By Sarah Berkowitz
In Penn State coach James Franklin’s first two seasons, the offense dealt with constant frustration, due in part to a lack of depth as a result of scholarship restrictions.
The Nits ranked 78th and 121st in yards per play those two seasons, giving up a total of 83 sacks.
Then, Franklin brought in Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead to run the offense. They improved depth on the offensive line. And they switched to a more mobile quarterback in Trace McSorley.
After some early trouble, the Penn State offense took flight in the second half of the season, leading to a surprise Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, which proved to be one of the most entertaining games in years.
The Lions scored 37.6 points per game, and no Power Five team had a higher percentage of its plays go for 30-plus yards, as they boasted a big-play tailback in Saquon Barkley (above) and a fearless downfield passing game in which McSorley averaged 9.3 yards per attempt, frequently connecting with the Lions’ rangy, athletic receivers for big plays.
This was all part of Penn State’s sudden reputation for scoring bursts and comebacks.
Now? Nearly everybody from 2016’s most entertaining team is back, include the nation’s best running back in Barkley and the nation’s best tight end in Mike Gesicki, plus McSorley, a promising receiving corps and what will be the best Penn State offensive line in several years.
Perhaps the Lions won’t hit as many of the deep passes as McSorley completed last year, but Barkley will be running behind a better line and McSorley will be better protected.
With Moorhead back calling the plays, this team is well-equipped to compete for another Big Ten title and will continue to put on a show, even if last year’s flair for the dramatic will be tough to match.