During James Franklin’s first two years at Penn State, the offense could only be described as “meh.” Under the guidance of then-offensive coordinator John Donovan, the Nittany Lions were largely ineffective, only scoring 569 points in 2014 and 2015 combined. Out was Donovan and in came Joe Moorhead, and as you probably know, it worked out really, really well. Points (526 to be exact) were scored, championships were won, and fun was had.
Now the expectations have risen, to the point that the Nittany Lions head into 2017 with potentially the best offense in the country. Whether you’re wearing Blue and White glasses or not, there’s a lot to like about the offense.
Nine Starters Return & So Does Joe Moorhead
The Nittany Lions will have to replace wide receiver Chris Godwin and center Brian Gaia, but other than that, everybody is back. For a team that averaged 37.6 PPG last year, that’s a pretty good starting point.
We’ll delve into the quarterback and running back a little later, but looking at the other spots of the offense, there really aren’t many major concerns. The offensive line will be a bit young, but even with the youth, it’s a group that’s seen a lot of football. Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon, Ryan Bates, Connor McGovern, Chasz Wright, and Steven Gonzalez have all started at least four games, and when you toss in young bucks like Michal Menet and Will Fries pushing for time, this is a group that should be one of the better units in the Big Ten.
It’s a similar story at wide receiver. The loss of Godwin certainly stings, but there’s more than enough help out wide — Juwan Johnson, Irvin Charles, DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, and Brandon Polk. And that’s not to mention tight end Mike Gesicki, who should see his role increase this year too.
Still worried? Because fear not, Joe Moorhead isn’t in West Lafayette or North Philadelphia, he’s back in Happy Valley still in charge of the Penn State offense. JoeMo proved his chops last season, and with such an experienced group back, it should be more of the same in 2017.
Saquon Barkley Is The Best Running Back In The Country
Penn State has seen its fair share of dominant running backs — Ki-Jana, LJ JR, Enis, Warner, and the list goes on — but I’m not sure there’s been a better one in Happy Valley than Barkley. What he’s able to do with the ball in his hand is magic.
That’s what the best running back (if not the best player) in the country looks like. Give Barkley the ball, and he’s going to make something happen. It might be a juke or a spin, it could be power or speed, or he might even just jump over you; the bottom line is Barkley makes plays.
When you have a player like that on the field, no situation seems dire. I remember the Rose Bowl, just after USC tied it up at 49, and seeing Barkley back deep to receive the kick. I’m sure a lot of Penn State fans felt the same way I did — just having supreme confidence that No. 26 could make something happen. Obviously, the game didn’t end how Penn State wanted it to, but the gist of my point still stands: Barkley is capable of scoring a touchdown no matter the circumstances. There are very few players in the country with that ability.
All eyes will be on Barkley next year. Week in and week out, the opposing team is going to head into the game with one major thought: Don’t let No. 26 beat you. That isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, as it’s been the case since Week 3 in 2015, but more than ever, teams will be keying on Barkley. Fortunately for Penn State, stopping Barkley is much easier in theory than in execution.
Trace McSorley Should Build On 2016 Season
After Tommy Stevens impressive outing in the Blue-White game, there’s some murmurs that Stevens might actually be the better quarterback. Let’s remind ourselves what Penn State has in Trace McSorley by looking at McSorley’s numbers through the final nine games of the season — 296 passing YPG, 24 TDs to just 5 INTs, and 37 rushing YPG and 6 TDs on the ground.
Those numbers tell us two things: 1. McSorley is already a very good quarterback, and 2. He got better throughout the season. And it’s that second point — the improvement — that I believe we’ll continue to see in 2017. As good as McSorley was last year, I think it’s clear we haven’t seen his peak yet. He should be an improved decision maker this fall, both when pushing the ball down the field and on zone options. He should be a more accurate passer, hopefully getting his completion percentage above 60%. He, along with the rest of the offense, should be more efficient on third downs.
Barkley is the best player on this team, that can’t be disputed. But if McSorley makes the strides he’s capable of making, he could prove to be just as influential.