Top Fixes For Penn State Football In 2015
Penn State football accomplished some marvelous feats during the 2014-15 season, highlighted by the team’s first bowl victory since the 2010 Capital One Bowl. But, with everything that was well and good about the 2014 squad, there are some glaring issues that must be addressed in order for the Nittany Lions to progress in James Franklin’s second season at the helm. We’ve compiled a list of areas that, if left unaddressed, may hinder Penn State going forward and cause the team to take a step back in 2015 — which nobody wants to see.
This can’t be stressed enough. Calling Penn State’s offensive line abysmal doesn’t do the unit justice. Yes, that is a bit harsh, and I understand these men are roughly five times larger than me and could easily tear me to shreds if they read this — I’m 6’1, 167 FYI — but when you allow your quarterback to be sacked 44 times, and block for a running game that averaged 2.9 yards per rush, harsh judgement is warranted. This unit constantly subjected Christian Hackenberg to endure brutal punishment game after game, and left him running for his life more often than not. Those defending the line — because there was plenty of blame to go around for the offense’s struggles, and some felt that too much fell on the shoulders of the offensive line — would say that Hackenberg stood in the pocket too long or became erratic even when he had time to throw. That is not a false judgment, but most of those ghosts Hackenberg would see when standing alone in the pocket can be blamed on a lack of trust in his line after getting pounded week in and week out.
You could write a book on the offensive line’s 2014 struggles, but that season has come and gone. 2015 is a new year, and although Donovan Smith is off to greener pastures blocking for Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, Penn State’s line is presented with a clean slate. A few things need to go right for Herb Hand’s unit if the offense wants to break free from its stagnant ways:
- Andrew Nelson must step up as the young leader of a rebuilding group.
- Paris Palmer must get up to at least 305 pounds if he wishes to survive playing down in the trenches in the Big Ten.
- This unit needs to give Akeel Lynch some daylight in order to take some of the crushing offensive burden off the shoulders of Hackenberg.
- Don’t block each other.
Though the unit lost one of its best, most consistent players in Smith, there is still hope. Most of the players have a full year of experience under their belts, and there is certainly some talent along the line found in players like Palmer, Nelson, and others that hopefully take a giant leap forward in the coming season — for the whole team’s sake.
2. Take advantage of a favorable schedule
Like last season, the Nittany Lions face a favorable early season slate, followed by an absolutely grueling conference schedule — with the most important games being played on the road. Teams can benefit from cupcake matchups early on, and it will be crucial for the Nittany Lions to capitalize on the team’s first six games if it wants to maximize the momentum going into the critical week seven showdown in Columbus.
Last season, the Nittany Lions were presented with a similar early season slate, but failed to completely capitalize on the gift-wrapped schedule, falling victim to a Northwestern team that would finish the season 5-7 — with the loss coming on Homecoming no less. This preceded the team’s deflating loss at The Big House, which preceded yet another deflating — yet controversial — loss at the hands of the eventual National Champions in friendly confines.
Now, the team will face an eerily similar scenario in 2015, starting the season against Temple, followed by Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army, and Indiana. The kicker? Five out of six of the team’s early-season games before Big Ten play are at home, meaning the team has a golden opportunity to head into Ohio State — which will be as uphill of a battle as any — 6-0.
While the team’s early season schedule plays well into its favor, the team only plays three more home games to close out a six-game stretch, with trips to Michigan State and Northwestern along the way. Finishing atop a loaded Big Ten East will not be an easy feat, and the only shot Penn State will have at it will be taking advantage of a favorable early-season schedule.
3. It’s time for Hackenberg to show us what he’s made of
Christian Hackenberg was beaten, pressured, and thrown around all throughout last season. The sophomore had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and not much of a formidable offensive attack to complement his massive arm. This year, Hackenberg needs to take center stage and grab hold of the reigns. The junior enters his third year at the helm, and it could certainly be his last. NFL scouts have swooned over the blue-chip prospect since the day he set foot on campus. With an entire offensive unit returning to Happy Valley, something special could very well be in the making.
Hackenberg seemed limited at times with questionable playcalling, paired with what seemed like a very restricted offensive gameplan — highlighted by John Donovan’s traditional down-and-distance screens plays. This season, it’s time for James Franklin to unleash his weapon on the entire league, showing the nation why Christian Hackenberg was, and still is, one of the marquee gunslingers in all of college football. Allowing him to spread the wealth to a bevy of talent at the receiver position, Penn State’s offense could be a revelation, performing a complete turnaround after last year’s unit’s constant sputtering. So much has been made of Hackenberg — a top recruit, starting as a freshman, and having NFL attention for years — it’s time for him to show why that’s all deserved.
In what could be Christian Hackenberg’s last hurrah in Happy Valley, it’s time everything is laid on the table. It’s time for Hackenberg to realize his full potential, and make his name heard across the nation.
Any other areas of concern you’d like to see addressed? Let us know in the comments below!