Miles Sanders and the Penn State running backs walked over to the offensive line room Sunday with a message: We’re going to get through this.
Confidence has not exactly been soaring these last few weeks, with Sanders failing to crack 100 yards the last three games and the Nittany Lions winning just two of the last five. The offensive line has appeared to regress in some ways, so Sanders and Co. decided the line needed a pick-me-up.
“We don’t normally talk to them,” Sanders said Wednesday, referring to crashing position meetings. “But, with us struggling and with the run game being a little frustrating, we thought just as running backs, just to talk to the room and tell them we still trust them and we still appreciate them and all that.
“I can’t even put into words how much I appreciate them, but we just have to get it going again and have that confidence back and have that mentality to run the ball like we did in the beginning.”
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Sanders rushed for 162 yards against Michigan State nearly a month ago. But, since then, the running game has sputtered. Quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens have led the team in rushing in the last three games, and Penn State’s running backs have struggled in finding a spark.
Sanders failed to crack 4 yards a carry in back-to-back games, the first time that’s happened all season.
“We just told them that we’re struggling with the running game right now, but we’re still going to get through it,” Sanders told reporters Wednesday. “We just got to play confident, play physical, do our jobs and then we will be able to run the ball this weekend.”
The junior and the fellow running backs asked their position coach Sunday if they could pop in on their OL teammates’ meeting. They knocked on the unit’s door, asked if they could say a few words, and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover gave them the floor.
Sanders said he did most of the talking, but fifth-year senior Johnathan Thomas also added quite a bit to the pep talk. Redshirt freshman Journey Brown and true freshman Ricky Slade also contributed.
The surprise meeting, with Limegrover in the room, appeared to go over well.
“I think they appreciated it,” Sanders added. “All I saw was a lot of smiles on their faces. It looked like they appreciated us coming in, just knowing I don’t ever want them to think we’re giving up on them and stuff. It’s hard; it’s football and stuff happens, and we just wanted to let them know that we got their back, and we’re in this together, and that we will get the running game back on track this weekend.”
The Nittany Lions will certainly have an opportunity Saturday. Wisconsin’s run defense isn’t what the Big Ten has become accustomed to — the Badgers currently rank No. 61 nationally in run defense, allowing 4.69 yards per carry and nearly 160 yards per game.
Statistically, based on yards allowed per attempt, that makes Wisconsin the second-worst run defense the Nittany Lions have faced all season. Only Illinois (5.74 ypc) has allowed more.
“We just showed them that we got their back and that we’re going to run the ball whenever want this weekend,” Sanders said. “That’s our mentality.”