2020 is in the rearview mirror, and we’re full steam ahead in 2021, with new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The offensive philosophy will be changing again, and with it will hopefully come the opportunity to address some of the warts the offense had this past season. So what, specifically, should be fixed? Let’s take a look.
Yards Per Game
Let’s start with a fairly basic stat, yards per game. How well does your offense do at moving the ball up and down the field? In general, more yards = more points, so it’s a good jumping off point.
In 2020, Penn State ranked #37 in the country, averaging 430.3 yards per game. This was also the second best output in the conference, behind OSU at 519.4 YPG (seriously, that’s unfair). Not a terrible output by any means, but what was the composition of those yards?
The Lions rushed for 174.3 yards per game, good for #55 in the country, and #5 in the conference. Bear in mind, the national rankings include all teams, so some of the triple option teams are slotting in ahead of the Lions. Overall, I’d say if you’re churning out 174.3 yards per game on the ground, you’re generally having a good go of things.
Through the air, Penn State averaged 256.0 yards, ranking #40, or #4 in the conference. Interestingly, OSU averaged just 262.5 yards through the air - Sean Clifford = Justin Fields, change my mind. Again, not necessarily a bad batch of rankings, but both through the air and on the ground, there’s some room for improvement.
Points Per Game
So the Lions weren’t terrible at moving the ball. There are spots to improve, but overall they were doing okay. Here’s where things fell off a bit - despite being a top 40 offense in yardage, they ranked just #53 in points per game, at 29.8. In the Big Ten, they were the third most prolific offense, behind OSU (41.1 PPG) and Iowa (31.8 PPG).
That 29.8 PPG was the lowest output since 2015 under John Donovan, when they managed a paltry 23.2 PPG.
So, color me Captain Obvious, but it appears the problem wasn’t necessarily in gaining yards, but in putting the ball into the endzone.
How to fix this? Well, a big part of it seemed to be turnovers. Cut those down, and you give yourself a chance to score, while removing opportunities for your opponents to score.
Staying healthy, particularly at running back, would also be nice. By the second drive of the first game of the season, the Lions were on their third-string running back (who was then supplanted by both the fourth and fifth string running backs).
And lastly, improve quarterback play. Sean Clifford may have some tendencies that cannot be fixed at this point, like progressing through his reads, and fixing some of his footwork, but the last month of the season was much better for him than the first 5 weeks.
I still think another offseason under Kirk Ciarrocca would have been good for Clifford, and the offense in general, but it is what it is.
Here’s hoping Mike Yurcich can figure out how to put the ball into the endzone a bit more often in 2021.