Akeel Lynch already knew a thing or two about being patient.
In order to chase his dream of being recruited to play college football, the sophomore running back had to move away from his Toronto home where he lived with his mother for the better part of two school years. Lynch lived with two different host families in upstate New York before arriving at Penn State where he was immediately far down the depth chart.
Since he’s been at Penn State, Lynch has had someone, often two players, ahead of him. On Saturday in Penn State’s win over Temple, there was plenty of daylight in front of Lynch. And he’s learned to find it and more running room much better.
“I think even at the beginning of the season when the run game was off, we missed a lot of cuts as well because we were so eager to make a play,” Lynch said. “We are competitors and we wanted to get this run game going that we were missing cuts because we weren’t being patient enough.”
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He was plenty patient on Saturday, picking up yards in chunks on precise, calculated cutbacks.
Lynch turned in his best performance to date with 130 yards on 18 carries in Penn State’s win over Temple. And he did so with his physical, big-striding style that’s made him a fan favorite despite limited usage for the majority of his career thus far. Before the Ohio State game this season, Lynch had just three 10-plus carry games.
He’s carried the ball 13 or more times in each of Penn State’s last four games. Saturday was his most effective outing.
The tailback began the game with a 16-yard run to the outside that helped set up Sam Ficken’s first field goal. Taking the handoff in the shotgun, Lynch patiently tiptoed toward the middle before changing course. He waited for blocks from left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Derek Dowrey and tight end Mike Gesicki to develop and followed pulling guard Brian Gaia around the edge.
Later, he darted up the middle and through the arm tackle of safety Alex Wells for a 25-yard gain in the third.
Lynch’s biggest play came when he galloped 38 yards after bouncing a run to the left again. Temple defenders couldn’t catch him once he reached top speed and the touchdown broke a 6-6 tie.
It’s been a welcome workload for the Canadian running back. And he said his time behind Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak has helped him learn more about patience.
“A lot. Just in waiting my turn to get opportunities or just waiting for the hole to open up,” Lynch said. “I think that’s just something that football teaches you about real life. Sometimes things are not going to go as you planned but if you continue to stay the course, eventually things are going to come your way so you have to stay patient.”
Penn State’s offensive line played well for the second-straight week.
Of course it helped having Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach back together anchoring the left side. Dieffenbach played 44 of Penn State’s 73 plays and saw action on 10 of Penn State’s 16 possessions after playing just 10 snaps against Indiana. Smith started at left tackle and played the entire game.
Perhaps even more encouraging for the Nittany Lions other than their 254 rushing yards was the fact that both big men looked good physically for the duration. Smith erred on a block that led to a sack but threw a handful of pancake blocks including one on Akeel Lynch’s 38-yard touchdown run. Dieffenbach had no setbacks either with his surgically repaired left knee and also sealed off defenders on both of Penn State’s touchdown runs.
“The knee feels great,” Dieffenbach said.
Temple quarterback P.J. Walker was able to avoid pressure for much of the afternoon and was the second straight elusive quarterback Penn State’s pass rushers have struggled to bring down.
Like Indiana’s Zander Diamont, Walker didn’t do much damage in the long run, but still led the Owls with 32 rushing yards on five scrambles. He lost just two yards on the afternoon and Penn State defensive linemen Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan both missed out on sacks as Walker ducked under or squirmed away from their pursuits. Brad Bars and Nyeem Wartman were both also close to dropping Walker but couldn’t finish.
“Kind of like the guy from Indiana, we knew running quarterbacks could get us so we had to be more gap sound and really hold our contain,” Zettel said.
Zettel brought Walker down in the second quarter for the only sack of the game. But Penn State’s sack total could’ve been much higher. And perhaps if Walker was a more-polished passer, the damage he could’ve done with his arm after extending these types of plays could’ve been worse too.
Penn State isn’t doing a very good job of holding onto the ball and the team’s turnoveritis finally spread to the running back corps on Saturday.
Belton became the first Nittany Lion back to cough up a fumble when Temple’s Nate Smith ripped it from his grasp as Belton was falling to the ground in the first quarter. Belton missed the next five series and didn’t re-enter the game until the third.
“I wasn’t happy that we fumbled today,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We’re just going to continue to focus on our fundamentals like we always do. ... That’s a good defense. They have played extremely well all year long.”
Temple added to its hefty takeaway total and now has 28 on the season as Christian Hackenberg threw two more interceptions. It’s been a startling trend for the Nittany Lions of late. Penn State has turned the ball over nine times in the last three games and is on pace to post 25 giveaways, the most since a turnover-plagued 2011 season.
Day To Remember
Grant Haley has been electric on special teams and the true freshman got extra opportunities on defense with starting cornerback Trevor Williams sidelined.
Haley didn’t disappoint.
He made three nice form tackles and returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time a true freshman scored a touchdown for the Nittany Lions since Paul Posluszny scored on a pick-six in 2003.
Day To Forget
Since he took over for injured safety Ryan Keiser, Marcus Allen has played like a seasoned veteran alongside Adrian Amos.
The true freshman looked like a rookie at times on Saturday, particularly on Temple’s only touchdown play.
Lined up as Penn State’s lone safety with a five-man front, Allen bit on Walker’s fake handoff and got pulled out of position. Meanwhile, Temple wideout Jalen Fitzpatrick ran a go and gained a step on corner Jordan Lucas who had no help over the top as Allen raced back to recover.
Neither Penn State player could catch Fitzpatrick who completed the 75-yard scoring play.
Key Play You Already Forgot
Linebacker Brandon Bell was hurt during Adrian Amos’ interception return in the third quarter and spent the rest of the third in the team’s locker room. He returned to the game in the fourth quarter and made an under-the-radar play that paid off for the Nittany Lions.
Temple faced a second-and-4 from its own 17 and Walker dropped to throw. With a favorable down and distance, Walker aimed for the flat to his right but Bell flew around the edge on a blitz and knocked the pass down to force third down. Walker was picked off by Haley on the next play. It was a big play because it all but guaranteed the Owls would have to throw it on third down. It was bigger because Bell was able to come back in and make a meaningful contribution after it looked like he’d be lost for at least the remainder of the game with an injury.
Hidden Stat That Matters
Lynch has scored on big plays in the past. All three of his career touchdown runs have been for 15 yards or more and he’s averaging 24 yards on each touchdown run.