Miles Dieffenbach’s Much-Needed Return To Action
The 2014 season was supposed to be a memorable one for Penn State offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach, a redshirt senior. What was not in the cards, however, was a knee injury sustained in spring practice, one that consumed a sizable portion of his senior campaign.
In college football, there are only so many opportunities to take the field with your teammates, making each game precious. Last Saturday, Dieffenbach overcame the odds by making his 2014 debut after months of rehabilitation, and will get to end his career as a Nittany Lion on the field, where he belongs.
Dieffenbach’s 2013 was a much different scenario than this season. The guard was part of a unit that helped Penn State rush for more than 250 yards four times, and helped the offense put up at least 350 yards per game. There is no doubt that Dieffenbach’s presence on the offensive line allowed Christian Hackenberg to put up 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns, which earned the quarterback Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Everything seemed to click with the offense in 2013, and the success began up front, on the offensive line.
2014 was poised to be a special season, and Dieffenbach was supposed to be an integral part of an offensive line desperate for senior leadership. When Dieffenbach went down, however, a gaping hole emerged, and slowly everything up front began to fall apart. The running game was unrecognizable from last season, averaging a mere 86.6 yards per game.
Hackenberg lacks solid protection, and most games he is seen getting thrown around like a rag doll. Players were being used at multiple positions up front, and nothing seemed to be going right for the struggling offensive unit. While nursing his injury, Dieffenbach has spent his season cheering from the sidelines, doing anything he can to help.
The offense clearly missed him, and he missed playing even more.
“It meant a lot to be with the guys again, and just put that jersey on,” Dieffenbach said. “The thing I missed most was running out of the tunnel with those guys, so that was special to me. It was such a big moment for me personally, just to get to run out with them. We’re only given so many opportunities to play for Penn State, and it was nice to take a moment and be thankful for the chance to be out there playing.”
Although only three games remain on the schedule for the Nittany Lions, Dieffenbach still gets a chance to finish out his Penn State career alongside his teammates on the field. During his debut on Saturday, there was something noticeably different about the offense’s performance. The ground game was actually relevant(!), as opposed to recent weeks where Penn State’s rushing attack was virtually invisible. That’s not to say it was totally dominant — Bill Belton’s 92-yard score certainly inflated statistics — but nonetheless, the unit showed signs of life, and it’s no coincidence that it came during Dieffenbach’s return to the field.
“The run game felt good, Bill and Akeel did a terrific job,” Dieffenbach said. “I saw a lot of improvement in the run game, and we’re just trying to improve that aspect week by week.”
Dieffenbach was not an every-down player on Saturday, as he is still transitioning and regaining his football legs. He seemed optimistic that there would be no adverse effects from his injury.
“My knee felt great before the game, and felt just as good after,” Dieffenbach said. “I have great trust in our medical staff, and they wouldn’t have put me in there if there was any injury concerns. The coaches and trainers set out a number of series that I would play, and that decision was made at some point during the week. I’m hoping to increase the amount of action I see, but we’ll see how everything goes leading up to the game.”
Dieffenbach brings some much-needed experience to an offensive line missing its best player (Donovan Smith) and rotating some of its players at certain positions. His abilities as a run blocker will undoubtedly open more holes for Belton and Lynch, and his presence will be most welcome during the team’s final three games, as the Nittany Lions prepare to finish the season. Dieffenbach will be sure to make his presence felt when the Nittany Lions take on a Michigan State defense that ranks amongst the best in the country for the season finale.
With the Nittany Lions one win away from becoming bowl eligible, Miles Dieffenbach’s return comes at a perfect time. It is only fitting that the senior gets to end his collegiate career on his terms.