Positive Patrick is here. Let’s put on our blue-and-white glasses, drink the blue-and-white kool-aid, and pump out some sunshine.
1. NEW QUARTERBACK COACH
Penn State made a splash hire this offseason by bringing in former Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca for the same position here in Happy Valley. While the majority of Penn State fans were happy to see the change at offensive coordinator, I think the bigger impact could be felt with Ciarrocca’s prowess as a quarterback coach.
While I’m sure I’ll be disagreed with, I didn’t think Rahne was a bad offensive coordinator. In fact, I thought he was pretty good. He lacked a little when it came to major in-game adjustments and *really* liked QB runs, but I thought he did an admirable job calling the offense.
Where my issue stood with Rahne was that quarterback play didn’t get better under him. Sean Clifford’s development was a prime example of this — he looked like a promising quarterback in September, but as the season went on, Clifford never made strides. Of course, a step up in competition was part of the reason for Cliff’s inconsistent play, but as the quarterback coach, Rahne deserves some criticism.
So yes, while Ciarrocca’s offense should help the Penn State offense as a whole, I’m excited to see what Ciarrocca can do with Clifford specifically. We saw what the guy could do with Tanner Morgan, so hopefully a similar progression is coming for Clifford.
2. THE RUNNING GAME
Listen, Penn State should be running all over the place this fall. Why? It’s two-fold: one being the ridiculous talent at running back, and two being what Penn State returns along the offensive line.
Let’s start with the running backs. In recent weeks, I have been re-watching games from this past season, and man do I love Journey Brown, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford. I watch the Ohio State game or the Memphis game, and I am all-in on Journey. Then I watch the Pitt game or the Iowa game and I’m a Cain guy through-and-through. Then I see the things Ford did in limited action, and all of a sudden, I’m a Ford guy.
Point is: Penn State has three future NFL running backs in its backfield. All three of these guys are extremely talented, and no matter who is toting the rock, the offense is in good hands.
That being said, a lot of that will be due to what Penn State has upfront this season. If Phil Trautwein rolls with Walker—Miranda—Menet—Thorpe—Fries, it would mean the Nittany Lions return 85 starts along the offensive line — which, quick math check, is good. Add in some really good depth in Des Holmes, Caedan Wallace, and even Anthony Whigan, and this unit has the chance to be the best in the Big Ten.
3. ALL-CONFERENCE POTENTIAL ALONG THE DEFENSIVE LINE
I talked about the defensive line in a post here recently, so without repeating myself to much, I like the *realistic* potential of this group. What I mean by that is it’s filled with some absolute specimens — PJ Mustipher, Jayson Oweh, and even Adisa Isaac deserves inclusion here — that are at the right points in their careers where a breakout season should be happening.
Like it’s one thing to be high on players like Hakeem Beamon and Smith Vilbert, but in all reality, they are another year or two away from pushing for all-conference type honors. That’s not the case with the trio above — specifically, Mustipher and Oweh. For being a former Top 100 recruit, Mustipher’s steady play has mostly gone under the radar. Now sure, that’s partly because of the role he plays as a space-eating, run-stuffing interior lineman, but the point still stands: he’s supremely talented, and usually former recruits of his status get overrated not underrated.
The story is a little bit different with Oweh, who has had more flashy plays during his Penn State tenure — 7 sacks in limited snaps over a 17-game span — but consistency hasn’t been quite there. That isn’t all too surprising with his background (he was late to football), so year three seems like a perfect time that things begin to click in a big way for Oweh.
(Good rhyme by me)
Micah Parsons is the best linebacker in the country, and he has a chance to move himself into the “Lavar/Poz” territory with the season he’s expected to have. I wrote about the linebackers back in January, where I stated that Parsons having a 120-tackle, 20-TFL, and 10-sack season wouldn’t be that crazy. Obviously now with a limited schedule that won’t happen, but regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that Parsons is the best defensive player Penn State has had in a long time. With him in the middle of the defense, it gives the unit something that only a handful of defenses have: a true game-changer.
5. GAME-CHANGING SPECIAL TEAMS
While it’s never going to get the headlines, Penn State’s special teams unit should be one of the best in the nation this year. Jordan Stout is expected to take over punting duties from the graduated Blake Gillikin, and though Gillikin will be missed, don’t expect Penn State to miss a beat with Stout at punter. He has a bazooka for a leg (see here), and his flow is unmatched — even when compared to Gillikin’s mullet.
At kicker, it should be the same system: Jake Pinegar for everything inside 50 yards, with Stout’s bazooka servicing for everything 50+. Pinegar deserves a lot of credit for his progression from his freshman to sophomore season, improving his field goal percentage from 67% in 2018 to 92% in 2019. Hopefully, Pinegar can make it another season without death threats on twitter.
Special teams is more than field goals and punting though — it’s about getting buy-in from the coverage team. That’s where special teams coordinator Joe Lorig comes in. The Nittany Lions saw their special teams play improve dramatically from 2018 to 2019, and Lorig deserves a lot of credit for that. He’s taken ownership of that unit, and there’s no reason to think Lorig won’t have his group ready for another stellar year in 2020.