The off season slogs on, and content can be a bit light. Luckily, we’ve got awesome readers like you who occasionally reach out with a fun and unique idea for an article. In this case, reader apathetec suggested an article comparing Penn State against some of its top competitors, position by position. And who are we to refuse such an entertaining idea? Read on, and let’s see how the two teams compare!
Quarterbacks - Advantage OSU
Look, we all love Sean Clifford. He’s a good quarterback with solid tools, reddish hair, and a moxie streak. But he’s not going to be a top 5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Justin Fields is. He can run better, throw better, and has big game experience under his belt. Will Clifford improve in 2020 and close the gap? Most likely yes. Will the gap close entirely? Very doubtful.
The one thing keeping this comparison from being a runaway is the backup situation. Will Levis is a runner first, but performed very admirably when Clifford went down in Columbus last year. If Fields went down, could the OSU backups do the same this year in Happy Valley? Color me doubtful.
Running Backs - Advantage PSU
Sweet fancy Moses is the Penn State running back room stacked. Journey Brown returns as starter, he of “only” 3-star acclaim. Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, and Caziah Holmes are all 4-stars champing at the bit right behind him. If Kirk Ciarrocca can refine the running back by committee approach used last year - namely, more 2-back sets with some diversification of plays out of the backfield - this will be one of the top running back groups in the country.
OSU returns Master Teague (freaking love that name btw), and brought in Trey Sermon from Oklahoma, but neither of them are as good as J.K. Dobbins. And the OSU RB room is not as good as the PSU RB room.
Receivers - Push
Penn State has Pat Freiermuth, and frankly that’s all you need to know. Never mind that Zack Kuntz, Brenton Strange, and Theo Johnson are all ready to roll to spell Moose a bit. The OSU tight end room, chiefly comprised of Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert, combined for 13 catches and three TDs last year. Yeah, PSU has this one locked up.
Unfortunately, the wide receivers are another story. Penn State brings back Jahan Dotson, and that’s pretty much it in reliable catching ability. Then it’s a slew of question marks, and while it stands to reason that some players will improve, especially under new OC Ciarrocca, OSU just has talent. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson would both be the #1 receiver for PSU, and that’s before considering an incoming recruit whose last name rhymes with Hemming.
Offensive Line - Advantage PSU
Truthfully, the talent across both lines is pretty comparable. The edge comes from the fact that Penn State returns four starters, while OSU brings back only three. It also helps that PSU has seemingly embraced the manball role, and loves to just smash dudes to give the stable of backs room to run. OSU will be solid up front, but will they elevate the productivity of the so-so running back room? Doubtful.
Defensive Line - Push
For PSU, it’s a combination of some returning starters, and then hoping that a few good players take the next step to great. Shaka Toney and Antonio Shelton return, but PJ Mustipher and Jayson Oweh step up as starters for the first time. Are they good? Very. But the pass rush was meh last year, and losing Yetur Gross-Matos and Robert Windsor will mean some big shoes to fill. Add in the loss of Sean Spencer at coach, and this group is a question mark.
OSU, meanwhile, also has some new starters on the line. The biggest loss for either team is Chase Young off to the NFL. But in come some new players like Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith. Basically, they have tons of talent, but also one of the top DL coaches ever in Larry Johnson, Sr. Given the turnover for both teams, I’m going with a push, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the OSU line ends up outperforming PSU down the stretch.
Linebackers - Advantage PSU
Micah Parsons. Brandon Smith. Lance Dixon. Jesse Luketa. The list goes on, and the skill and experience this group has is mind boggling. Remember just a few years back when PSU couldn’t recruit a LB to save its life? Yeah, those days are long gone. Parsons could well play himself into a top 10 pick, and Smith will probably be just a year behind him in the draft. The LB talent is absurd, and will help pick up any shortcomings of the DL.
OSU, meanwhile, lost their best LB in Malik Harrison. Tuf Borland, awesome name aside, is very pedestrian, and others like Pete Werner and Baron Browning are talented, but not at PSU’s level. While the gap between the DLs is nonexistent, the gap between the LBs is staggering.
Secondary - Advantage OSU
Which sucks, because that gap at LB is negated by the secondary. PSU just couldn’t seem to get out of its own way last year with busted coverages, poor communication, and ill-timed blitzes. Then they lose John Reid and Garrett Taylor. Will a less experienced group be better in 2020? I’m not going to hold my breath, and I think it’ll truly be up to the front seven to make up for the back half of the defense.
On the other hand, OSU is DBU. They lost Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette in the first round of the NFL draft, but somehow returned Shaun Wade, who most likely would have gone in the first as well! At this point, I expect them to have a shutdown secondary, and I’m well justified.
Special Teams - Advantage OSU
First, Jordan Stout is a national treasure. He’ll keep doing his thing on kickoffs and long field goals, but I’m going to wait and see how punting goes. Can he boom it? Yep. Can he place it like Blake Gillikin? Time will tell. Drue Chrisman for OSU meanwhile averaged 44 yards per punt, and is back for one last year. Small edge to OSU in that one. The two field goal kickers were similar with Jake Pinegar going 11/12, while Blake Haubeil went 13/15. Call that one a push.
The big difference is in the return game, where PSU won’t have anyone near the caliber of KJ Hamler returning the ball this year. OSU has both of its top returners coming back in Demario McCall and Garrett Wilson. Like a few other places, OSU gets the edge here, but it’s not as stark as you might think.
Coaching - Advantage PSU
For the sake of this analysis, we’re going to stick with in-game abilities only. OSU has the edge in recruiting, while I’d give PSU the edge in overall development of its players. But realistically both teams do well in both areas, and while they have an impact on prepping for a game, the game itself is another story.
James Franklin is a good game day coach. There, I said it. He’s still learning, but I have not seen him completely lose his cool, or get baited into anything other than his game plan. His use of timeouts has improved, his ability to get the team to run the ball to close out an opponent has improved. Basically every area of his coaching game that people lamented at one time or another has gotten better.
Ryan Day, meanwhile, is just not as good on game day. He had a 21-0 lead on PSU, then let Will Levis storm back, nearly tying it at 21. Were it not for Chase Young bailing him out, it’s possible PSU completes the comeback. Wisconsin ran roughshod over the Buckeyes, a team that was easily one of the top two in the country last year. And then in the playoffs, Dabo Sweeney coached circles around Day, causing him to lose his cool and abandon his game plan. If the going gets tough in Happy Valley, I expect Franklin’s cool head to prevail.
Overall - Advantage PSU
Out of the nine categories we just discussed, I’ve got PSU with four nods, OSU with three, and two pushes. PSU has the edge at RB, OL, LB, and coaching. OSU has the edge at QB, secondary, and special teams. The two teams are even at receiver and defensive line.
Now, this is all just conjecture on our part, and the magnitude of the gaps in the different areas isn’t being examined. Does the big gap at QB push this closer to a draw? Do special teams come back to bite the Lions in the butt? Who knows. On a neutral site, I’d say this game is more or less 50/50, but at home in the confines of Beaver Stadium? Well, I won’t go so far as to predict a PSU win, but y’all should perhaps get comfortable with the idea that it’s a very real possibility.