By Paul M. Banks
Perhaps Penn State sophomore running back Stephfon Green summarized it best when describing the difference between himself and junior tailback Evan Royster. “He brings the oohs and aahs, and I bring the wows! That’s how I look at it.” Green clarified. “Ooh is Evan putting a move on ‘em, and wow is like God, that kid is fast!”
Against Illinois on Saturday, Green had 120 yards on 13 carries, Royster 17 for 105 and star QB Darryl Clark pitched in with seven rushes for 83 yards. It all added up to State accruing 337 yards rushing on an egregious 8.4 yard per rush average. At Penn State, they’ve had some great running backs the past couple decades: Larry Johnson, Ki-Jana Carter, Tony Hunt, Curtis Enis, Blair Thomas etc. Johnson may have been the only one to accomplish anything in the NFL, but all the previously mentioned were superstars in college. I asked Green about the rushing tradition at PSU.
“I was watching the best Big Ten running backs of the ‘90s, and I saw Curtis Enis, who was a ‘wow guy’ and Ki-Jana Carter who was an ‘ooh and aahh guy’ or I may have that flipped. You can flip that! Seeing those guys and watching Tony Hunt and Larry Johnson, you come to a school with a great history in the backfield and it motivates you to get better, to get to their level and get drafted, things like that,” he responded. Green broke off a 52-yard touchdown run on this day (“I guess you could say that’s a wow,” Green said about it), but he also had a very productive rookie season last year, running for 578 yards and four TDs. He additionally accumulated the team’s highest average yards per catch. (17.9)
The man starting over Green is Evan Royster, a back with his own cleverly-named fan club, the “Blue Royster Cult.” Royster was a semifinalist for the 2008 Doak Walker Award last season and second-team All-Big Ten. Royster’s ’08 rushing totals were the 10th highest single season in Penn State history. This year Royster is getting the bulk of the carries, but both backs are averaging just over 5 yards per rush. Royster described the wide open spaces (isn’t that a Dixie Chicks song/album?) he saw in front of him on Saturday.
“Illinois still had a pretty good defense, I don’t think it was so much them, as it was our offensive line playing well.” Ok, so he’s obviously wrong on that first part, but he may be right about the second. I do actually agree with what he said next. “We can’t have our defense keep saving us, it’s really important that we keep this up, and really get our running game going.”
Penn State has arguably the best running back tandem in the Big Ten right now. Fitting, considering it’s the school that produced legendary collegiate and professional backs Franco Harris and Curt Warner.Follow paulmbanks