The 2018 Penn State football regular season is in the books and the Nittany Lions are now awaiting an opponent for their bowl game. With a win, Penn State will have its third straight double-digit win season, a proud accomplishment for the program.
In the grand scheme of things, 9-3 and ranked No. 12 would spell out a successful season for most. But, when looking back at the season, there were some moments where fans were left scratching their heads and wondering what could have been.
What if Penn State didn’t blow a 12-point lead against Ohio State? What if the Nittany Lions offense had shown up against Michigan State? If those two things happen, then maybe the Michigan game is a lot less ugly.
While Penn State had a good season, the fact of the matter is that the time is coming for the program to take the next step. James Franklin made it clear after the Ohio State game that the program was “great,” but it was time to become “elite.”
Let’s take a look at three areas in which Penn State can improve in the 2019 season.
Get back to aggressive ways on offense
One of Penn State’s calling cards in 2016 and 2017 under offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was its aggressiveness on offense. It feels like Penn State’s offense took a bit more conservative approach this season under Ricky Rahne.
Granted, Penn State lost a lot of its downfield threats the last two years such as Chris Godwin, Daesean Hamilton, Saquon Barkley, and Mike Gesicki. But, it is not like the Nittany Lions don’t have any playmakers. The team still has guys like KJ Hamler, Miles Sanders, and DeAndre Thompkins that it can push the ball to.
Penn State will have a new quarterback in 2019, and it will most likely be Tommy Stevens. They will have him and some additional weapons on offense with a lot of redshirt freshmen. With them, Penn State is going to have to return to its explosive ways on offense in 2019.
Get better at closing out games
This has been one that has hurt Penn State for the last two years. Its losses to Ohio State and Michigan State in both 2017 and 2018 were due in large part to Penn State failing to close out games.
In the Ohio State game, Penn State was up by 12 with less than seven minutes to go and blew that lead. Against Michigan State, Penn State was up three and could not pick up the first down, allowing for the Spartans to march downfield and score to go ahead.
If the Nittany Lions closed out those games, they are likely 11-1 and in the conversation for the College Football Playoff. Going from great to elite will require those games against top teams to end in the victory column for Penn State – this is priority number one.
Tighten up the run defense
The Penn State run defense was a bit inconsistent this season. Some games, it would look elite and other games it would be gashed, like against Michigan. Going into next season, that is an area the Nittany Lions need to tighten up, especially against elite running teams.
Penn State’s defensive line is young, loaded with potential and should only improve going into 2019. If it can tighten up on those small things and slow down elite rushers, the Penn State defense will only improve moving forward.
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