Yesterday, we examined a few reasons to extremely optimistic about Penn State's offense in 2016. However, based on recent history we've learned that we should still be concerned about the team's ability to put points on the scoreboard this fall. Let's take a look at the three main reasons to be concerned about the offense in 2016:
The Offensive Line
The general consensus among Penn State fans at this time last year was as follows- "The offensive line will have more experience and depth, and therefore will show improvement from a disastrous 2014. Improved line play will bolster the rest of the offense, meaning they should go from 'abysmal' to 'functional'."
Then came the embarrassing week one blowout loss to Temple, where the offensive line gave up 10 sacks (including one gem where they were outmatched by two Owls defenders). The line obviously showed no signs of improvement throughout the season, giving up 44 sacks for the second year in a row. While plenty of blame has been spread about the offensive shortcomings, it was clear the poor performance of the line was the main catalyst.
This has led the general consensus heading into 2016 to be somewhere along the lines of "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Fans want so badly to believe the offense is set to turn the corner and take advantage of the plethora of talent along the skill positions. But we've learned that another poor season from the offensive line will easily doom any chance of an offensive renaissance.
Things should get better in 2016 in the trenches. There are some talented recruits rising up the ranks and the returning starters have had another full offseason to improve. However, there are still plenty of unknowns, especially the fact that Penn State will once again rely on a handful of redshirt and true freshman to step in and produce in their first year of eligibility. The offensive line has been a total mess during the past two years, and we just won't know what to expect until a few weeks into the 2016 season. If no progress is made, match-ups against Pitt, Temple and Michigan all could have disastrous results before the team even makes it out of September.
A First-Year Quarterback
Look, we're all enthused about Trace McSorley (likely) stepping under center following a masterful Blue-White Game performance, where he connected on 23 of 27 passes with four touchdowns and one interception. He appeared at ease in the pocket and the offense finally had some rhythm with him in command. And like Fred's Slacks, he's a winner, as proven by the fact he led his high school team to four Virginia state championship games with the type of personality that draws his teammates in and inspires them to leave every ounce of effort on the field.
But the reality of the situation is that McSorley will be a first-time starter with very limited experience outside of filling in for an injured Christian Hackenberg in the TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia. One major concern is that defensive coordinators will soon have plenty of film to study to learn McSorley's tendencies and figure out an attack plan. McSorley is limited in size and arm strength, and Penn State faces several outstanding defenses that will aim to expose these limitations. McSorley excels in short to mid-range passes, showing excellent accuracy and ability to find the open receiver. However, does he have the arm strength to stretch out a defense? Will the potential lack of an effective vertical attack limit the offense and make them much easier to defend? Will the immense physical talents of Saeed Blacknall, Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles all go unheeded if Penn State becomes a primarily running and short-passing offense?
There are plenty of question marks, and for now all we can do is sit back and wait to discover the answers.
After all the hand-wringing over the offense led by John Donovan since 2014, the addition of a new and highly-touted offensive coordinator seems like an odd fit for this list, especially considering the addition of Joe Moorhead was included as a reason to be optimistic about the offense yesterday.
While Penn State should be in excellent hands with Moorhead, it's hard to imagine he will simply ride in on a white horse and create an offensive juggernaut by September 3rd. Learning a new offense is like learning a new language- it's a time-consuming endeavor with a steep learning curve. While Moorhead seems to have the ability of making the most of the talent at hand, it will take more than a few weeks of spring and summer practice to have everyone comfortable in the offense. It will also take more time than that to fully implement the new playbook- something that may not completely be in place until 2017, based on the complexity of the new offense.
As the team works to become accustomed to the new offensive philosophy, don't be surprised if there are times where the offense seems out of sorts, as well as having games where they just can't find a rhythm. It's part of the game, and as difficult as it seems, we may just have to sit back and be patient.