Taking a deeper dive into what went wrong for Penn State Football this season

Head coach James Franklin of Penn State Football (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Head coach James Franklin of Penn State Football (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /
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Penn State Football, Noah Cain
Noah Cain #21 of the Penn State Nittany Lions  (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Penn State Football’s Inability to Run the Football

This one does not have to be as long as the previous, mainly because it is partially a reflection of the offensive line struggles.

It certainly does not help that there is no Saquon Barkley in the backfield for the Nittany Lions, but being that he was a generational talent, it is not fair to compare every single running back to put on a Penn State Football uniform to Barkley.

The Nittany Lions’ top three backs in terms of total carries have all had proven success running the football at the Division 1 level.

Both last season and this season, Keyvone Lee is averaging a respectable 4.9 yards per carry, which is relatively impressive given the offensive line struggles.

Noah Cain proved in 2019 that he can be a difference-maker, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and breaking the single-season touchdown record by a freshman with eight.

Finally, John Lovett was the leading rusher for a top 10 Baylor team in 2019, averaging a great 6.4 yards per carry.

So, believe it or not, the running back group is still better than some people give them credit for. So what is the issue?

Well, obviously the offensive line is the major one, and the next one would have to be the running schemes and the play calling.

Another variable that might get passed over is the fact that none of these running backs have not had much of an opportunity to get into a rhythm.

For example, one of these running backs may have a solid drive, and then they are on the sideline on the ensuing possession.

It is understandable that the staff does not want to run one guy into the ground and they want to rotate and keep fresh legs, but there needs to be a ‘happy medium’ when it comes to the rotation.

This past game against Michigan was the first time in over a month that the staff has leaned primarily on one back, and it was Lee. He rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries, and while that is not overly impressive, it was still the best individual rushing performance that Penn State Football has had this season and it came against possibly the best rush defense they have faced.

So, there is definitely some truth to my theory that the staff needs to stick with the ‘hot hand’ at running back.

The inability to run the football effectively has been the aspect that has hurt Penn State the most.

In the Nittany Lions’ first loss to Iowa, that began another downward spiral, even with the loss of Clifford, had the team been able to run the ball for positive chunks of yardage, it would have taken a lot of pressure off of Ta’Quan Roberson and he would not have been forced to have to do as much.

So just as before, it is a combination of a lot of things that are hindering the running game, starting with the offensive line, and probably followed by play design.