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Three Reasons For Concern In 2021: Offense

A thin quarterback room, the health of the running back stable, and the need for a third consistent wide receiver are things that should give you some pause.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our look ahead towards the 2021 football season, which Clay kicked off earlier this week with his reasons to be optimistic about the offense. I, on the other hand, as BSD’s torchbearer for Penn State Pessimism™ , give you three reasons to pump those brakes, because I have a few concerns about the offense before I’m ready to go 15-0 or GTFO.

  1. The Quarterback Room

Okay, I will concede that I think Sean Clifford should at the very least, be more like his 2019 self as opposed to the countless struggles he had in 2020. As Clay noted in his “reasons for optimism” post, having Mike Yurcich as your offensive coordinator sure can’t hurt. That being said, if PSU is going to take the next step, Cliff needs to be better than his 2019 self. I don’t doubt that Yurcich will be able to milk as much as he possibly can out of Cliff’s talents, but whether it’s enough for Cliff to have his best season ever...I’ll believe it when I see it.

A more glaring concern however, is the complete lack of scholarship depth beneath Cliff. Taquan Roberson has supposedly been stepping up in Spring practice and seems poised to solidify the number two spot, while recently-enrolled freshman Christian Veilleux is likely to be the third stringer. Roberson has never taken a snap outside of garbage time and Veilleux hasn’t played live organized football since the Fall of 2019. If Cliff gets injured or has to sit out for an extended period of time for whatever reason, things could get absolutely scary in a hurry.

2. Can The Running Backs Stay Healthy?

This time a year ago, despite COVID having totally derailed Spring practice, the fanbase was salivating at having a tremendous one-two combo at running back in Journey Brown and Noah Cain, with a little Devyn Ford or even one of the true freshmen in Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee sprinkled in. In seemingly the blink of an eye, we saw Journey forced to medically retire from football and Noah go down with a season-ending injury on the first drive of the season opener at Indiana.

Suddenly, the #LawnBoyz were rudderless in terms of having a top running back to lead the way, as Ford struggled in the starting role before Lee gradually took over and became the workhorse back during the team’s four-game winning streak to close out 2020. Cain is expected to be a full-go by the time Fall practice rolls around, and likely will be the starter, should he remain healthy. That last part about remaining healthy remains to be seen, as Noah has yet to make it through a season without missing significant playing time.

At the very least, Lee has established himself as a guy who can carry the load when called upon, plus the addition of Baylor running back John Lovett from the transfer portal gives someone who closest resembles Journey (combination of speed and power). It’s best for the running back stable though, if they didn’t have to go through another situation like last year by losing the top two guys on the depth chart right off the bat.

3. Seeking That Third Wheel in the Receiving Corps

Jahan Dotson broke out last year as the go-to guy amongst the wideouts with Parker Washington as his trusty sidekick. While Dotson and Washington’s performances combined with Brenton Strange stepping up as a receiving threat amongst the tight ends was good to see, it felt as if the team was missing a third reliable wideout. KeAndre Lambert-Smith came closest to that role, catching 15 balls for 153 yards.

Whether it is KLS, Daniel George (is this the year the light comes on for him?), Cam Sullivan-Brown, or one of the incoming freshmen such as Lonnie White (assuming for a moment that the MLB Draft doesn’t snatch him), the receiving corps could take the next step and really do some damage if a consistent third option steps up amongst the wideouts.