We all want Penn State to get back to being the offensive powerhouse that it was in 2016 and 2017, last year was a pretty big step backwards, and that was with Trace McSorley still on the team. For the Nittany Lions to get back to the top of the division this autumn, a lot has to go right for an offense that will be missing experience at quarterback as well as other key positions. It’s not hard to find reasons to be worried that this unit might struggle to find its footing in 2019.
1. The New Ball Carriers
Miles Sanders never reached the level of popularity that Saquon Barkley enjoyed in Happy Valley, but he was still pretty freaking productive when he finally got the opportunity to carry the ball full time last year. Now that Sanders has been drafted into the NFL, Ricky Slade will get a chance to show off his talents. Last year he proved explosive but unreliable, mixing in big gains with costly fumbles. Penn State still has depth at tailback with Journey Brown and Noah Cain on the roster, but the top spot is shakier than it has been in a few years.
2. The Quarterback Isn’t as Experienced or Dynamic
In limited playing time last year, Sean Clifford showed that he can throw a heck of a deep ball. That bodes well for a Penn State team that has a lot of speed in the receiving ranks. On the other hand, Penn State has only had two different starting quarterbacks since James Franklin took over the program, and a new signal caller always brings new uncertainties with him. Clifford looked great in garbage time, but we still don’t know what we’re going to get this season when the game is on the line in Columbus and East Lansing. Plus, he’s not going to enhance the running game like McSorley did during his three-year tenure.
3. Big Losses Up Front
Penn State has had trouble with offensive line play throughout the Franklin era, and now the unit finds itself without Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates. On the bright side, Michael Menet, Will Fries, and Steven Gonzalez all return, but it’s still doubtful that the line will improve enough to make up for a less mobile quarterback under center. The Lions need as much experience on the line as they can get in order to support a drop-back passing game that is filled with fresh faces.