Entering the season many people predicted Penn State’s offense would take a step back. After losing Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton to the NFL and Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State this was understandable. Regression should have been expected, right? Well, four weeks into the 2018 season the Nittany Lion offense has done anything but regress.
Led by new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, the Nittany Lions are averaging an FBS best 55.5 points per game. Whiles, yes, the competition has not been the greatest this does not change the fact that Penn State’s offense has been excellent this season.
A big reason the offense has not missed a beat despite all the departures is the offensive line. After years of struggling, the offensive line has become a strength for the Nittany Lions. Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez are having all-conference caliber seasons, Michal Menet keeps improving at center, and Will Fries has quietly been strong at right tackle.
This improved offensive line play has led to the Nittany Lions rushing for a FBS best 20 touchdowns so far this season. Having a pair of electric backs in Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade, and a dual threat quarterback in McSorley certainly helps, too.
Arguably the most impressive facet of the Nittany Lion offense has been their red zone efficiency. Penn State is one of 14 FBS team that has scored on each trip to the red zone this season. However, when you dive into the numbers deeper it becomes even more impressive.
In 22 red zone trips through the season’s first four weeks the Nittany Lions have scored 21 touchdowns and Jake Pinegar has added a field goal. Of the 14 teams with a 100% red zone scoring percentage, the Nittany Lions are the only team with 20+ trips to the red zone. LSU and Navy each have 16 trips to the red zone, while only three other teams with a 100% red zone scoring rate have reached the red zone more than 10 times.
Penn State’s offense also ranks in the top 20 nationally in third down conversion rate, first downs, and rushing offense. Outside of penalties, there is very little that the Nittany Lions have not excelled at on offense.
The 95% red zone touchdown rate the Nittany Lions own is also insanely impressive. And, yes, scoring a touchdown 95% of the time you reach the red zone, especially when you reach the red zone as often as Penn State does, is good.
In total, 16 of Penn State’s 21 red zone touchdowns have come via the ground. Once again, it all stems back to good offensive line play.
Now the Nittany Lion offense is preparing for their biggest test of the season - the Ohio State Buckeyes. This is the game of the week in college football and of the year in the Big Ten. The winner of this game has the inside track to a Big Ten East Championship and a trip to the College Football Playoff. Penn State’s offense needs to be at its best in order to defeat the Buckeyes on Saturday night, and to expect anything less from this offense right now would be foolish.