After Maryland Penn State’s Offense Seems To Have Turned A Corner
Gone are the days of the John Donovan offense of barely scoring 20 points a game. Joe Moorhead and Co. are here, and boy do things look different.
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem that this was the case for a while this season. During the summer, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the offense, and just like everything else in the Franklin era, it was over-hyped. Joe Moorhead was bringing his up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-offense and our offense was going to be a huge threat. We all expected 30+ points a game, a Heisman season out of Barkley, multiple 1000 yard receivers, and an offensive line that could block.
Fast forward to the first four and a half games of the season, reality hit. Gone was all the hype, and it seemed like we were back to the John Donovan-Era. Fans all thought the O-Line was going to be at least average this season, and it looked like that was too much to ask for. The offense looked one-dimensional, the play calling was poor, and despite scoring 30+ in three of those four games, there was still a lifeless feel surrounding the offense, especially heading into half time against Minnesota.
Then the second half started, with Penn State starting with the ball, and it seemed like a completely different offense was on the field. Penn State’s second drive of the half was three plays for 80 yards for a touchdown, and the team showed life again. The offense would go on to score 19 more points that game while Trace McSorley threw for 335 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and ran for 73 more and a touchdown. He was making better decisions throwing the ball, and finally showed us what he could do with his legs. The running game was virtually stopped but the offense adjusted and won it through the air which Minnesota couldn’t stop. And most importantly, they never turned the ball over. This was the first time all season, and it looked like the offense wasn’t as bad as we all thought after Michigan.
During Maryland, the hype seemed to become reality. The offense started fast, driving down the field very quickly (which had yet to be seen up to this point) and scoring on the first drive just two and a half minutes into the game. The drive frequently used the read option, a play which had not worked so far this season. But something was different this game where it was the biggest offensive threat. Up until the Maryland game, Trace was virtually always giving the ball to Barkley, and he was swallowed up at the line of scrimmage. But this game, Trace was waiting longer to read the defense, then pulling it to run it himself for a first down quite often. This also opened up the running game for Barkley who had a ridiculous 202 rushing yards on the day.
Everyone got involved with Mark Allen, Miles Sanders, and even Tommy Stevens contributing for first downs. The attack was perfect. Moorhead tested his limits to see if he could run the ball easily, and he could, so why change? That’s all he needed but even then, he threw the defense off with a big shot downfield to Thompkins for a 70 yard touchdown. The play calling was less predictable and Moorhead even threw in a few special plays like the fake read-option play during which Barkley embarrassed Will Likely.
Trace McSorley has been the key to the recent offensive success. I had my doubts about him earlier this year, but he has shown off his talent recently, all while eliminating stupid mistakes. He’s been making better decisions, throwing the ball with more accuracy, running more frequently but in better scenarios, and he is turnover free in his last two games.
Not to be forgotten, the offensive line has made massive strides since last year and since the beginning of the year. It was a big question mark how they would perform going into this year, and there are definitely some question marks going forward after Andrew Nelson’s season ending knee injury, but the main thing to be considered is how much progress they’ve made. Matt Limegrover has simplified their roles, and started young talent like Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates which has resulted in a much better overall offensive performance. Running backs are getting holes to run through and Trace is finally getting time to throw the ball and make better decisions. It also doesn’t hurt that they have a mobile quarterback to protect who can easily maneuver out of pressure, but these guys have stepped up when they needed to.
The offense will not be putting up 50+ points every game like Ohio State and Michigan, and you shouldn’t even expect 30 next week against Ohio State. But the progress is clearly there, and gone are the days of bubble screens and jet sweeps. The offense is finally a weapon for this team and if they can manage a balanced attack next Saturday, who knows, the Lions may even have a chance.