Brown leads stacked running back group
PSU junior hopes to further success
Journey Brown looked like one of the best running backs in the country the last time Penn State took the field, obliterating Memphis’ defense for a PSU-bowl record 202 yards rushing in the Cotton Bowl.
Brown’s best highlight that day in Dallas has been described as “beast mode,” as he took a handoff, broke four tackles and dragged defenders over the final 10 yards to finish off a 32-yard TD in the first quarter.
That run showed off all the great attributes Brown has as a running back — speed, strength, footwork and vision. It also showed he’s come a long, long way since arriving at Penn State as merely a speedster who could run by people.
“Now he’s playing as a football player,” PSU running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said on a video conference with reporters Tuesday.
“When I first got here, I said he was a track kid playing football, and I meant that. But that was not being negative. He was a fast kid, he had measurables and he had talent, he just didn’t know how to tap into it.”
Early on last season, Noah Cain was drawing a lot of attention in a crowded Nittany Lion backfield that also featured Brown, Ricky Slade and Devyn Ford. Cain, a freshman, was doing special things every time he got on the field, but the problem was he just didn’t get on the field a whole lot — something that perplexed many until it was later revealed that Cain was battling injuries.
Brown eventually broke away from the pack and established himself not only as the Lions’ top running back, but also one of the emerging stars in college football. He cemented that with his huge day in the Cotton Bowl.
“I’ll go back for Journey to the Minnesota game (in week nine), he played his tail off,” Seider said. “Then what he did at Ohio State in the second half was probably as impressive as anybody in the country.?”I will say this: The last four or five games — and I know I’m biased — I thought Journey Brown was playing as good as any running back in the country.”
Brown led PSU with 890 yards rushing on just 129 attempts, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, and also scored 12 touchdowns. Penn State will hope to see him take even more steps toward greatness this fall, or whenever the next college football season takes place.
Still, no matter how good Brown already is or can be, he will have competition and continue to be pushed by his own teammates in the running back room.
Slade, the frontrunner to start going into last season, entered the transfer portal after a disappointing 2019 season. But Cain and Ford will both be sophomores, and each has a chance to be a special player in his own right.
Seider said Cain “never lacks confidence” but just needed time to get healthy.
“You get those nicks, and muscles sometimes take a long time to heal,” Seider said. “It just took a process, especially with a kid who is as powerful as he is and runs the way he does. It just took the time to get healed, and I think getting him back in the bowl game got his confidence back.”
Seider predicted big things for Brown and Cain, but also reminded everyone to keep an eye on Ford.
“This kid is so physically gifted,” Seider said. “He’s got the best hips I’ve ever seen out of a player. He can sink his hips and explode through the smallest crease.”
A big thing for Ford was learning how to be a college running back and compete day in and day out.
“He’s a kid who for the first time probably was — like all freshmen — enjoying college a little bit too much,” Seider said.
“Not saying he was partying, but just that much freedom. … He forgot that you’ve got to do it every week, where (Brown and Cain) just kept escalating and getting better throughout the process. I think (Ford) had a great winter conditioning. I’m really excited about him.”