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Next man up, again: Where do Lions go now at running back?

Photo by Penn State Athletic: Keyvone Lee had a solid debut at Indiana

OK, so where does Penn State go now at running back? And can the team come close to meeting expectations this season after all the bad luck that’s taken place at the position.

Everyone thought running back would be the team’s biggest strength this season, with an initial depth chart topped by:

**Journey Brown, who finished last season with a PSU bowl-record 202 yards rushing in the Cotton Bowl against Memphis. Brown now may miss the season with an undisclosed medical condition.

**Noah Cain, who was so impressive early last year before suffering an ankle injury. Cain is now out for the season after what appeared to be another ankle injury in the first series Saturday at Indiana.

Devyn Ford started the season as the third-stringer, but he will not be elevated to the starting spot with Cain out.

Ford had a solid game against the Hoosiers, rushing for 69 yards on 20 carries. He also had one TD, although it was perhaps the worst TD in the history of PSU football. If Ford had not scored inside of two minutes, as Indiana let him do, then Penn State could have run out the clock and won the game, instead of losing, 36-35, in overtime.

For the record, that was NOT Ford’s fault. That was poor coaching, plain and simple, because it should have been made perfectly clear to Ford and everyone else not to score.

Ford will remain the starter for now, something he could not have envisioned just weeks ago.

Ford will be the starter going forward, and there’s a different mindset in that role than that of a backup.

“I thought he did some, some really nice things,” Franklin said of Ford in the opener. “I thought his mentality was really good. Obviously, again, there’s a difference between being a guy who’s rotating in with with two other other backs and being the guy. And in the Big 10, very physical conference. Very good defenses in our in our conference.

“His leadership is going to be key with those with those younger guys, as well,” Franklin added about Ford, a sophomore. “But I just think you’re gonna have to change your mentality. It’s one thing when when Noah was the starting running back and Devyn was going to rotate in and be a complimentary piece, to now being the guy. And I think he’ll grow into that. There’s no doubt that he has the talent to do that. And there’s no doubt that we believe in him. But but there is a difference, there is a difference between being the lead dog and a rotational piece.”

There are two true freshmen running backs behind Ford, and both were four-star recruits from Florida.

Keyvone Lee carried six times for 35 yards, with a long of 13, against the Hoosiers. He looked a little more ready for the moment than Caziah Holmes, who carried five times for 16 yards.

What do the Lions have in Lee and Holmes? Well, they were elite recruits from an elite recruiting state. All indications were that they could be in line for good careers at PSU, although no one thought that timetable would be starting so early.

“When we got started with this,t hose guys, if I’m doing my math correctly, I think were fourth and fifth on the depth chart,” Franklin said. “So now we’re in a situation where they’re going to play prominent roles.

“We’ve seen flashes of really good things from them during practice and training camp and meetings and things like that. But we thought we’d have a little bit of time to let them gain some experience, maybe in not so big moments and meaningful moments maybe early on and let them grow into that. But here’s where we are. They’re both extremely talented. We have a lot of belief and confidence in them. But experience matters, and we got to speed up that maturation process a little bit.”

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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