Pa RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

If the fans Pension state have been hot to start the season, they certainly have legitimate reason to feel good about themselves entering Week 7.

That’s because the No. 10 Nittany Lions, undefeated at 5-0, have a real chance to upset No. 5 Michigan (6-0) on Saturday (Noon ET on FOX and FOX Sports programming). The reason for optimism in Happy Valley is simple — Penn State has returned to its roots, fueled by the talents of a true freshman. Nick Singleton.

That might not seem surprising when you consider Singleton’s credentials — after all, he was the 2021 Gatorade National Player of the Year at Governor Mifflin High School in Shillington, Pa., rushing for more than 2,000 yards with 44 TDs in 2021 .

But the turnaround is remarkable when you consider this: Penn State managed to go the entire 2021 season without a single 100-yard rusher. It’s a dubious feat that hasn’t been “achieved” by a public college since the 1960s. The last days have passed Saquon Barkley striking fear into the hearts of opposing fans simply by lining up seven and a half yards deep. It’s been a long time — 20 years ago, in fact — since Larry Johnson Jr. rushed for 2,000 yards as a senior at PSU.

More than that? Ahead of the 2021 season, Penn State coach James Franklin said he expects the offensive line to be a strong strength for his team. But when I spoke with him at Big Ten Media Days before this season, he declined to make such a statement.

“Every year I’ve come to Big Ten Media Days and said this is going to be the year … I’m not going to do it this year,” Franklin said. “I’ll show the proof in the pudding. I’ll let you tell me in the middle of the season where we’re at. And whatever you say will be gospel.”

Interview: James Franklin on RB Nick Singleton

AJ Young spoke with Pennsylvania head coach James Franklin at Big Ten Media Days. The coach addressed a number of issues, including what he expected from running back Nick Singleton.

Well, let me be one to say in the middle of the season, Coach Franklin, your offensive line and running back have been good. But this is not a coincidence.

“That’s our commitment to the running game,” Franklin told me last July. “It’s an opportunity to run on normal falls. It’s an opportunity to run short yards, on the goal line, on the four-minute mark.

“It’s the commitment in the offseason, it’s the development of the offensive line, and the mentality of the running backs wanting the scheme or the players up front to get you to free linebacker or free safety. Now you have to do your job, you have to make this one guy miss.”

Since Singleton started rushing behind the O-line, he has answered the call to make defenders miss, winning those one-on-one situations. So did his cohorts in that back room, including Kaitron Allen and Kayvon Lee. The Nittany Lions have produced three 100-yard rushers in their first five games, and Singleton has two of his own, including a 179-yard outing on 10 carries vs. Ohio.

He followed that performance up with 124 yards on, again, just 10 carries, en route to a 42-10 victory at Chestnutmaking the Nittany Lions the first Big Ten program to win the Jordan-Hare.

Nicholas Singleton ran for 53 yards against Auburn

Penn State went 21-6 in Auburn meetings this season thanks to Singleton’s 53-yard run.

It’s clear to me that if the Nittany Lions are going to continue their undefeated start to the season, Singleton will be at the center of it, just as Michigan is fighting back Blake Corum was for the Michigan Wolverines from the jump.

With 124 yards on 25 carries vs Indiana last week Corum became the first Michigan quarterback to rush for at least 120 yards in each of UM’s first three league games in a quarter century. With Corum in the backfield, Jim Harbaugh got the opportunity to run a QB derby between Cade McNamara — last year’s starter and captain — and former five-star recruit JJ McCarthy during the regular season.

At the halfway point of the season, Corum is on pace to finish the regular season with nearly 1,500 yards, more than six yards per carry, as the Wolverines attempt to defend their first Big Ten title in nearly two decades.

More than that? The 735 yards he has gained this year are not for nothing. He has shown himself capable of both being the initiator of the offense to start shooting and the most capable of bringing it up when the play needs to be stopped.

He’s been best at home so far, rushing for 478 yards and nine TDs at Michigan Stadium. With the nation’s fifth-best defense traveling to the Big House this Saturday, he’ll need to again.

Where is Blake Corum among the Michigan RBs?

In a discussion about Blake Corum to R.J. Young is joined by former Iowa State running back Sean Greene and former Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Manny Diaz’s defense has allowed just 79.6 rushing yards per game, and you can bet he’ll try to force McCarthy to beat his defense by throwing the ball as often as possible while continuing his tendency to take the ball away from opposing offenses.

The Nittany Lions have 11 shutouts over their last three games. Maybe this game will come down to the running backs again, and whoever performs better — Singleton or Corum — will also be on the winning team.

RJ Young is a national football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and host of the podcast “College football’s number one show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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