Ah yes, May...that time of the year when the Blue-White Game is already gone and forgotten and the reality slowly begins to sink in that there are four more months until we get to see Penn State’s football team suit up in live action against another school. For us here at BSD, it means it’s time for our annual “3 Reasons For” series of posts. Today, we’ll give you three reasons to be optimistic about the offense in 2018.
1. Trace McSorley Is Back (And Ready to Tear Things Up One Last Time)
With a record of 22-5 heading into his third season as the team’s starting quarterback, Trace is now the unrivaled face of the Penn State offense in the post-Saquon Barkley era. With 77 total touchdowns (59 passing, 18 rushing) and 7,369 career yards passing to go with several single-season school records, Trace is poised to finish his career as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever don the Blue and White jersey. His grittiness and leadership will be relied upon more than ever this season as several skill players break into their new starting roles, but there is no doubting that he is up for the challenge. He is perhaps the biggest reason why PSU while not favored, has been mentioned by various media outlets as a contender for a Big Ten title, despite several key losses on both sides of the ball.
2. The Offensive Line Will Be [looks down at notes] A Strength.
This unit sure has come a long way from the tire fire that it was during the first two seasons of the James Franklin era. After being ‘good enough’ for the past couple of years, the O-line finally looks poised to be a true position of strength, given the fact that four of last year’s starting five return in Ryan Bates (Left Tackle), Steven Gonzalez (Left Guard), Connor McGovern (Center), and Will Fries (Right Tackle). Michal Menet appears to be the early favorite to take over Brendan Mahon’s old starting spot at Right Guard, while Chasz Wright, CJ Thorpe, Mike Miranda, Alex Gellerstedt, and Zach Simpson could all end up a part of the rotation off the bench. It’s no wonder that Coach Franklin has been raving this offseason about how his team finally has a two-deep that you can win with in the Big Ten. If the line’s performance in the Fiesta Bowl where they held Washington’s Vita Vea in check and plowed the way for 545 yards of total offense was a harbinger of things to come, then the offensive production in 2018 should not suffer much of a drop-off (if at all).
3. The Replacements Are Actually Pretty Good
Some people may forget this, but Miles Sanders was the top-rated high school running back in the 2016 class. Ever since Barkley turned pro, Miles has probably been licking his chops at the opportunity to step in as the starter and remind folks why he was such a big recruiting get for PSU in the first place. While it would be silly to expect anyone to be like Saquon, Miles should still turn some heads with his speed and strength, which he has developed nicely in Dwight Galt’s strength and conditioning program. And don’t forget about folks like Mark Allen, who clearly played a lot of Madden growing up since he knows when to press the ‘spin’ button to get by defenders, as well as incoming freshman Ricky Slade, who if he is as good as advertised, should carve out a few carries per game for himself.
On the receiving end of things, look for Brandon Polk and KJ Hamler to step up into DaeSean Hamilton’s old slot receiver spot. Five-star recruit Justin Shorter will arrive in Happy Valley this Summer and is expected to see the field as freshman, likely as Johnson’s backup. Given the uncertainty at the Tight End position, following Mike Gesicki’s departure, don’t be surprised to see PSU go with four-wide sets given the talent they have returning and coming into the program.
Then of course, there’s the new offensive sheriff calling the shots in Ricky Rahne. If the Fiesta Bowl was any indication, Rahne has shown himself to be a great study, having spent the last two years learning Joe Moorhead’s offensive system that he brought over from Fordham. While he will likely add a few of his own wrinkles (shovel passes, anyone?) don’t expect to him to try and fix something that isn’t broken.
The fact that we are even writing about replacements being a source of optimism for the offense is a real testament to this coaching staff and how well they have recruited since their arrival in State College four years ago. I suppose this is what it feels like to root for a perennial winner?