Following the 2015 season, the Penn State offensive coaching staff saw an overhaul. This included Matt Limegrover replacing Herb Hand as offensive line coach. On the surface, this looked like a fine hire by James Franklin.
Prior to coming to Penn State, Limegrover worked in the Big Ten as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. During his time in the Twin Cities the Gophers offense steadily improved. Throughout his four seasons as OC, Minnesota saw their points per game total improve by over 10 points. Limegrover also coached up the Gophers first all-conference offensive linemen since 2005.
Limegrover’s first season in Penn State was the Nittany Lions Big Ten Championship season of 2016. During the 2016 season the Penn State offensive line battled injuries, youth/experience, and, to be frank, a lack of talent. Despite this, Limegrover oversaw a unit that helped pave the way to a conference championship and a Rose Bowl bid.
After his work in 2016, the future looked bright for Limegrover and Penn State. With highly touted offensive line recruits on the horizon there was reason to believe Limegrover would turn the Penn State offensive line into one of the best in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, this has not happened.
In 2017 the offensive line was up and down, which you would expect from what was still a young offensive line. During the season the line showed flashes of strong play, including finishing the season with a great performance in the Fiesta Bowl against a stout Washington front seven. While the Fiesta Bowl appeared to be a launching pad for the offensive line, it was not.
Last season, the offensive line was supposed to be a strength for Penn State. This could not have been further from the truth. Time and time again the Penn State offensive line came up short in 2018, being capped off with a poor performance in their Citrus Bowl loss against Kentucky. This falls at the feet of Limegrover.
Entering the 2019 season, talent will not be an issue for Limegrover. The projected starting offensive line is Rasheed Walker-Steven Gonzalez-Michal Menet-CJ Thorpe-Will Fries. These five players had an average 247Sports composite rating of .9350. For comparison sake, a player with a .9350 rating would rank 157th overall nationally in the 247Sports composite ratings for 2020.
Again, talent is not an issue any longer.
Of these starting five, three of them started last season. The two departing starters were Connor McGovern, who was third round draft selection by the Dallas Cowboys, and Ryan Bates who is currently with the Buffalo Bills. Talent, as is the case this fall, was not an issue in 2018.
Each of the past two seasons Penn State has suffered its fair share of heartbreaking losses. The games against Ohio State and Michigan State each of the last two seasons - these four losses coming by a combined 9 points - all feature one common theme. That theme was the inability of the offensive line to get a needed push late in the game when the Nittany Lions were in need of protecting Trace McSorley and/or picking up one last first down. This needs to change starting this fall.
The 2019 season is a big season for the Penn State offense in general. This is especially true for Limegrover and the offensive line. With another year of poor offensive line play this fall, it could be time for James Franklin to look for a new leader in the offensive line room.