.
“The thing you really love to see is when he’s not in and he’s watching Kaytron in the game, watching how he’s dissecting the defense and then vice versa, when he’s out of the game, he’s watching him and getting a feel off each other how the game flow is going,” Seider said.
The Nittany Lions will look to get the ground game established early on, just like Utah.
“Penn State bears a lot of similarities to us as far as commitment to the run game. They’ve got two outstanding freshman running backs, both of them approaching 1,000 yards, and they’re very committed to running the football,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
One of Utah’s main priorities on Monday will be trying to slow down Allen and Singleton and force Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford to win the game through the air.
“10 (Singleton) and 13 (Allen) both provide a lot. I would say (Singleton) flashes a little bit more in terms of just dipping the shoulder, getting those extra yards. (Allen) is more of the slasher,” Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said.
“Both of them very effective, and you can tell they have all the confidence in the world in both of them, and they’ve been productive for a reason. Great offensive line, and like I said, they do a great job with not only zone, outside zone, their counter, they run everything at you,” Scalley said.
Utah’s defense has been compared to a Big Ten-type defense throughout the week, and the Utes will try to prove it by stopping Penn State’s two freshman phenoms.