Consider the numbers below:
Points Per Game: 51% (23%)
First Downs: 13% (17%)
Rushing YPA: 13% (1%)
Yards Per Play: 8% (9%)
Passing Yards: 43% (9%)
Passer Rating: 33% (23%)
Completion Percentage: 24% (11%)
Touchdown/Interception ratio: 478% (286%)
Red Zone Success Rate: 4% (22%)
What are all these numbers? They're a context-free look at the percentage increases (or decreases, in red) in a few statistical categories from 2011 to 2012. 2015's numbers, in parentheses, fall squarely in the middle. When Bill O'Brien took over the offense in 2012, he made an impact that was immediately evident on the field, and verifiably significant on the numbers. O'Brien took the same people who could barely move the ball the year prior and turned them into one of the most potent offenses in the Big Ten. For the first time since the 2008/09 seasons, the offense was fun to watch. O'Brien took Matt McGloin, a guy most of us thought was a lost cause, and turned him into a respectable NFL backup. O'Brien evaluated what he had available to himself and devised an offense that took advantage of said talent.
John Donovan had an opportunity to do the same thing. With a roster full of young talent and arguably one of the most coveted Quarterback prospects in the nation at his disposal, Donovan had an opportunity to turn the Penn State offense into an even bigger juggernaut than O'Brien's. Yes, he cannot be held fully responsible for the mitigating circumstances he found himself in when he arrived at Penn State, but Donovan can be held solely responsible for the type of offense he chose to run. The fact of the matter is that the offense continued to be inconsistent, and today Donovan is out of a job because there was no indication that his offenses were going to improve at any meaningful rate.
This brings us to where we are now. We are in search of a coordinator who is able to do what Bill O'Brien did. We need somebody who can assess our current talent, and lack thereof, and devise a plan that takes advantage of our strengths while mitigating our weaknesses. I trust the staff to make the right decision in finding somebody who will continue to move the offense forward. And once Franklin does find someone to take advantage of our talent at hand, we need to do our part. We need to allow that person the time to install his offense and let the process play out.
Our new offensive coordinator, whoever that may be, will come into a situation better than both O'Brien's and Donovan's. The offensive line won't be a bunch of world beaters, but they'd have played together for a few years. The wide receivers and tight ends would have had multiple years on the field, with a ton of of guys waiting in the wings. He'll have one of the best Big Ten running backs in Saquon Barkley, and Miles Sanders will soon follow. Unlike O'Brien or Donovan, however, he won't find himself with a multi-year starter at quarterback. And while he'll have much more talent than both O'Brien and Donovan did, that talent will still be young and inconsistent.
Christian Hackenberg, for all his faults and criticisms, meant a lot to this offense. In the very likely event that he leaves after this season, the Lions will have to rely on a quarterback with no experience leading a team, a quarterback who didn't have to endure what the adversity that Hackenberg did. Being able to pick up where Hackenberg left off won't be easy for a young quarterback, and that might spell trouble for the future. There is a very real possibility that the offense next season does not improve by much due to the unique situation the team will be in. Worse yet, there's a chance they could regress.
This is where we need to do our part. We need to give the new guy a chance. If the next coordinator doesn't reach the level of improvement O'Brien did, we need to step back and accept that maybe the claims of sanctions, lack of talent and experience, and quality depth, are not so much excuses, but real hurdles that any coordinator has to overcome. Let's give this guy a chance, because it would be a shame to find ourselves in this same position two years later.