Penn State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Nittany Lions, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Penn State Offense
Joe Moorhead did big things as the Fordham head coach, and now it’s his job to crank up a Nittany Lion offense that finished 105th in the nation in yards, 105th in rushing, and 101st in scoring. To do that, he’s going to crank up the pace to make the O faster, but first he’s got to improve a miserable offensive line that never gave Christian Hackenberg enough time to work and didn’t do enough to pave the way for the ground attack.
Last year’s sore spot has the potential for a night-and-day improvement thanks to the maturity of the young front five that’s taken its lumps. It’s not going to be a dominant force, but the line will be better.
But can the pass protection be better, and can the quarterback play improve enough to start stretching the field? There’s no one there with Hackenberg’s talent, but Trace McSorley might be a better overall fit for a college team with the tools to run a faster attack with an upbeat tempo.
Saquon Barkley came up with a 1,076-yard rushing season even without much help from the line, and Chris Godwin caught 1,101 yards worth of passes and DaeSean Hamilton caught six touchdown passes despite all the problems. The playmakers are there, and if the quarterback has time to work, the weapons will blow up.
Biggest Key To The Penn State Offense
To keep beating a dead horse, the offensive line play has to be far better. There’s a new coach for the front five with Matt Limegrover coming in and taking over, and all five starters are upperclassmen, but there’s no way the team makes a big jump in the Big Ten East against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State unless the line can hold its own. There’s a hard ceiling on what the team ca do without a massive improvement.
What You Need To Know About The Penn State Defense
The defense did a magical job considering it got no help whatsoever from the offense. As bad as the O was, the D was the opposite in terms of production finishing 14th in the nation and eight against the pass. It was so good that Tennessee took away defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, and now it’s up to linebacker coach Brent Pry to take over and keep the D up to snuff.
To start, the Nittany Lions need to revamp a defensive front that has to replace the unstoppable Carl Nassib along with tackle Austin Johnson and all-star Anthony Zettel. It might not be all that easy, but the line isn’t going to fall off the map with JUCO transfer coming in to add more options to an already good group.
Jason Cabinda leads a decent linebacking corps that should grow into a sneaky-good unit as the season goes on. The starting three will end up being terrific, but there can’t be an early rash of injuries – it’s going to take a little while to find the right rotation.
The secondary that was such a force last season gets back Marcus Allen at one safety spot, Grant Haley at one of the corner jobs, and enough talent to keep this a major strength. It’ll make everyone’s life easier if …
Biggest Key To The Penn State Defense
The line has to keep the pressure on behind the line. Start with losing Nassib and his 15.5 sacks, and throw in the loss of Johnson’s 6.5 and Zettel’s four, and there’s a whole bunch of production that needs to be replaced from a dominant defensive front. The Nittany Lions led the nation in sacks per game and was sixth in tackles for loss. The numbers are going to drop, but they can’t fall too far.
Penn State Will Be Far Better If …
The offense converts on third down plays. Boston College and Kent State. Those are the only two teams worse coming up with third down conversions than Penn State. Only six teams hit fewer than 30% of their tries, and the Nittany Lions only converted 27.57% of the time. They have to keep the chains moving.
Best Penn State Offensive Player
RB Saquon Barkley, Soph. – Just imagine what he could’ve done in his first season behind a strong offensive front. Barkley ran for over 1,000 yards and averaged six yards per carry with his excellent combination of speed and power, highlighted by a 194-yard day against Ohio State. While he doesn’t have to carry the offense, he’ll do it at times.
Best Penn State Defensive Player
LB Jason Cabinda, Jr. – The defensive linemen got all the all-star love, but it was Cabinda who led the team in tackles and came up with 5.5 tackles for loss with a few big plays here and there. He’s a decent-sized tackler with good athleticism and the quickness to get around and help out in play after play, but he’ll have help. Brandon Bell on the outside and Nyeeem Wartman-White on the inside will help form one of the Big Ten’s best starting linebacking trios.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Trace McSorley, Soph. – Yeah, the entire offensive line is the real key, and the defensive line has to rise up and hold its own, but if it’s McSorley who’s able to grab the starting quarterback job – and keep Tommy Stevens on the second team – he has to be the difference-maker he looked like he could be with a good fill-in job in the bowl loss to Georgia. He’s not going to be Christian Hackenberg, but he’s a baller who can do add a rushing element to the mix and buy himself time behind the still-shaky line.
The Penn State Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a nine-win season. 2011 was the last time the program came up with a nine-win season, but things are a wee bit different now. James Franklin has been given a bit of a free pass considering he took over when the NCAA concerns had the program hamstrung, but now it’s his time to produce. The schedule isn’t that bad getting Ohio State and Michigan State in Happy Valley, and with a relatively favorable non-conference slate. It’s time to start winning some of the big game games again and be a threat to come up with a double-digit victory season.
Sept. 24 at Michigan – There can’t be another biff against Temple, and surviving the road game at Pitt is a must to get to 3-0 before starting out the Big Ten season. The rest of the conference schedule isn’t all that bad with two of the big games – against the Buckeyes and Spartans – at home along with the date against Iowa. Beat Michigan after losing two straight in the series, and with home games against Minnesota and Maryland to follow, the Nittany Lions will likely be 6-0 with a week off to prepare for Ohio State.
2015 Penn State Fun Stats
– Fourth Down Conversions: Penn State 12-of-23 (52%) – Opponents 2-of-13 (15%)
– Penalties: Opponents 92 for 774 yards – Penn State 67 for 526 yards
– Penn State 2nd Quarter Scoring: 103 – Opponents 3rd Quarter Scoring: 44