While Matty Ice may have been nothing more than a relief from the stylings of Rob Bolden for 2010 and 2011, he truly became one of the great Penn State quarterbacks last season. Setting aside the numerous records he set, he was able to pick up a complex playbook in a year, was a leader in the highest sense of the word, and showed the world that Bill O’Brien’s offensive genius was not a product of the Patriots. What he did was truly amazing, and should not be undervalued in any way. He will be missed. All of that being said, despite the losses of McGloin, Stankiewitch, Farrell, and Zordich, the offense in 2013 will be better than 2012.
Before last season, I, like many people I’m sure, was not much of a Matt McGloin fan. Sure, he had his moments in his first two seasons of playing time, but he was always inconsistent. My biggest problem with him was what I saw as his ceiling as a QB. I saw an average throwing arm, inconsistent accuracy, below average athleticism, and undeserved cockiness. Bill O’Brien was able to take Moxie, and mold him like a piece of Play-Doh into the exact quarterback that Penn State needed. This summer, Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg will both compete for the starting job. Both of these guys have much better peripherals than McGloin did, and will have (basically) the same amount of time to learn the playbook. I see no reason as to why O’Brien won’t be able to turn both of these guys (whom he recruited and knows) into just as good, if not better, quarterbacks than McGloin.
One thing that will not be different from last season, will be the guys that the quarterback is throwing to. Biletnikoff candidate Allen Robinson got bigger and stronger without losing any speed this offseason, and will still be terrorizing secondaries. Best of all, he won’t be alone on the outside. Eugene Lewis gave Penn State fans a taste of his ability with a slick one handed catch in the Blue and White game, and by some accounts is the most athletic player on the team. Brandon Moseby-Felder (Did we ever get a reason why he only has Felder on the jersey?) emerged as a reliable #2 last season, only getting better as the season went on. Alex Kenney, despite somewhat disappearing later in the year, was a 3rd down conversion machine early on. Matt Zanellato has great hands and had a break out performance of sorts in the Blue and White game. Richy Anderson has been receiving rave reviews, and looks like he could become PSU’s version of Wes Welker. DaeSean Hamilton is the somewhat forgotten name among the wide receivers, but he’s a 4 star recruit who has some serious talent, and should not be overlooked. This has the potential to be one of the better receiver groups in the nation, especially if you factor in the next set of players...
We all knew about Bill O’Brien’s reputation with tight ends coming from New England, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for how dominant our tight end group became this season. To think that Kyle Carter, Jesse James, Matt Lehman, Adam Breneman, and Brent Wilkerson are all on the same team, seems unbelievably unfair. Carter and James could both end up being candidates for the John Mackey award. Adam Breneman could end up being better than both of them (Although I, personally would prefer he redshirt this season). Matt Lehman proved to be a TJ Houshmandzadeh-ish player (Pre-Seahawks), in that he was never spectacular, but was always where he needed to be and made plays. I don’t see much in Wilkerson myself, but the coaches apparently like what they see from him in practice, so we’ll see. Tight end is the position from which the most havoc can be caused in my opinion, and having so many top tier options from that spot gives the offense an undeniable boost.
I have always found many similarities between Penn State and my Seahawks (most of them were pre-BOB however). One of those similarities is an under-appreciated run game. Everyone knows about Marshawn Lynch and knows what he can do, but everyone would rather see downfield passes. It’s the same story with Penn State. Everyone knows what Zach Zwinak can do when he gets the ball. He’s going to plow over would-be tacklers, and fall forward for extra yards. And yet, we would rather see a deep ball to A-Rob. I think this season, the running game will inspire more excitement. The backfield has three different backs, who are all different styles. Zwinak is the punisher, Bill Belton is the lightning, and Akeel Lynch is whatever a perfect combination of punishment and lightning is. Defenses will have to adjust their play based on whichever running back is in. This not only helps ease the load on the quarterback, but it will lead to more explosive running plays as well, something that the Lions lacked this past season.
Finally, there’s the engine that keeps the offense chugging away, the offensive line. There are three returning starters in John Urschel, Miles Dieffenbach, and Donovan Smith. Adam Gress received significant playing time last season, and Ty Howle has received great reviews as the new center. This group is primed to become one of the better offensive lines Penn State has had recently, and they should be able to physically dominate a lot of their schedule this season.
All in all, this offense is very similar to last year’s. There is obviously a major change in that there will be a new quarterback, but as I said earlier, I believe that O’Brien will be able to lead two of his own recruits to success just as he did with McGloin. With a higher upside quarterback situation, a deeper receiver group, a more experienced tight end core, a three headed monster at running back, a powerful offensive line, and the most important weapon of all, Bill O'Brien's brain, how can this offense not be better than last year’s?
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