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Penn State Needs To Start Riding The Hot Hand At Running Back

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In non-conference play the Nittany Lions used a scheduled rotation at running back, but as B1G play revs up they need to ride the hot hand

Photo Credit: Heather Weikel Heather Weikel/Black Shoe Diaries

James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions have something that any football team would be envious of - a stable of four talented running backs. Other than Georgia, you would be hard pressed to find a running back room more talented than one of Journey Brown, Ricky Slade, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford.

Due to their silly amount of talent in the running back room the Nittany Lions have deployed a running back rotation. Slade started the first two games of the season, Brown started against Pitt and Ford and Cain have been used as planned throughout the games. The problem with this is that it is tough for the running backs to get into any sort of rhythm.

This was on display is the team’s 17-10 victory over Pitt.

On Penn State’s second drive of the second half Cain came in at running back. On the drive Cain had six carries for 40 yards and what would prove to be the game winning touchdown. He also had a 13-yard reception on the drive.

This drive was the one on which Penn State ran the ball most consistently. Yet, Cain did not see the field again after the drive. Why? Well, when asked, Franklin said it was because the coaching staff wanted to stick to their predetermined running back rotation.

Had Cain been given more series after this the game could have gone differently. Especially in the 4th quarter when the Nittany Lion offense was looking to run the clock out and failed to do so. Cain was the hot hand on Saturday, but the Nittany Lions failed to ride him.

Before the season started Franklin said that they planned to deploy a running back rotation. However, he also said they would then ride the hot hand. Well, it’s time for them to begin to ride the hot hand.

As Big Ten play kicks off next Friday against Maryland, Penn State will need to have a better running game to help create a more consistent offense. A good way to do this is to do what Franklin said before the season that they would and ride the hot hand.

While each running back has impacted a game thus far, and each has scored at least two touchdowns, Brown and Cain have been their best backs. As conference play begins, those two should be the team’s top backs.

Not only have they been the best runners, they have also been the team’s two best backs in pass protection. And through three games, especially against Pitt, poor pass protection from the running backs has played a role in stalling out drives.

Now, this is not to say Slade and Ford should not be used. They absolutely should. Slade, as he showed with his vital 40-yard reception to set up Jordan Stout’s field goal before halftime on Saturday, is far too explosive to not get opportunities and it would not surprise me if Ford is the team’s best all around back by the end of the season. Plus, this is one of the best parts about being so deep in the backfield — options!

But, so far, Brown and Cain have separated themselves from the pack.

Another idea the coaching staff needs to look into with the running backs is using more two back sets. Ricky Rahne went to this look a few times on Saturday and it really threw a wrench in Pitt’s defensive alignment. With this stable of backs more two back sets could really cause problems for opposing defenses.

Penn State has a gluttony of riches at the running back position. Now it is up to the coaching staff to use these backs properly.