Cain, Nittany Lions look to gear up the offense – Delco Times Leave a comment

Penn State’s offense was anything but dynamic in the first half last weekend at Wisconsin, gaining a meager 43 total yards and one first down.

Noah Cain and other running backs kept encouraging the offensive linemen on the sideline, telling them to stay the course despite the struggles.

“The whole offense, we were thinking too fast,” Cain said. “Once we settled down we started to get things going.”

With Cain playing a leading role, the Nittany Lions gained 254 yards in the second half against a traditionally strong defense and beat the Badgers 16-10 in their opener.

No. 11 Penn State wants to continue that momentum on offense against Ball State (1-0) Saturday at 3:30 at Beaver Stadium (TV-FS1, WEEU-AM/830).

“We stayed calm,” wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith said. “We didn’t get intimidated by not scoring any points in the first half. We knew our game plan. We knew what we wanted to do.

“Once we started clicking on that first drive (in the third quarter), we had a good feel for each other. It’s only going to get better as the season goes on. I’m excited to see it.”

New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich made an adjustment in the second half and had Sean Clifford throw the football to the outside on the first three plays. That set up Clifford’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson, who was 10 yards behind anyone.

The Lions continued to attack the flanks of the Wisconsin defense. Cain ran to the outside for 34 yards and caught a 13-yard pass to set up Jordan Stout’s 24-yard field goal. Cain hauled in another short pass and turned it into a 16-yard gain, which set up his go-ahead touchdown run.

“I got on the Jugs machine every day throughout camp and throughout the offseason,” Cain said. “I worked on my hands at all times, like my strength and my grip. I wanted to focus on every aspect of my game. I’m starting to see the benefits of it.”

Penn State’s entire offense looked crisper in the second half, after Yurcich’s adjustment and Eric Wilson’s entrance at left guard. The Lions had four plays of at least 34 yards.

“You have four quarters to make things right,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “They (the offense) battled some adversity early, but they never really were worried. They never hung their heads.

“It’s a chess match. You have to figure out different strategies, move different pieces and make plays when they come.”

Ball State returns a starter at almost every position, but the Cardinals last week allowed 437 total yards, including 367 through the air, in a 31-21 win over Western Illinois, a Football Championship Subdivision team.

Against Wisconsin, Dotson had his third straight 100-yard receiving game and Clifford completed 18-of-33 passes for 247 yards without a turnover.

“Offensively, what we were able to do in the second half is a real positive,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We’ve got to be able to do that for four quarters.”

Cain finished with 75 total yards, 48 rushing and 27 receiving, in his first appearance since suffering a season-ending broken foot in the 2020 opener at Indiana. He appears to be the Lions’ No. 1 running back with sophomore Keyvone Lee as the primary backup.

“I’m feeling really relieved coming out of that first game healthy,” Cain said. “I just had a lot of energy, a lot of emotions coming out of that game. It’s just a blessing to be part of that type of win.

“I just feel like I’m a whole lot more mature and a better student of the game right now, which has helped the game slow down for me.”

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