Trace McSorley is out of eligibility, while Miles Sanders off to the NFL. Who are the new faces to look for, and what will Penn State’s offense look like in 2019?
Starter: Tommy Stevens
Reserves: Sean Clifford, Will Levis
After three seasons, the Trace McSorley era has come to a conclusion. It’s now time for Tommy Stevens to take charge of the Penn State offense. Stevens has become a fan favorite during the past three seasons as the LION, where he added an exciting wrinkle to the offense as a second quarterback, runner and receiver. Now it’s finally time for Stevens to become a full-time quarterback in his senior season.
The prospects of Stevens leading the Penn State offense are intriguing, to put it mildly. Stevens has demonstrated a cannon for an arm, which could be dangerous in combination with the many emerging pass catchers set to return in 2019. Stevens is also a powerful runner, which could change the dynamic of the offense. Not only could he do wonders for Penn State’s short-yardage woes, but a power running game could help the offense by picking up chunks on early downs to help keep the chains moving.
The big question mark could be Stevens’ health. He has missed the 2018 spring session with an injury that kept him out of the first part of the season as well. He was also forced out of action toward the end of the season and is now recovering from surgery. While he remains hopeful to be ready for spring ball, that remains an uncertainty for now.
Sean Clifford will be the primary back-up, and could be in line for more as a redshirt sophomore. Clifford excelled in limited snaps early in the season, and made appearances in four games, including a brief stint in the Citrus Bowl before trace McSorley returned from an injury. Will Levis moves to the third spot in his first year of eligibility after a redshirt season on the scout team.
True freshmen Taquan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr. will almost assuredly redshirt barring disaster.
Starter: Ricky Slade
Reserves: Journey Brown, C.J. Holmes, Noah Cain, Devyn Ford
Miles Sanders, the number one running back of his class, departed after his junior season to follow his dream of playing in the NFL. Taking Sanders place will be Ricky Slade, also the number one running back of his class. Slade has an exceptional burst that you don’t find often in a running back, and demonstrated several times that he’s capable of making a quick cut and going the distance by shifting to a second gear. Slade gained valuable experience as a true freshman, where he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and found the end zone six times. A full offseason in the weight room and learning to be a more patient runner should do wonders in helping him reach his sky-high potential.
Journey Brown is the only other returning back with experience. Brown saw occasional time as a redshirt freshman, finishing with eight carries for 44 yards and a score. Like Slade, he has exceptional speed and will benefit from becoming a more patient runner.
Notre Dame transfer C.J. Holmes also looks to fit into the picture at running back. Holmes was a four-star prospect who initially played eight games as a true freshman at Notre Dame in 2017. However, he was dismissed from the team following a shoplifting charge and now looks for a second chance in Happy Valley.
There are also two incoming freshmen that could follow in the paths of Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade to suit up immediately. Devyn Ford enters Penn State as the fifth-rated running back in the 2019 class, while Noah Cain checks in at #7. Of the two, Cain may have a leg up on seeing the field immediately since he is an early enrollee, and is closer to ideal size at 5-foot-10, 208 lbs.
Starters: X - Justin Shorter, Z - KJ Hamler, H - Jahan Dotson
Reserves: X - Cam Sullivan-Brown, Daniel George Z - Mac Hippenhammer, H - John Dunmore
We saw a youth movement at wide receiver in 2018 as several upperclassmen failed to live up to expectations. Now we’ll see even more with the departures of would-be seniors Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk. While Johnson’s and Polk’s departures are not seismic, it creates some depth issues that will be problematic if the injury bug hits the wide receiver unit.
Hamler has the starting position locked down, and has proven to be the most explosive wideout in recent memory for the Nittany Lions. Justin Shorter should be ready for big things as a redshirt freshman season that mainly occurred because of an early injury. Shorter was the top receiver and eighth-best overall player in the 2018 recruiting class. so expectations are very high. He was targeted several times in the Citrus Bowl, and should be a major factor in the passing game as he likely take’s over Johnson’s starting gig at X. Dotson saw more playing time later in the 2018 season and immediately proved he’s an exceptional route-runner with excellent hands. He’ll definitely see plenty of action either way in 2019.
Mac Hippenhammer saw time early in the year, but didn’t record a catch the second half of the season. He should get another chance as a redshirt sophomore and will need to hang on to the ball. Daniel George is another intriguing prospect who should factor into the offense this fall. He already has the longest reception in school history (a 95-yard touchdown against Kent State) as he enters his redshirt freshman season. At 6-2 and 216 lbs., he has the size and athleticism to help pick on the third or fourth defensive back who will be expected to cover him.