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2006 Football Review - The Offensive Line

We've gone through the linebackers, secondary, and defensive line so today we'll move to the other side of the ball and cover the offensive line.

Going into the 2005 Orange Bowl season, the offensive line was one of the biggest questions the team had to answer. But that team went 11-1 and won a BCS bowl averaging 212 rushing yards per game and only gave up 14 sacks all year. So going into 2006 when people questioned how effective Penn State would be with four starters on the offensive line, Penn State fans laughed it off saying, "Need we remind you of last year?" But what Penn State fans forgot, or perhaps chose to ignore, was that in 2005 they had Michael Robinson, a mobile quarterback that rushed for 67 of those 212 yards per game and escaped from sacks like Houdini escaped from underwater death traps. This team had Anthony Morelli.

Oh crap. Not another blitz.

John Shaw was named the starter at right tackle in the preseason barely beating out Chris Auletta. Shaw looked ok in the early part of the season, but inexplicably he got worse as the year went on. Delayed blitzes were a mystery to him. On running plays his man routinely got penetration preventing any attempt to run outside.

Robert Price was originally the starting right guard. A shoulder injury forced him to sit out the Minnesota game. When he came back he found Rich Ohrnberger had taking his starting spot, so Price was moved to left guard to replace the ineffective Gerald Cadogen. Maybe his shoulder still bothered him or maybe the change of position was the problem, but after returning from the injury Price was noticeably ineffective the rest of the season. I mean he was terrible. His play against Michigan nearly got Anthony Morelli killed. He routinely got manhandled by whatever defensive tackle was lined up opposite of him.

At times the only thing Price blocked was Tony Hunt

Rich Ohrnberger and A.Q. Shipley for the most part did ok, but neither of them were consistently dominant at any time in the season. Stunts and delayed blitzes gave these guys fits as they did for the entire offensive line this season. They couldn't get much push in the running game, but these two managed to hold their blocks long enough for Hunt to slip through the line most of the time better than Price and Shaw could. Fortunately they are both sophomores and I would expect them to improve next season.

The lone bright spot on this line was Levi Brown. Too bad his play was overshadowed by the poor play of his teammates. In watching films, every time Brown got beat he was getting beat inside. I suspect he was expecting help from Price on those plays, but the help never came. Brown suffered a knee injury midway through the season that required surgery and had to sit out the Northwestern and Minnesota games. He may have returned prematurely because his mobility was not very good until late in the year. But against Temple and Minnesota he was repeated pulling down the line and leading through holes created by Shipley and Ohrnberger to flatten linebackers and safeties five yards down field.

As a group this was one of the worst Penn State offensive lines I can ever remember. They may not be as bad as the group in 2003, but they were right up there. To their credit, they had an inexperienced quarterback taking the snaps and a running back that couldn't turn on a dime and cut through the hole in a split second forcing them to hold their blocks longer. They did a good job keeping holding penalties to a minimum all year and didn't jump offsides very often. But the mistakes they made were often magnified because 4 out of 5 times they seemingly happened in the redzone.

There wasn't much of this in 2006

It was painfully obvious Michael Robinson and his 67 rushing yards per game from last year were missed. Take 212 (last years average) minus 67 and you get 145 which is pretty close to where the Lions finished in average rushing yards per game this year with 147. Those 14 sacks from a year ago? Try 23 this year.

Morelli was often left on his own to deal with large angry men with evil intent

In the preseason I was one of the kool-aide drinkers saying the offensive line would be ok. I gave them a C+ in the preseason on the basis of their inexperience, but I expected them to improve and be respectable by midseason. When they struggled in the Blue White game and against Akron I wrote it off to them just needing to learn to play together. They put together some respectable games against Ohio State, Northwestern, and Minnesota so I gave them a B for a midseason grade. But then the injury bug hit and guys got shuffled around and I believe the lack of cohesiveness caused them to actually play worse as a group. The Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin games were embarrassments averaging 20 yards rushing per game. They looked respectable against Purdue, Temple, and Michigan State, but they are three of the worst run defenses in college football this year. In my final evaluation I have to give this group a D.