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How Penn State’s Running Game Could Look With Noah Cain Out of The Fold

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Keyvone Lee scores on a 31-yard TD run.

If Noah Cain is to stay in the transfer portal, his career at Penn State will go down as one of those “what if” stories.

In Cain’s true freshman season of 2019, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native averaged nearly five yards a carry and scored eight touchdowns, becoming an integral part of Penn State’s “Lawn Boyz” ground game.

Everything changed for Cain in Penn State’s 2020 season opener against Indiana, when he suffered a season-ending injury. Cain came back for the 2021 season, but couldn’t recapture his 2019 form. He finished this past season averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and scoring only four touchdowns.

By the end of the season, Keyvone Lee— despite being a year younger than Cain— had become Penn State’s clear No. 1 running back, and with 2021 Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year Nick Singleton set to be part of the 2022-fold, that path to Cain ever becoming Penn State’s bell cow was a smoky one at best, so Cain entering the  portal shouldn’t surprise anybody.

With Cain looking like a goner and John Lovett out of eligibility, here is what Penn State’s running game could look like in 2022.

KEYVONE LEE

Lee might have been the most underutilized and underappreciated player on Penn State’s 2021 roster. The best example of Lee’s misuse took place in the Nittany Lions’s Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas. Despite quarterback Sean Clifford never finding his rhythm, and despite Lee ripping off a 25-yard run that help ignite one of Penn State’s two scoring drives, Lee ended the day with just four rushes, only one of which coming in the second half.

On the season, Lee was Penn State best running back, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. This followed up a promising freshman campaign as well, in which Lee also averaged 4.9 yards a pop.

With Singleton having proved nothing at the college level yet, Lee will most likely start 2022 as Penn State’s No. 1 tailback. How he’ll be managed by head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will be worth pondering for Penn State fans between now and the season opener at Purdue.

NICK SINGLETON

Next to quarterback Drew Allar, Singleton is probably Penn State’s most hyped incoming freshman. Chances are that if Sean Clifford stays healthy for all of 2022, the only way Allar gets any action is in mop-up time.

Singleton should have more of an immediate impact. Although Lee is likely the Week 1 starter, it’s reasonable to think Singleton will be in the rotation right away. The last great Penn State running back, Saquon Barkley, got the starting job by Week 3 of his true freshman season, so Singleton’s time might not be far away.

KAYTRON ALLEN

Penn State’s other hyped running back prospect might have to wait a little longer for his shot.

A lot of years, Allen would be Penn State’s top running back prospect, but in this class, he’s playing second-fiddle to Singleton, at least for the moment.

The four-star from IMG Academy could have a big future at Penn State, but if Lee and Cain stay healthy, it might be hard for him to make a splash in 2022.

DEVYN FORD and CAZIAH HOLMES

These two combined for 19 carries in 2021. With Singleton coming in, it’s hard to see things being much better for either of these two unless they follow Cain into the transfer portal.

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