Rashaad Penny isn't in national conversation — but he should be

Rashaad Penny scores touchdowns rushing, receiving and on special teams for SDSU.

Rashaad Penny is college football's double migraine, with no Excedrin in sight. You expect a zig, he zags. You anticipate a sideline step-out, he drops the shoulder.

Penny pesters and torments defensive coordinators and special teams coaches alike. He makes teenagers in helmets fidget. He causes adults with headsets to sweat.


When Aztecs coach Rocky Long proclaimed before the season that Penny might be the best running back in college football, you could hear the crickets on every campus east of Montezuma Mesa.

Then on 3rd-and-21 Saturday in the third-quarter against Arizona State, Penny punctuated his thundering, early-season case. The senior trickled out of the backfield and collected a dump pass from Christian Chapman, with only helpless defensive back Dasmond Tautalatasi between him and a 33-yard touchdown.

Olé. Score. Again.

It meant Penny's third touchdown in a third way, following a 95-yard run and 99-yard kickoff return. It meant he'd piled up 329 all-purpose yards, with more than a quarter to play. It meant, after the Aztecs' 30-20 victory at Sun Devil Stadium, the first win in history against ASU in a dozen tries.

America, introduce yourself to Rashaad Penny. You'll be hearing a lot more about him.

How differently would Penny be perceived if the jersey said Clemson or Ohio State? How many would be aware of him if the locker room was in Norman, Okla., or Auburn, Ala.?

"Rashaad Penny is going to be one of the four or five best running backs in this country and he's got no chance to win the (Doak Walker) Award," said Long, beginning to walk off the postgame podium.

"Pretty sad, isn't it?"

Other than Penn State's Saquon Barkley, is there another back in America who's so dangerous in so many ways? The secret in shoulder pads is as speedy, as shifty, as rugged as they come.

So, what's he lack? Buzz.

That's because he's at San Diego State. That's because he's in the Mountain West. That's because he plays late games as most of the country counts sheep, a rare talent finally and fully out of the shadow of another generational player, D.J. Pumphrey.

The Sporting News unloaded its list of preseason All-Americans at running back. Thirty-nine names into it, Penny still was waiting to be mentioned. All the biggest rundowns of top ball-carriers entering the season — from the Associated Press, USA Today, FoxSports — mentioned Barkley, LSU's Derrius Guice, Georgia's Nick Chubb, Alabama's Bo Scarbrough.

No one came close to talking about the 5-11 headache maker who slashed off guard for a 95-yard touchdown with 8:04 left in the first quarter Saturday. Not a sniff about the human jet pack who patiently waited for blocking before gobbling up 99 yards on a kickoff return to start the second quarter.

And not a one dissected the skill set of the player who caused Sun Devil defender Tautalatasi to melt in the open field, without a prayer of putting a paw on the blur bearing down on him.


"Tonight kind of proved it to a lot of people, playing against the Pac-12 and a Power 5 team," Penny said of his big-game debut as the Aztecs' feature back, in his final season.

"… I felt like this game probably could have been the game where a lot of people took notice. I've been in this waiting game for three years. I couldn't wait to get my opportunity."

Penny compared the muggy desert night to a boxing match, with body blows the surest way to cause an opponent to wilt.

"I kind of said it was like the McGregor-Mayweather fight," said Penny, who racked up 219 rushing yards and a staggering 353 in all. "Mayweather was waiting until McGregor tired out."

The haymakers came from No. 20 — time and again.

Penny packs 40 more pounds on top of his cleats than Pumphrey, a fourth-round draft pick of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. He's as concerning for defenses between the tackles as he is in the kick game. He's the power and the pop.

At 220 pounds, he's as big as the Titans' DeMarco Murray and more of scale-denter than the Colts' Frank Gore (212), the Lions' Ameer Abdullah (203), the Chiefs' Kareem Hunt (208). He's within a cheeseburger or two of Cardinals' star David Johnson (224).

"You're just seeing what we knew all along," Long said. "… He had a great year last year, too. He just didn't carry it as much because the guy in front of him (Pumphrey) was setting the all-time NCAA record for rushing.

"You're just seeing more of him."

Penny was the flat-out reason the Aztecs snapped a 28-game road losing streak to teams that played in the Pac-12 or Pac-10 or Pac-whatever. He was the churning difference-maker that ended the program's 23-game road skid against Power 5s.

When asked about his 40 time, or some measure of his speed, Penny reminded that the program never clocks those sorts of things.

"I get in the open field and I just try to run away from guys in different color jerseys," he said.

One more kickoff return score and Penny will tie Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Houston's Tyron Carrier for the major-college career record. He's flirting with the national mountain top for rushing yards and all-purpose yards.

America, Rashaad Penny.

Swap jerseys with a Power 5 player and the introduction wouldn't be necessary.

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