New season, new look and hopefully much better results for the Penn State Nittany Lions offense. That is at least the plan with James Franklin making a switch at offensive coordinator and bringing in highly successful Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead as his new offensive coordinator.
It certainly isn’t the only change on the books for the PSU offense, and that means a lot of work between spring and the season opener will need to be done.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Nittany Lions’ offense will look heading in to the 2016 season.
Publicly the Nittany Lions haven’t named a starting quarterback in the battle between sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens. Behind the scenes? You can bet this is McSorley’s job to lose.
By the end of spring, McSorley had begun taking a lot of the reps with the No. 1 offense and was easily the most consistent of the two in understanding the concepts OC Joe Moorhead was putting in place.
McSorley comes in to the season having played some decent snaps thanks to Hackenberg getting crushed all of last season. He went just 20 of 40 for 185 yards and two touchdowns in seven games of relief duty in 2015, and will need to completely upgrade those numbers if Penn State’s going to do anything offensively.
There is little uncertainty over who is the man to lead the PSU rushing attack in 2016. After busting out for just over 1,000 yards in 11 games during his freshman season, Saquon Barkley returns this year and looks poised to challenge as one of the Big Ten’s best running backs.
It was clear early on that junior Akeel Lynch was going to see less and less of the football, and it resulted in him transferring this offseason. So, if there is a concern, it is the lack of experience and true depth at the position heading in to the season.
Sophomore Mark Allen is expected to be the primary backup to Barkley, but he saw just 28 carries last season and there is a lot of opportunity for someone like incoming 5-star recruit Miles Sanders to make a huge impact.
If Sanders can quickly live up to the hype, then running back may not be a concern at all for Penn State. But, this is one of the positions that is hardest for freshmen to transition to and with PSU’s offensive line issues there’s a whole different set of worries for Sanders’ first year on campus.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
One thing is abundantly clear about Penn State’s 2016 offense — it has the skill position weapons to be extremely dangerous. That includes the return of 1,100-yard receiver Chris Godwin and fellow junior DaeSean Hamilton, who led the team with six receiving touchdowns last season.
Add in Saeed Blacknall and Brandon Polk, who each flashed moments of brilliance last season and it is a dangerous group of receivers. Then throw in to the mix of Polk’s fellow 2015 signees like Juwan Johnson (6-4, 216) and Irvin Charles (6-4, 212) and this is one of the scariest groups of receivers in the Big Ten this season.
The biggest concern in the pass catching department comes at tight end, with only Mike Gesicki with any meaningful game experience under his belt. Most of that came last season as a sophomore in which he 13 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown.
Outside of that, watching Adam Breneman’s career end due to injury and senior Tom Pancoast get kicked off the team were huge blows to depth at the position. It could mean immediate playing time for 2016 signee Danny Dalton or redshirt freshman Nick Bowers as well.
Putting it all together with a new offensive scheme and a new quarterback is going to be the key to fall camp and the early contests for PSU.
Remember that 1,000-yard rusher Penn State had last season? While that was great, there was nothing behind him and that was in part due to a wholly ineffective offensive line. You don’t rank outside the top 100 offenses in rushing, total yards, scoring and sacks allowed and not have a major issue up front.
Part of the hope is that an increase in tempo will help eliminate some of the problems, but the other part is the experience gained from the offensive line last year. However, spring suggested that new o-line coach and former Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrower still has a lot of work to do to solidify a starting five that works.
About the only things that were certain were the good performances from Andrew Nelson (who switched from right to left tackle) and center Brian Gala. Outside of that it is a complete crapshoot for the other three starting positions.
On the interior it appears Brendan Mahon and Ryan Bates are the frontrunners, but Mahon has plenty of competition from Derek Dowrey. Meanwhile, Paris Palmer may fit in well at right tackle after his transition there, but don’t be surprised to see sophomore Noah Beh in the mix all fall camp long too.
Our Projected Starters:
WR: Chris Godwin, Jr.
WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Jr.
TE: Mike Gesicki, Jr.
LT: Andrew Nelson, So
LG: Ryan Bates, Fr.
C: Brian Gala, Sr.
RG: Brendan Mahon, Jr.
RT: Paris Palmer, Sr.
RB: Saquon Barkley, So.
QB: Trace McSorley, So.
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