Devyn Ford, a true freshman, has run for 108 yards in just seven carries through Penn State’s first two games. Eighty-one of those yards came on one play, a touchdown sprint on which Ford was virtually untouched. Against Idaho.
Journey Brown, a sophomore, has 11 carries for 66 yards and two TDs.
Noah Cain, another true freshman, has three TDs, 47 yards in 10 tries and no run longer than nine yards.
Ricke Slade, the starter, has just 17 yards in eight carries, a lost fumble, and no run longer than five yards.
It’s safe to say Penn State hasn’t found The New Guy at running back. That may be disconcerting for a program that just sent Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders to the NFL.
But is it a big deal?
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“Where we are now is it hasn’t changed,’’ coach James Franklin said after practice Wednesday. “We’d love to have someone jump out and be dominant, or you’d love to have the whole group perform at a really high level.’’
Meaning, for now, it’s running back-by-committee.
It’s a qualified committee, though, stocked with prospects who illustrate the quality and reach of Penn State’s recent recruiting efforts.
Slade, Ford and Cain were five-star recruits. Brown, from Meadville, wasn’t quite, but he did break the 32 year-old 100-meter dash PIAA state track meet record of Olympic Gold medalist Leroy Burrell as a high school senior.
And Brown has shown himself to be football-tough, as the scout team’s workhorse RB last year, and on special teams so far this season. He blocked a punt last week against Buffalo.
Cain, at 5-10, 206, is a between-the-tackles power runner. Ford is a lean, fluid speed guy. Slade is smallish (5-9, 198) but shows flashes or Barkley-esque ability to make people miss.
The plan for Saturday, against Pitt, is to give them all a shot.
“It may be Ricky’s going to take the first two series, and then (we’ll) go two-to-one to Journey,’’ Franklin said. “Maybe next time, it goes one to Ricky and now Cain, and back to Ricky, and then one to Ford, …
“Then, as the game goes, if someone gets hot, we’ll go with the hot hand.’’
Four guys this close could eventually mean at least one of them will look to the transfer portal in an emerging era of something like free agency in college football. But it’s also true that blue-chippers like to play with other blue-chippers.
“I feel like we can get a running back rotation like Georgia had,’’ Ford said at the Under Armour All-American game in Florida in December, referring to the 2017, national finalist Bulldogs with Sony Michel (now with the New England Patriots), Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns) and current Georgia tailback De’Andre Swift.
“I see the pieces already in place (at Penn State),’’ said Cain, also at the Under Armour game.
“I see the talent coming in. I see the opportunity to beat Ohio State, beat Michigan, becoming the face of the Big Ten, having the opportunity to go to the Final Four.
“It’s gonna be a new vibe. I want everyone to be a dog. Have that dog mindset, dominate every opponent we go against. That’s what I want to bring.’’
It’s still very early, but nobody’s really bringing it yet.