STATE UNIVERSITY – Penn State entered the 2021 season with high hopes for their running game. The backfield featured five experienced running backs. The offensive line returned three starters. The rushed attack looked like it could be the backbone of the Nittany Lions’ offense, especially after quarterback Sean Clifford struggled last season.
It was not the case. In eight games, Penn State is 12th in the Big Ten and 114th nationally in attacking rushing with 108.1 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are ranked 117th nationally with 3.27 yards per carry.
Junior Noah Cain, sophomore Keyvone Lee, senior fifth year John Lovett and junior Devyn Ford were unable to build consistency. Sophomore Caziah Holmes barely saw the pitch. The coach of the group’s position is well aware of the difficulties of the team and he indicated that the whole operation was the reason for these difficulties.
“I mean, it’s the whole team,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said Thursday. âIt’s all of us in attack. Coaches, players, it’s all of us. You watch the movie, you see what happens. You guys and girls are smart so you know what’s going on.
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There were a lot of high expectations for Cain coming this season. His second season ended in opening practice of the year with injury, and that after a freshman season in which he occasionally flashed but also faced injuries. .
In August, Cain said he was healthy and more mature, and ready to become the Nittany Lions’ top fullback. This does not happen. Cain leads Penn State with 83 carries for 258 yards and four touchdowns, but his 3.1 yards per carry falls behind Lee, Ford and Lovett.
Cain has averaged no more than four yards per carry in a game since carrying eight times for 48 yards against Wisconsin in Game 1 – 34 of those yards were also carried in a single carry – and he has rushed for more than 50 yards just once this season.
âWe had a long conversation yesterday, me and Noah,â Seider said. “Sometimes you forget the kid’s had a whole year off, and the expectations of coming back and picking it up where it left off, even just from the Cotton Bowl [in 2019]. â¦ So maybe the expectations and the pressure he put on himself were too high because there were times when we were looking on the pitch and he looked like that guy.
âI come back to the Wisconsin game, the first half, you can tell it was mentally in his head and the second half, really the second half, he took over that game, was a big reason for which we won this game. You return to the Auburn game. He played well. Maybe not a lot of stats, but he played well.
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Seider acknowledged that Penn State could be in a different position from their current record of 5-3 in Saturday’s game at Maryland if the running game could find its place. During the three-game losing streak, the Lions combined to gain 202 rushing yards, a number that includes sacks.
A few early tries in Iowa, a few yards against Illinois, a big broken game at Ohio State and things might look different.
Cain is a runner talented enough to make things like this happen. He ran for 443 yards for 5.3 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns in the freshman, and he had a reputation as a straight runner who always drove his legs.
âWhat I challenged him is you have to get out of that fog of thinking about other things and trying to be the reason everything has to click for us,â Seider said. âWe don’t need you to be a superhero, we just need you to be Noah and that guy who was one of the most efficient runners in his freshman year because he was always going to be. the front. And if you start playing that way again, it’ll take us into more positive yards and it’ll give us more positive results and then we can give you even more of the ball. “
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Cain and the Penn State runners will have the chance to get back on track against a rushed defense from Maryland that ranks No.13 in the Big Ten and No.79 nationally allowing 161.0 yards per game. The Terps’ final four opponents have all rushed for at least 145 yards and two touchdowns.
So there is a chance for the Nittany Lions. And Seider knows that a match could help the group go the rest of the way. Cain could be the catalyst. It could be Lee or even Lovett. But Seider realizes the impact a rejuvenated ground game could have on Penn State’s offense down the stretch.
âI think that will energize everyone – the running backs, the O line, the tight ends because we’re all in it; the receptors on the blocking perimeter, âSeider said. âLook, the only thing we know about this sport that makes football better than any other sport is that the 11s have to do their job. If a guy doesn’t do his job it can kill any game, and we see it time and time again, not just at Penn State, but across the country.
“So we’re just trying to play the 11 [as one] and if we do that, we know good things are going to happen. You saw it with your own eyes, you know what kind of back we have. If these guys have a chance, good things are going to happen to them, so that’s what I keep preaching as a coach. You haven’t forgotten how to play the game.
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Covers by Daniel Gallen State of pennsylvania for PennLive. He can be contacted at [email protected]. You can follow it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Follow PennLive’s Penn State coverage on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.