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MMQB - Does the Defense Need Any Coaching Changes?

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The offense has had an overhaul, but what about the defense?

Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since the completion of the 2019 regular season, Penn State has seen offensive Ricky Rahne leave to be head coach, replaced by Kirk Ciarocca, as well as offensive line coach Matt Limegrover let go, replaced by Phil Trautwein.

With that, the offensive coaching staff appears to be set for 2020. Ciarocca is your OC, Trautwein is OL, then you have Tyler Bowen for tight ends, Gerad Parker for wide receivers, and Ja’Juan Seider for running backs.

Most of those coaches share other responsibilities, such as recruiting coordinator or passing game coordinator, but the two big vacancies have been filled. Overall, that’s a very solid group, both on the coaching side of things, as well as in recruiting.

The offense clearly needed some help, as they often seemed to lack any real identity on offense, and in-game play-calling sputtered at times. The offensive line was solid, but given the talent, the passing game in particular left something to be desired. Franklin has addressed the needs of the offense, and now we’ll just have to wait to see just how the new offensive coaching staff performs.

But what about the defense? Statistically, the defense was very, very good. They ranked #7 nationall in points allowed per game, and #5 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game. The one weakness of the team was in the passing game, where they ranked an abysmal #78 nationally in passing yards allowed per game. The #77 team in passing yards allowed was Rutgers.

Now, it’s very possible that teams simply couldn’t run the ball against the Lions, and so resorted to passing the ball instead, thus the poor ranking. But the back four this year included RS SR John Reid (composite 4-star recruit), RS SR Garrett Taylor (4-star), JR Lamont Wade (4-star), and JR Tariq Castro-Fields (4-star recruit). There isn’t a world in which a secondary with that much talent and experience should rank in the bottom half of college football.

To my eye, the defensive line was good, if not as spectacular as we all hoped. Sean Spencer most likely isn’t going anywhere, but if he can get just a bit more out of the defensive line, the secondary’s woes will be improved.

The linebackers were quite solid, and unless he wants to leave, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Brent Pry will be back.

That leaves the secondary. Terry Smith serves as the cornerbacks coach, as well as the assistant head coach and defensive recruiting coordinator. Tim Banks is the safeties coach, and co-defensive coordinator. Both coaches have long coaching histories, dating back to 1996.

Banks has had stops at Bowling Green, Memphis, Maryland, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Illinois, prior to coming to Penn State. He’s been a secondary coach his entire career, and has served as co-/defensive coordinator at the last four stops before coming to Penn State.

Smith hasn’t had quite as high profile of a career, starting at Hempfield High School, then Temple, Gateway High School, Temple, and then Penn State. Unlike Banks, Smith was predominantly on the offensive side of the ball, coaching wide receivers and serving as offensive coordinator and head coach before coming to Penn State and switching to cornerbacks.

Will either of these coaches be replaced? Probably not, at least not at this point in time. If a change were to be made, it probably would have been done by now.

But if the secondary is better in 2019, the Lions beat Minnesota. And if they go into Columbus undefeated, who knows how the game plays out. Even if they lost to OSU, sitting at 11-1, the Lions would have been an interesting choice up against 12-1 Oklahoma for the last spot in the playoffs.

The offensive staff has been overhauled after an underwhelming season. Will Franklin look to make changes on the defensive side of the ball, where some deficiences lie? Time will tell.