San Diego State took over at their own 25-yard line following a Wyoming missed field goal with five minutes remaining in the third quarter of Mountain West Championship. Four minutes later, the Aztecs had completed an eight-play (all runs), 75-yard drive with a touchdown to take a commanding 14-point lead.
On that drive, Donnel Pumphrey — who would break the FBS' all-time rushing record in their next game — ran six times for 20 yards. Rashaad Penny rushed twice for 43 yards, including the six-yard scoring plunge. He finished the game with 16 attempts for 117 yards and two scores and delivered yet another reminder that San Diego State would be just fine in 2017.
Pumphrey averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2015. Penny averaged six yards. Pumphrey averaged 6.1 yards per carry in 2016. Penny averaged 7.4. Pumphrey scored a touchdown per 18 carries in 2015. Penny scored one per 15 carries. Pumphrey scored a touchdown every 21 carries in 2016. Penny scored every 12 carries.
The senior Penny is averaging 8.3 yards per carry and one touchdown per 18 carries this year. He leads the FBS in total rushing yards (588) and yards per game (196), just like Pumphrey did last year, and has forced 13 missed tackles in two games against Power Five teams.
“I thought [Pumphrey] was the best running back in the country last year,” San Diego State head coach Rocky Long said in late August. “I think Penny, in our mind, is as good as any running back in the country this year. Completely different styles.”
Pumphrey was a 5-foot-8, 170-pounder who terrorized defenses and special teams cover units with blazing speed and remarkable quickness. Penny is a 5-foot-11, 220-pounder who can run past defenders but also through or over them with patience and power.
“He’s a power guy,” Long said. “He’s going to look like he’s going really, really slow, then he sees a hole and darts through that hole. You better get your whole body in that hole or you’re not going to slow him down. Then if he gets out in the open, he can outrun you.”
Penny is by no means replacing Pumphrey. But he's also not just softening the blow of losing one of the best all-purpose players in college football history. He thrived as Pumphrey's backup the last two seasons and, unsurprisingly, is now thriving as the lead back on a balanced, undefeated team with two Power Five victories.