Despite a close call in its opening game against Appalachian State, Penn State finds itself exactly where the country anticipated them to be. The Nittany Lions are 2-0 and coming off a dominant performance last week against Pittsburgh. However, some Penn State students and fans alike remain uncertain whether this year’s squad can stack up with the past two 11-win rosters which proceeded them.
Particularly, the Nittany Lions’ offense has not looked totally fluid. An obvious explanation for early season struggles is the departure of several key weapons, including running back Saquon Barkley, tight end Mike Gesicki and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton to the NFL Draft. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is also gone, now the coach at Mississippi State.
Moorhead’s offensive scheme was captivating to watch, with chunk plays of 10 or more yards down the field remaining a regularity for Penn State. Meanwhile, current offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has adopted a more methodical approach thus far. Through the first two games, the Nittany Lions had 20 completions of 10 or more yards last season, compared to only 14 completions of equal production this season. While the contrast might not appear too vast, performance of senior quarterback Trace McSorley has also been subject to an adjustment period.
McSorley is averaging five yards per rush and six yards per completion, with a 52.3 completion percentage this season. Compare that to a 62.8 completion percentage whilst average over eight yards per completion and six yards per rush after two games a season ago, and some might believe he is struggling under Rahne. Nevertheless, there is no need to panic for Penn State fans.
Rahne has been a part of head coach James Franklin’s staff for 12 seasons now, meaning he has been a close admirer of McSorley’s play since he helped Franklin recruit McSorley to Vanderbilt before all three men headed to Penn State. Despite a lack of deep balls and unique formations involving backup quarterback Tommy Stevens, McSorley will continue to settle into Rahne’s system as the weeks go by, while remaining a poised leader of the team, if the game-tying drive against Appalachian State was not already an indication.
Beyond quarterback play, Penn State is already continuing its recent traditions of replacing standout receivers with the emergence of freshman KJ Hamler. Hamler has averaged an impressive 17.8 yards per reception this season. Life without Barkley has also gotten off to an efficient start. While no individual back rivals Barkley’s production thus far, Rahne has utilized the depth at running back to outgain the Nittany Lion’s collective rushing attack from a year ago.
Most importantly, Penn State is averaging nearly six more points per game against arguably similar opposition from last season. So, rest easy Nittany Lion faithful. While the first two weeks might have been confusing at times, the offense only continues to grow stronger under new leadership, with new players, in hopes of returning the Big Ten Championship, and possibly greater accomplishments, to University Park, Pa.
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