James Franklin has stated that he is going to continue utilizing all four of Penn State’s running backs as the season progresses. Further, he has said all season that he is waiting for one back in particular to separate himself. The season started with Ricky Slade at the top of the depth chart. Then, he was followed by Journey Brown and the true freshmen. All four have had their moments, but one true freshman has really stood out for Penn State fans. Is it time for Noah Cain to be the lead running back for the Nittany Lions?
Noah Cain Looks Ready for Lead Running Back Role
The true freshman out of IMG Academy has played in the running back rotation in all six of Penn State’s games this season. Cain has rushed for 310 yards and six touchdowns. He is also averaging over five yards per carry. Further, he leads all four of the running backs in total yards from scrimmage. All four have their strengths, but in a hostile environment against Iowa, it was Cain that got the offense moving. He also gave the offense a spark against Purdue the week prior. Cain had his first 100-yard rushing game against the Boilermakers and recorded a touchdown in that contest as well. In that game, he averaged over eight yards per carry.
Cain Provided a Spark Against Purdue
Against Purdue and Iowa when the offense stalled and was having trouble producing, the coaches looked to the true freshman. He delivered on both occasions. In the second and third quarters against the Boilermakers, the Nittany Lion offense could not move the ball. The offensive line was struggling and even though Penn State was cruising to a victory it looked like they could use a flash to get back on track. Enter Cain, he came in the game and quickly provided just what everyone on the offense needed. The Nittany Lions hadn’t scored since the start of the second quarter. Cain added the last touchdown with five minutes left in the game. Did Penn State need that last touchdown? Arguably, no, but the offense needed to carry momentum into a tough match-up against Iowa.
Struggles in Kinnick Stadium
Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, is a historically tough place to play. The Hawkeyes have upset many ranked teams under the lights on a Saturday night. It almost happened two years ago to Penn State and it almost happened again this week. The Nittany Lions are 6-0 and beat Iowa this weekend largely in part by another fourth-quarter surge from true freshman Cain. Cain was once again the lead rusher and got his second 100-yard rushing game. He also averaged just over four yards per carry on 22 attempts. That is five times more attempts than Slade, Brown, or Devyn Ford. The next leading rusher for the Nittany Lions was Sean Clifford. Penn State started the game with negative rush yards, not something that a team with four talented running backs wants to see.
Cain to the Rescue
The Iowa defense bottled up Slade and Brown. Ford had a little bit of success but ended the game with four carries for 17 yards. Penn State led the Hawkeyes 10-6 at the start of the fourth quarter. The only touchdown came from KJ Hamler in the second quarter. There was another touchdown scored by Pat Freiermuth, but the ruling on the field was overturned and then Clifford got in the endzone on the next play, but that was called back by a questionable holding penalty. So, Penn State settled for a field goal.
The Nittany Lions got the ball back in the fourth quarter with too much time on the clock to give it back to Iowa. The Penn State defense was solid all night, but the offense desperately needed a long drive. Who did the coaches entrust? The true freshman from IMG Academy. Cain was handed the ball on straight plays getting the Nittany Lions several key first downs. Then, with just over five minutes left in the game, Cain found the endzone on a five-yard run. This put Penn State up 17-6 with five minutes left in the game. A good spot to be in at Kinnick Stadium.
Looking Ahead to Michigan
College GameDay has decided to venture back to Happy Valley for the White Out against Michigan on Saturday. After the game against Iowa, Franklin stated he was proud of how all four backs did and did not name Cain the actual starter. He has the majority of carries and leads the backs in rushing yards. He is given the ball when the offense needs it the most. Finally, he runs with power, speed, and poise. Cain has a bright future in blue and white. Will Noah Cain be the lead running back against Michigan? We will find out soon.