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Three Reasons for Optimism: Offense

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Folks, this offense could actually be pretty darned good.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Memphis vs Penn State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year, folks! No, not that...I’m talking of course, about BSD’s annual “Three Reasons” series. We start things off today with reasons the PSU faithful should be optimistic about the offense in 2020.

The #LawnBoyz Are Back In Town

After spending all of September and October shuffling between Journey Brown, Ricky Slade, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford, it was Brown who grabbed control as the team’s top running back come November, when he ran for at least 100 yards in three games, including a 202-yard performance in the Cotton Bowl, where he showcased his transformation from a “track guy” to a “track guy who’s built like a Ford Truck” running right at opposing defenses and shaking off any poor sap who tried to half-heartedly tackle him.

Cain and Ford also served as solid backups, with Cain especially being a great change-of-pace back who while not as speedy as Journey, had the patience, shiftiness, and smooth running style that would see him pick up those extra yards to move the chains on critical drives (the game-sealing drive against Iowa to run out the clock being most notable). While Slade did have his moments in the sun, he eventually became the odd man out and ultimately hit the transfer portal.

Brown, Cain, and Ford all return and joining them will be a pair of blue-chip Florida men in Caziah Holmes (who reportedly, was already impressing in winter workouts after enrolling early) and Keyvone Lee. Both freshman backs will no doubt, be determined to stake their claim as contributors somehow, whether it be with a few carries, or perhaps contributing on special teams.

Regardless, if you thought the #LawnBoyz had a solid 2019 season, there’s a lot more to come in 2020.

Phil Trautwein And His Merry Men

Penn State returns arguably its most experienced and deepest group of offensive linemen in the James Franklin era, with four of five starters returning in Rasheed Walker, Michal Menet, CJ Thorpe, and Will Fries, along with Mike Miranda, who should slide into Steven Gonzalez’s starting old spot at left guard. Des Holmes, Anthony Whigan, and Caedan Wallace all seem poised to be a part of the rotation on the O-line, as well.

New O-line coach Phil Trautwein will be tasked with getting this group to realize its full potential, something that just wasn’t quite happening in prior seasons. Trautwein brings with him a pretty solid coaching pedigree, as during his couple of years as Boston College, the team’s offensive line performance was rather impressive.

Notably, the 2019 BC line under Trautwein was ranked second in the “Power Success Rate” category on Football Outsiders. Power Success Rate measures the percentage of runs on third or fourth down with two or less yards to go that either achieved a first down or a touchdown, and BC had a whopping 89.8 percent success rate (PSU was tied for 15th in this category with an 80.8 percent success rate). Perhaps more glaring, was BC ranking 18th in sack rate percentage (the unadjusted sack rate for all non-garbage time pass attempts), whereas PSU was an abysmal 109th. In fairness, Trautwein was coaching under Steve Addazio, who isn’t a fan of throwing the ball much, but my point remains that the O-line can take the great leap forward they are capable of taking under Trautwein’s tutelage.

Without a doubt, BC had some solid talent manning their offensive line, but you have to imagine that Trautwein must be salivating at what he has to work with in his first season in Happy Valley with an even more talented bunch.

Kirk Ciarrocca Calling The Shots

What’s the best way to get back at a Minnesota team that lit your defense up? Hire away their offensive coordinator, of course. A Pennsylvania native and PSU fan growing up, “Rock” (as apparently some people call him) returns to his homeland to try and get the offense humming at a playoff-caliber level. He will be tasked with getting Sean Clifford to realize his full potential as a second-year starter and hopefully see a similar dramatic leap in improvement as Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan saw last season. Morgan threw for over 3,200 yards and delivered 30 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

More importantly and perhaps fitting given the personnel PSU currently sports, Ciarrocca’s system relies a lot on running the ball, more so than Rahne/Joe Moorhead’s system did. Time of possession is also a big thing with Rock, so look for the team to build upon the improvement made last year in their ability to run out the clock on opponents in tight games.