Yesterday we looked at the first team offense from the 2010s, today we’ll take a gander at the second team.
Quarterback - Sean Clifford
So after Trace McSorley, there were three realistic options to choose from: Matt McGloin, Christian Hackenberg, and Sean Clifford. When comparing the three QBs, I looked at six different stats, averaged out to a single season: completion percentage, yards, TDs, interceptions, rushing yards, and rushing TDs. Hackenberg had the highest average passing yards per season, but was the worst in every other category. McGloin had the highest completion percentage, and tied for fewest INTs, but was the worst at passing yards.
Sean Clifford, meanwhile, had the second best completion %, second best passing yards, tied for fewest INTs, and had the highest number of passing TDs, rushing yards, and rushing TDs. In the past decade, he was the second-best QB by FAR. This exercise actually made me even more excited for the 2020 season, only because I want to see how Clifford does in a new offense with a new QB coach. He could seriously move into the upper echelon of PSU QBs depending on how his season goes.
Honorable Mention - Matt McGloin
I have a lot of feel good memories from McGloin’s time as QB, and the scrappy redhead sort of embodied the early years of the 2010s for PSU. He was a solid QB, and a leader to boot.
Running Back - Miles Sanders
Similar to QB, I compared a few RBs: Evan Royster, Silas Redd (yes, really), Bill Belton, Miles Sanders, and Journey Brown. I looked at number of rushes, rushing yards, yards per carry, TDs, receiving yards, and receiving TDs, averaged out to a single season for comparison purposes.
Miles Sanders had the second highest number of rushes, the highest number of yards, the second highest YPC, the second highest TDs, and the second highest receiving yards. Other players often outperformed him in a single category, but he was the only one regularly in the top two in each category. The next best performer was actually Silas Redd, but if I chose Redd I’m pretty sure I’d lose my credentials as a writer.
But seriously, Miles was a fantastic RB, and the fact that many consider him to be so-so really just comes down to the fact that he took over at the departure of Saquon Barkley. That’s a tough act to follow.
Honorable Mention - Journey Brown
I mentioned Silas Redd, but Journey Brown was hot on his heels for that runner up spot. In a running back by committee approach, Brown actually had more rushing and receiving TDs than Sanders, and also had the highest YPC in the past decade . He also finished just 5 receiving yards short of Miles as well. Not unlike Clifford at QB, I’m excited for the 2020 season, because Journey could seriously push himself into the upper tier of PSU RBs if he builds on his 2019 season.
Wide Receiver - KJ Hamler, Derek Moye, Jahan Dotson
There were quite a few options at wide receiver, but three floated to the top, including a surprise entry: KJ Hamler, Derek Moye, and Jahan Dotson. For the WRs, I looked at six categories: receptions, receiving yards, yards per catch, TDs, rushing yards, and rushing TDs.
Unsurprisingly, Hamler showed out. He was the only player to finish in the top three in all six categories, notably finishing #1 in total yards, TDs, rushing yards, and rushing TDs. Derek Moye was also a stud, with five top 3 finishes, including the highest number of receptions, and second highest yards, TDs, and rushing yards.
The surprise on this list is Jahan Dotson. If I were going straight by the numbers, Geno Lewis would grab the #3 spot, as he had three top-3 finishes, but also finished in the bottom three for YPC. Dotson, in one season, put together the single highest YPC of the contestants, and the second-highest TDs. Dotson joins Clifford and Brown on the list of players that I am stoked to see in 2020, because I think he has the chance to really be something special.
Honorable Mention - Geno Lewis
As mentioned above, Geno Lewis technically was the third best receiver when using my grading criteria. He was a reliable receiver at a time when the Penn State offense was pretty mediocre overall. If you argued with me hard enough, I could be talked into swapping Dotson and Lewis, it’s that close.
Tight End - Mike Gesicki
Does this really need to be discussed? In the past decade, only two TEs have commanded absolute respect from the opposition - Mike Gesicki and Pat Freiermuth. Those two have turned PSU into TEU, and are big reasons why players like Theo Johnson have joined the Blue and White, despite the fact that they probably won’t see the field for some time. Gesicki, along with Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, helped revitalize Penn State’s image, and turned them back into a national power. Easiest position to choose on the second team offense by far.
