When Penn State signed its No. 6 ranked 2022 recruiting class, much of the hype was around the quarterbacks and running backs. Now just one year removed from signing day, and the Nittany Lions are already set to lean heavily on the star-studded group come next season.
Drew Allar (SO) — Beau Pribula (RS FR) — Jaxon Smolik (FR)
Yes, there will be a “quarterback competition” this fall and into the summer. And let me just say: I love Beau Pribula like he is my small baby. I want to protect him and nurture him and am really looking forward to screaming “HE’S TRACE!!!!!” when he does something adorable on the field. I personally think he’s the second-most talented quarterback Penn State has landed during Franklin’s tenure, and I really hope he eventually starts here in Happy Valley. But we all know what will happen in 2023: Drew Allar will be Penn State’s starting quarterback. Finally, the Allar Era will be full-go.
It was a positive season for our baby Allar, who fought through what appeared to be a rough spring to surprisingly snatch the backup quarterback job from Christian Veilleux by the end of summer camp. Allar looked as advertised in his limited action, finishing the season with 344 yards and 4 touchdowns on 60 passing attempts with no interceptions.
Of course, there are those of us who wished Allar was able to get a little more playing time against the likes of Maryland and Central Michigan, but for the most part, Penn State did a decent job of getting Allar’s feet wet as a true freshman. While the strong arm and the pocket awareness are what stuck out for Allar, I think what impressed me most was his composure when being inserted into a high-tense game like Purdue. Yes, the drive ended up with the Nittany Lions punting, but Allar looked composed and confident despite the non-ideal situation Clifford’s diarrhea put him into. That type of mindset is just as important for a quarterback as arm strength and accuracy.
Looking ahead to next season, Penn State’s offense shouldn’t change a ton, but it goes without saying that there’s a difference between Clifford and Allar. Clifford offered you someone distinctly experienced, and basically served as quasi graduate assistant on the field — you saw that with the amount of work Clifford would do pre-snap. With Allar, it’s essentially impossible to expect that level of knowledge with someone who is only 20 years old, so I think it’s likely (at least initially) you see a bit more “check with me” at the line of scrimmage.
I think the major difference in the offense will be Allar’s ability to push the ball deep and attack the defense vertically. Over the years, Clifford was able to hit the deep ball at times, but was more so dependent on having a top-tier wide receiver target to do so — whether that was KJ Hamler or Jahan Dotson. I believe with Allar, he’ll be a more willing deep shot taker and won’t be so dependent on who exactly is running the route.
Of course, Allar won’t be without his flaws. The accuracy needs to improve, and with a strong arm like he has, there are going to be times where he tries to fit in a ball where it shouldn’t be. But the upside of the offense is inherently higher with Allar’s potential. It’s just a matter of getting him to the point where he’s able to reach it.
Nick Singleton (SO) — Kaytron Allen (SO) — Tank Smith (RS SR)
Although there were high hopes for what Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen could be in 2022, I think it’s safe to say they both exceeded whatever expectations were had. Singleton showed off his shot-out-of-a-cannon speed en route to 1,061 yards and multiple runs of 50+ yards.
Meanwhile, Allen displayed special vision and balance on his way to 867 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
If you asked 100 Penn State fans who was the better running back, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it would end in a 50/50 tie, which highlights three things:
- Both are stupidly talented.
- Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider should never leave Happy Valley, please Dr. Kraft write him a blank check !!
- They both offer something uniquely different from each other.
It’s point #3 that is truly the cherry on top of the theoretical blue-and-white sundae because these two balance each other out so well. Singleton gives you the big plays while Allen offers you a steady, consistent runner, and as we saw this past season, that blending will be needed depending upon the situation.
Moving forward, it’s really just about keeping these guys healthy because each still has another gear to get to. Singleton, obviously, with keeping things more North-and-South — which, to his credit, he did more of as the year went along. And for Allen, as crazy as it sounds given his ability to run through tackles, he’ll probably be playing with a solid 5-10 more pounds of mass next season. Fortunately, them being a duo saves themselves from the wear-and-tear other running backs see. Neither saw more than 21 carries in a game in 2022, and I imagine that will be the plan in 2023 too.
Their health is doubly important because of what is behind them — which is, uh, not a whole lot right now. Keyvone Lee opted to enter the transfer portal, and unless he opts to return, it’ll be walk-ons like Tank Smith and Tyler Holzworth or true freshman like Cameron Wallace and London Montgomery fighting for the third-string spot. Normally, a true freshman vying for the third-team spot wouldn’t be a cause for concern, but Wallace is entering Penn State around 175 pounds while Montgomery is coming off a torn ACL so neither necessarily project as ideal first-year contributors.