Penn State Running Backs: Two-Headed Monster

Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen return in 2024 as Penn State running backs in a running back-friendly scheme as a Two-Headed Monster.

The running back position at Penn State is one that has ebbed and flowed through the last few decades.  Celebrating the accolades of such noted Nittany Lions as Franco Harris, Larry Johnson, and Saquon Barkley has given Penn State some running backs to be proud of.

Penn State has long been known as Linebacker U.  Alumni like LaVar Arrington, Jack Ham, Paul Posluszny, and Micah Parsons will do that.  Consequently, it could be difficult for standouts at other positions to get their rightful place in Penn State lore.  However, the running back legends noted above have shown that other positions can be remembered in the history books.

Heading into 2024, Penn State continues to boast a strong running back room, headlined by the returning Two-Headed Monster of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen.

Importance of the Running Back Position in 2024

It is no secret in football that a quarterback’s best friend is a good running game. With Drew Allar entering his second season as Penn State starter, the running game will be important.

Allar’s development, and the success of the overall Penn State offense, will be contingent on the running back duo of Singleton and Allen.  Penn State is in a unique position with its running backs. Singleton and Allen are friends, which is rare to find for such elite athletes competing for playing time. This dynamic is likely a main factor preventing them from entering the transfer portal and looking for more playing time in the current dynamic Name Image Likeness (NIL) environment in college football.

In addition to their friendship, the offense being installed by new Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki can also be a factor.  Kotelnicki’s offense in 2023 at Kansas ranked eighth in the nation in rushing at 211.3 yards per game, eighth in yards per rush, and ninth in rushing touchdowns per game.  These statistics are leaps and bounds ahead of what Kansas would have historically produced, so it will be interesting to see what Kotelnicki does with weapons like Singleton and Allen.

The Pennsylvania Native

Singleton, the 2022 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, came to Penn State as a much-heralded recruit.  He was arguably the best player out of Pennsylvania in the 2022 class. Along with Allar, Singleton was a five-star recruit at the head of the class for Penn State.

The 2021 High School Gatorade Player of the Year did not disappoint in his freshman year in Happy Valley in 2022.  Singleton became the third freshman Nittany Lion running back to rush for 1,000 yards, with his 1,061 yards putting him in good company with Barkley and D.J. Dozier. In addition to his Freshman of the Year Award, he earned 2022 Second-Team All-Big Ten honors. Interestingly, Singleton was a threat in ways other than rushing. He amassed 85 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions and returned 14 kickoffs. The special teams highlight was a 100-yard return against Rutgers.

His 2023 sophomore campaign can look like a head-scratcher at first glance. However, when carries are split with a talented back like Allen, there will be ups and downs depending on an individual game’s game plan. Singleton produced 752 rushing with eight touchdowns but increased his receiving yards to 308 to go along with two touchdowns. His total all-purpose yards went from 1,495 in 2022 to 1,373 in 2023. The strong 2023 campaign earned Singleton Third-Team All-Big Ten honors as a running back and Honorable Mention as a return specialist.

Singleton’s 1,813 career rushing yards through his first two years at Penn State ranks him 20th in Penn State history.

Former Four-Star out of IMG Academy

Allen is a rising junior who attended high school at IMG Academy in Florida and entered the Penn State picture as a four-star recruit in the 2022 class. Of the pair, Allen is more of a power back than Singleton.

However, similar to Singleton, Allen has the potential to be a multi-faceted threat. As a freshman in 2022, Allen produced 867 yards and 10 touchdowns running the ball. In addition, he tallied 188 yards receiving and 37 return yards, for a total of 1,092 all-purpose yards. The media named him Honorable Mention All-Big Ten, and he was Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice.

As a sophomore in 2023, his rushing total increased to 902 yards to go along with 88 receiving yards. So, despite leading the team in rushing (second to Singleton in 2022), his all-purpose yards decreased to 990. Allen was still rewarded for his efforts in 2023, earning Second-Team All-Big Ten from the Coaches and Third-Team from the Media.

Allen has rushed for 1,769 yards so far at Penn State, 21st on the all-time list, right behind Singleton.

The Bottom Line

As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Kotelnicki’s offense will likely focus on a heavy dose of the running game with big plays in the passing game. Given the weapons he has, the new mastermind of the Penn State offense is in a very good position.

The beauty of this setup is that it does not matter who the starter is at running back. Both Singleton and Allen are willing to go with the flow in any given week and any given game plan. There will be more than enough carries to go around and get both of them significant work. If there are any questions on the 2024 Penn State roster, running back is definitely not one of them.

The history books of a storied program like Penn State can start to be re-written each season. As a result, there are always chances for today’s stars to make permanent names for themselves. Both Singleton and Allen have begun to do that through their first two years. They have enough talent to finish in the Top 10 of all-time Penn State running backs. They have the potential to rewrite Penn State history, together, and they would likely have it no other way.



Photo courtesy:Dan Rainville / USA TODAY NETWORK


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