Honorable Mention - Jesse James
Funny enough, were it not for the 1A and 1B players on this list, Jesse James would be a slam dunk for all-decade list. He was a fantastic combination of receiver and blocker, and ended up parlaying that into a solid professional career. The tight end position has been kind to Penn State of late.
Offensive Line - Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Matt Stankiewitch, C.J. Thorpe, Will Fries
So, here’s the thing. The offensive line has been meh for pretty much all of the 2010s. Not that there haven’t been good players, but there just have not been a lot of them. Seemingly the offensive line was always set to be a strength next year, only for SOMEthing to happen, and the OL just is kind of there. All that being said, after the top 5 linemen in the first team offense, the second team required a bit more digging and soul searching.
Ryan Bates was, at one point, one of the best offensive linemen the Lions have had. I still remember him hand chopping some poor Wisconsin defender in the B1G Championship Game, and the poor soul just collapsing to the turf while Ryan then proceeded to pour on the batter. He was very flexible and played a few positions on the OL during a time when tried and true linemen were hard to come by, and did earn All-Big Ten honors, despite ultimately going undrafted.
Steven Gonzalez was seemingly around the program forever at the left guard position. Another All-Big Ten honoree, Gonzalez was renowned for his run support, but his pass pro was sometimes only so-so. Still, he was undoubtedly one of the top few guards the Lions have had in the 2010s, and is set to be playing on Sundays this season.
I had a bit of a back and forth on center, but ultimately went with Matt Stankiewitch. Stank played both guard and center, but the fact that he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center, made him my call in the middle of the line. He was known for his unending drive, and his flexibility along the interior of the line is another strength.
Right guard was another discussion point for me, but I ultimately went with C.J. Thorpe. Thorpe is still proving himself on the line, but his nastiness and drive are something to behold. I believe he is in for a huge 2020 season, and is yet another reason I’m excited for the upcoming season.
Lastly, at right tackle, we have perhaps a surprise in Will Fries. Fries has been maligned a bit during his time at PSU, but he’s been a solid tackle on both sides of the line, and is an All-Big Ten honoree. I believe the methodical improvement we’ve seen in his game will continue into 2020, and now that there’s no one like Chase Young on the schedule, his perceived shortcomings will be in the rearview mirror.
Honorable Mention - Michal Menet, Johnnie Troutman, Andrew Nelson
As I said, the decision to opt for Matt Stankiewitch left All-Big Ten center Michal Menet off the list. He’ll be the anchor for what should be the best offensive line the Lions have had in James Franklin’s tenure in 2020.
Johnnie Troutman was the other strong candidate to play right guard, but I ultimately had to go with a player that could make all-conference honors, rather than a player that came close but not quite. But Troutman was another player that came thisclose to making the cut.
Andrew Nelson is perhaps one of the greater tragedies for Penn State in the 2010s. A hard working player, Nelson played all over the line, only to see a knee injury end his 2016 season early. He completed his rehab and returned to the line in 2017 . . . only he had lost his flexibility, the little bit of extra bend that makes a good linemen, and he was ultimately benched. But for those injuries, Nelson was one of the better offensive linemen of the 2010s, and could have pushed into the second-team starting five.
Kicker - Tyler Davis
Not only was Davis an excellent overall kicker, but his 2016 season was one of the best ones in recent memory. In 2016, Davis went 22-of-24 field goals, or a 91.7% field goal percentage. His career accolades are honestly crazy - 144 consecutive extra point conversions (2nd in B1G history), career FG % (79.6%) is the PSU career record, holds the PSU record for most consecutive FGs made (18). Overall, Davis was a big part of the reason PSU made its epic turnaround in 2016 into 2017, and is easily top 2 at the kicker position of the 2010s.
Honorable Mention - Jake Pinegar
After Sam Ficken and Tyler Davis, Jake Pinegar is the next most prolific kicker of the 2010s. In 2019, Pinegar went 11-of-12 for FGs, tying Davis for 91.7% field goals in a season. His career average is a 75% conversion clip, which is very solid. If he expounds on his 2019 campaign, the 2020 special teams could be pretty special.