Somehow we have reached the halfway point of the 2015 Penn State football season. There have been more than a few ups, and well, more than a few downs as well. With six games in the books, and six left in the regular season, here are some things I think I know.
Christian Hackenberg is Pretty Good, But Not Perfect. And That is Just Fine
It is not surprising, given the lofty recruiting rankings, big freshman season, and NFL Draft prospects, that the expectations for the junior quarterback were sky high going into the 2015 season. Every time Hackenberg drops back to pass, it has become a referendum on everything expected of him.
No, Christian Hackenberg has not been perfect. There have been throws sailing over open receivers, or skipping at their feet. There have been missed reads, and unnecessary sacks taken. But around all of that, there have been plenty of instances of the natural talent that made him the top quarterback in the country, and has NFL scouts drooling at his potential.
The Talent is Coming
With my focus on recruiting for BSD, one of the more popular questions I notice is the "where is all this great talent Franklin has supposedly brought in?". Well, faithful reader, you are seeing some of it now, in guys like Saquon Barkley, John Reid, , Chris Godwin, Troy Reeder, and Jason Cabinda. What you are also seeing is the inherent inconsistencies and growing pains that come from so many young players.
Starting in 2016, and perhaps even later this year as they gain more practice reps, you will also begin to see the beginnings of the influx of offensive line talent that has come into the program. Coach Franklin has been fond of saying, and I cannot agree more, than you need to give offensive linemen a couple years to grow in the program before you begin to rely on them in bigger roles. If you want proof of that, just look to Ann Arbor, where Jim Harbaugh inherited two top ten classes brought in by Brady Hoke, that are now upperclassmen.
The Offense is Evolving
You can say a lot about this Penn State offense (and you have. I read the comments), but through six games, there has been something of an evolution in how PSU attacks the opposition. Yes, I know it was just Indiana, but the Lions came out throwing more on first down, and throwing the ball downfield. They are running things off of the Brandon Polk jet sweep look, and utilizing their tight ends and the middle of the field.
There will still be hiccups, and I'm not at all sold on the offensive staff, but there have been signs of an offense finding itself. Here's hoping that the young kids have found some confidence going into the heart of the schedule.
Bob Shoop and Co. Remain Very Good at Their Jobs
This is hardly a "thing I think I know", but it must be said. The one constant through 19 games of the James Franklin era at Penn State has no doubt been a dominant defense. Despite losing both starting ends, one of the great PSU middle linebackers in recent memory, and the underrated Adrian Amos off last year's team, Bob Shoop's defense is again among the best in the nation. That's made all the more impressive with the injuries suffered by Nyeem Wartman-White, Brandon Bell, Jordan Lucas, and Marcus Allen costing them at least one game each.
Carl Nassib has become a household name, Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder have risen to the occasion, and a secondary light on experience without Lucas, has quietly played very well. Oh, and Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson aren't bad either.
Every Game Left is Winnable (and Losable)
OK, maybe it's a stretch to say PSU can win in Columbus this weekend, but given the way this season has gone around the country, not much would shock me. But this Penn State team has shown flashes of their potential, and with Saquon Barkley nearing a return at tailback, Andrew Nelson back in the fold on the offensive line, and a dominant defense, you can make a case that PSU can play with everyone left on the schedule.
The Lions are also youthful enough, inconsistent enough (that comes along with youth), and lack the depth to deal with too many injuries, that anyone left on this schedule can knock them off. I would even go so far as to say that I almost expect one of those frustrating games against an overmatched opponent where all those things, and more, will cost PSU a win.