Penn State has exceeded even its most ardent fans’ wildest expectations coming into the season. An eight-game winning streak that led to a 10-victory season, complete with an upset against #2 Ohio State, a Big Ten East Division championship and a trip to Indianapolis to face off against Wisconsin for a potential College Football Playoff berth is far more than anyone could have imagined, especially after an uninspiring a 2-2 start.
For Penn State to have such a massive turnaround in 2016 was a complete team effort due to several factors. But what was the biggest key for the Nittany Lions to reach such lofty heights in a season that seemed to be destined as yet another rebuilding year for the young talent to be caught up to speed?
Is it the improved play on the offensive line? The emergence of a very young but deep defensive line? Many will credit the new offensive scheme by offensive coordinator and Broyles Award candidate Joe Moorhead, and rightfully so. Could it be the senior leadership of players like Brandon Bell, Von Walker and Brian Gaia who have been through the ringer during their time at Penn State? There’s also little doubt that a significant upgrade in performance throughout the special teams units have had a major impact on the success of the team. How about Trace McSorley’s improvement throughout the course of the season, which has opened up the offense with his ability to make big plays with either his arm or legs.
I could go on, which is testament to the many key factors in Penn State’s success. To give my own answer to an impossible question, I believe it comes down to coaching. Penn State’s play in the second half in 11 of 12 games has been nothing short of incredible. Week in and week out, adjustments are made that put the team in place for success, oftentimes dominating opponents on both sides of the ball to close out games.
Moorhead is obviously a major upgrade at offensive coordinator, and based on the performance of Penn State’s and Tennessee’s defenses, the same argument can easily be made in favor of Brent Pry over former defensive coordinator and current Volunteer Bob Shoop. James Franklin has also grown as a coach as he’s become more acclimated to the Big Ten, and is proving his system will be successful when given a full complement of his players who fully buy into his vision.
So what say you, BSD reader? What has been the single biggest reason for Penn State’s turnaround in 2016?