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Penn State Football Freshmen Shine, Gain Valuable Experience Against Idaho

Star players such as KJ Hamler and Yetur Gross-Matos were some of the many players who had big days in Penn State’s dominant 79-7 victory over Idaho Saturday. Outside of those two big names, though, plenty of the Nittany Lions’ scoring efforts came from young, fresh-faced freshmen playing in their first-ever games at Beaver Stadium.

James Franklin was pleased with the number of freshmen who were able to play valuable roles in Penn State’s win and understood just how important an exercise it is to get them experience as early as possible.

“That’s going to pay dividends,” Franklin said. “Not only this year but over the next couple of years. It’s a tremendous positive.”

While it will no doubt be important down the line to have valuable experience on the roster, there are plenty of first-year players who are trying to make an impact on this team immediately. There’s no better example of that than the Nittany Lions’ extremely young running back room.

Freshmen Devyn Ford and Noah Cain were two of the most productive members of Penn State’s backfield against the Vandals. The pair was ranked as the No. 5 and 6 running backs in the country in the recruiting class of 2019, respectively, and proved why on Saturday.

Ford led the Nittany Lions in rushing yards with 107 on six attempts, most of them coming from this 81-yard touchdown rush that gave the Nittany Lions a 34-0 lead in the second quarter.

As for Cain, he finished with 44 rushing yards on the day but had two touchdowns to boot. Even in garbage time, Cain proved he has a nose for the end zone in short-yardage situations — scoring from three and nine yards out.

The young pair’s contributions to Penn State’s running game didn’t go unnoticed. They accounted for 151 of the Nittany Lions’ 331 rushing yards. Cain also had nine rushing attempts on the day, the most for any Penn State running backs.

On the defensive side of the ball, Brandon Smith and Adisa Isaac led the legion of freshmen who made several big plays against the Vandals.

Smith garnered plenty of attention when he first committed to Penn State. The five-star recruit ranked as the top inside linebacker recruit in the country in the class of 2019 and was looked to by many as the future of “Linebacker U”. His Nittany Lion career got off to a great start, to say the least, as he finished tied for second-most on the team with three total tackles and one for loss.

His massive hit in the waning seconds of the game paired with CJ Thorpe’s reaction went viral this past weekend.

Isaac also showed that the future of Penn State’s defensive line looks bright — not that there was much question about that. He had three total tackles, along with a half tackle for loss on the day.

Hamler was well-aware of how many freshmen added value on Saturday and understood how much it proves about this team.

“It shows that a lot of people can play,” Hamler said. “Doesn’t matter what age group you are.”

The redshirt sophomore’s sentiments were certainly reflective of his own experience thus far in Happy Valley. He was considered one of the key players on last year’s squad as a redshirt freshman. With 42 receptions for 754 in his first season of play, the young wide receiver is a great example of how Franklin and the rest of his coaching staff are ready to utilize their first-year players.

If nothing else, the Nittany Lions should have plenty of experience up and down their roster in the years to come. The raw talent is clearly there for plenty of freshmen, but the in-game development they get is invaluable to the team as a whole.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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