Reworked Offensive Line Flashes Its Grit Against The Hoosiers
Penn State’s offensive line looks completely different than it did the last two seasons. The Nittany Lions embraced the adversity and emerged stronger. On the road at Indiana, they dealt with two more costly injuries, but adjusted and pulled out a big 45-31 win.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries. I think we’re on our fourth or fifth offensive tackle situation right now,” James Franklin said after the game. “We lost Paris [Palmer] today, we lost [Connor] McGovern today. We had [Ryan] Bates playing tackle for the first time this week. He’d never really repped there at all since he’s been here, and then we had [Steven] Gonzalez, who hadn’t played a lot of football, pretty much play the whole game.”
It’s far too early to know if Penn State will have Palmer and McGovern back in the lineup next Saturday at Rutgers, but offensive line coach Matt Limegrover was prepared with a contingency plan against the Hoosiers. Senior center Brian Gaia, the unit’s trusted veteran voice, discussed some of the struggles the line overcame in Memorial Stadium.
“They blitzed a ton today,” Gaia said. “Obviously, when they blitz that much, with that kind of power, it’s hard to pick it up all the time, so I think that was the biggest issue we had all day.”
The Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) were already without week one starters Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon. The former went down with a season-ending injury against Maryland, while the latter didn’t make the trip to Bloomington due to an undisclosed injury of his own. Chasz Wright made his first career start against the Hoosiers and Bates, a redshirt freshman who’s also played center and guard, stepped up big-time in Palmer’s absence. Gonzalez and Derek Dowrey filled in along the interior as the new guards and performed admirably.
“Coach Limegrover does a good job switching guys in and out during practice, so we have some experience, but obviously there’s gonna be some communication issues,” Gaia said. “I think throughout the game, and especially in the fourth quarter, we worked those out and started clicking a little better.”
A week after putting up 359 yards on the ground versus Iowa, the Nittany Lions were held to just 77 rushing yards and a lackluster 4-of-14 conversion rate on third down. It certainly wasn’t all bad, though. They still managed to hang 45 points on Indiana, thanks in large part to a 31-14 second-half showing. For those keeping track at home, that’s 148 points in the last three games.
“I think Coach Limegrover said it perfectly in the game. ‘Faith is believing in something even though you don’t see it.’ We weren’t seeing the benefits, we weren’t running the ball great, and the offense wasn’t really moving the ball that well in the first half,” Gaia said. “We had faith in the program, in Coach Moorhead, in Coach Limegrover, and it turned out for the best.”
Junior tight end Mike Gesicki, who finished with a game-high 88 yards on five catches, has noticed a big difference in the confidence and resiliency of his teammates up front this fall.
“Earlier in the year, it was linebackers, and now it’s offensive line. We’ve built a lot of depth on our team, which, coming down the stretch here, is gonna prove to be extremely beneficial for us,” Gesicki said. “The offensive line — you can’t give those guys enough credit. They not only have had to deal with people criticizing them, and saying things about them from the past, but they’ve already pushed that out of the way. They’ve already overcome that obstacle and now they’re overcoming injuries, and [embracing] the ‘next man up’ mentality.”
No matter the circumstance, Penn State’ offensive line has been through too much to hang its head down 24-14 late in the third quarter. 24 fourth-quarter points later and we’re looking at a completely different group than we’ve seen in the past.