Penn State began the season with a rotation of four running backs, each vying for the top spot. It took a while for a clear frontrunner to emerge, but after ten weeks, it's become clear that the Nittany Lions have found their top man. Redshirt sophomore Journey Brown probably wasn't the back most expected to take over the top spot, but that's exactly where he finds himself now.
With talented freshman Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, along with sophomore Ricky Slade in the rotation, Brown was often overlooked when examining the Penn State backfield during the preseason. But while all of the backs have shown flashes this season, it's Brown who has been the most consistent, particularly recently. He leads all Penn State running backs in carries (86), yards (521), and touchdowns (6). Cain's injury plays a role in that, sure, but Brown has been fantastic since getting the majority of the carries.
The speedster from Meadville enters this week's game in Columbus with 224 yards and three touchdowns in the last two contests against stout rushing defenses in Minnesota and Indiana. He has three 100-yard games this season and has seen his carries trend upward over the last few weeks.
The fact that Brown is leading the Nittany Lions in rushing, and will likely be called on once again this week to play a lead role, is more than a bit surprising considering where he began his collegiate career.
A three-star recruit in the 2017 class, Brown didn't garner much attention. He was ranked as the No. 51 running back and aside from Penn State, only held offers from Syracuse, Temple, and Duquesne.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, James Franklin saw the potential in Brown. Perhaps it was his famed 720-yard, 10-touchdown performance during a high school game in 2015, or maybe it was the fact that he was a Pennsylvania state champ in the 100-meter dash in 2017. Whatever it was, Franklin wanted Brown on his team despite his relative anonymity in the recruiting world, and it's paying off now.
Brown's speed is a definite asset to his game, and he's already been able to use it to break big plays. That speed was on display earlier in the season when he jetted 85 yards against Pitt to set up a touchdown.
Perhaps most impressively though, is how he's been able to round out his game aside from just being a speed back. He's shown an ability to shake defenders in the open field, an ability to be a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and has improved as a runner in tight spaces. Not to mention the strides he's taken as a blocker. He is quickly becoming the complete running back that not many predicted he would become back when he was in high school.
After receiving a redshirt in 2017, Brown saw limited action in 2018, receiving just eight carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. He has been given every chance to earn and grow his role in 2019, however, and hasn't disappointed. He may be in for a slight downtick in carries when Cain returns to health, but Brown has more than earned his starting role in one of college football's most explosive offenses.
A lot of programs wrote Brown off coming out of high school, but now, he's looking like a steal for the Nittany Lions.