STATE COLLEGE – Penn State running back John Lovett’s transfer from Baylor in the offseason was perhaps one of the most anticipated roster moves for the Nittany Lions entering 2021.

Lovett’s addition figured to add an experienced big-play threat to what many in the offseason believed to be one of the most talented backfields in the Big Ten.

Ten games into this season, those expectations have yet to be met, as Penn State’s ground game continues to baffle.

With two regular-season games left on the schedule, the Nittany Lions’ running game ranks next to last in the Big Ten behind a 106.7 yards-per-game average.

Last Saturday’s contest against Michigan marked Lovett’s second start this season. He only received four carries and ended with 17 yards. Teammate Keyvone Lee received a team-high 20 carries.

“We’re getting really close,” Lovett said of the ground game’s progression. “Our defense is helping us tremendously. We have one of the best defenses in the country. We battle with them every day. They’re getting our guys up front better. They’re getting us better… We’re getting close.”

Three Penn State runners have received starts this season, as Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee joined Lovett as starters in the backfield. Finding a consistent rhythm, however, has been a struggle.

Lee averages 37 yards per game, Cain has 29 yards per game and Lovett sits with a 22 yard-per-game average. None of the three have gained more than 375 total yards this year.

This season’s rushing woes haven’t been the only adversities Lovett presented to Lovett. He dealt with an injury that sidelined him for all but the opening kickoff in Penn State’s Oct. 9 loss at Iowa. He also didn’t play in the first two games of the season for undisclosed reasons.

Lovett finally made his Penn State debut on Sept. 18 against Auburn. 

“How to fight through adversity,” Lovett said of what he’s learned about himself this season. “My brothers, I see them all battle, and they all pick me up. We all pick each other up when some adversity strikes. I always have my brothers behind me to keep me moving forward.”

Last week, Penn State’s ground game recorded a rare 100-yard effort. Including sacks, Penn State rushers gained 109 yards against the Wolverines.

“We’re improving week by week,” Penn State offensive lineman Caeden Wallace said. “There’s really no clear way to track it, I guess for me. I’m not gap-sound and stuff in the run game. I’m working on my technique more, and I know the other guys around me are. Everyone’s working on their own separate stuff, and whether it happens now or in the future, we’re going to get better because we’re learning.”

It’s not a stretch to say this season hasn’t gone quite as well as Lovett and the Nittany Lions expected. Despite the lack of on-field production individually and collectively, Lovett still stands by his decision to transfer to Penn State.

When explaining his offseason attraction to the program, he said his decision was cemented the moment Penn State coaches extended the offer for him to return to the East Coast. 

“They didn’t really have to say much,” Lovett said last week. “All they had to do was just give me the offer, and I was coming.”

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