Penn State’s Offensive History Through The Eyes Of A College-Aged Fan
It’s a hot, sunny afternoon and you’re sitting in a bleacher seat at Beaver Stadium, your favorite bar, or on your couch at home with Penn State football in front of your eyes. The game just reached halftime, and the Nittany Lions can’t find much breathing room in this tight game, as the offense has sputtered to just 178 first half yards.
The opponent? Kent State. The occasion? This season’s home opener.
It is hard to believe that the same 8-2 Nittany Lions that have a realistic chance at making the Big Ten title game and maybe even the college football playoff were once stuck in a 16-13 first half battle with Kent State just six games before they shocked Ohio State and the rest of the world. Yet, without an Amani Oruwariye pick-six on the third play of the second half, Penn State may have been knocked off by a team that boasts a 3-7 record out of the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Now, despite James Franklin’s hilarious insistence, fans everywhere are talking about all sorts of postseason scenarios.
Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, complete focus on Rutgers nothing else!
— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) November 13, 2016
From a certain looming game on Thanksgiving weekend, the chance of playing Wisconsin in Indy, or even how many points we might be able to muster in Penn State’s hypothetical beatdown against Alabama, Penn Staters everywhere are buzzing about football more than they have in years. Much of this surprising success has been thanks to the quick development of the now dynamic, explosive Nittany Lion offense.
Joe Moorhead’s offense has finally caught fire and there are no signs of any potential extinguishers until possibly December. From flea-flickers and backup quarterback jet sweeps, to the rapid improvement for players like Trace McSorley, Mike Gesicki, Brandon Mahon, Paris Palmer, and Conner McGovern, Moorhead looks like an absolute genius a week before Thanksgiving, when many were calling for his head at the intermission of the aforementioned Kent State game. Saquon Barkley looks healthy and has run his way into the fringe contingency of players looking to be first runner-up to Lamar Jackson for this year’s Heisman. Chris Godwin is scoring enough touchdowns that even the least hip Penn State football fans will hop onto the #TUDDIES bandwagon. The offense’s success under Moorhead is a far cry from some of his predecessors (ahem, we’re looking at you John Donovan), and for staff writers that have followed Penn State their whole lives, this may just be the most prolific offense in our memories. This got us thinking: how does this offense compare to offenses that we’ve seen in our lifetime?
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) November 6, 2016
Most data prior to 2004 is inconsistent or tough to find, and Galen Hall returned as Penn State’s offensive coordinator for that season, so it makes sense to start there. Freshmen were six or seven years old during the 2004 season, just old enough to start having clearer memories about their trips to Happy Valley.
Below is a list of each offensive stats per game for each Penn State team since 2004, with their statistical conference rank in parentheses. Keep in mind that from 2004 to 2010, there were 11 schools in the B1G for football. From 2011 to 2013, there were 12 after Nebraska joined. Since the addition of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, there have been 14.
So, this year’s Nittany Lion team ranks closely with the numbers of the most recent Rose Bowl team for Penn State — the 2008 Daryll Clark-led squad. Their 35.5 points per contest ranks only behind fellow championship contenders Michigan and Ohio State within the conference.
Penn State’s total offense numbers this year are typical of some of Penn State’s most successful teams over the past few seasons, tallying the fourth-highest yardage amount in the conference this season.
2012: 273.6 (2)
2013: 259.2 (3)
2008: 243.1 (3)
2016: 241.6 (5)
2009: 237.2 (5)
2014: 233.4 (5)
2010: 229.7 (6)
2015: 214.5 (9)
2005: 208.8 (10)
2007: 206.3 (8)
2006: 199.9 (8)
2004: 180.8 (9)
Christian Hackenberg mentored by Bill O’Brien in the blue and white is enough to bring a tear to the eye. The quarterback flourished in the early stages of his career under the tutelage of the current Texans head coach, but Trace McSorley’s numbers are almost identical to that of Clark on far fewer attempts per game. The 2016 air attack has exceeded expectations set before this season.
2005: 212.8 (2)
2008: 205.8 (2)
2007: 193.8 (5)
2013: 174 (7)
2016: 172.8 (8)
2009: 169.8 (5)
2011: 165.4 (8)
2006: 150 (6)
2012: 143.9 (9)
2010: 142.5 (9)
2015: 134.2 (12)
2004: 129.9 (9)
2014: 101.9 (14)
Players like Saquon Barkley, Evan Royster, and Tony Hunt are some standouts from these rushing attacks, while players like Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton could never really be leaned on consistently. Another solid statistic for this year’s offense.
All-in-all, this year’s team is one of the best offense in a Penn State student’s lifetime. This 2016 team ranks closely with the 2005 and 2013 offenses, all of which trail the legendary 2008 team. One characteristic that this team may possess that the past teams did not is versatility in who can step up and make explosive plays. Whether it’s Saquon Barkley, DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki, or Trace McSorley, this team seems to have a different player make a big play with each passing week.
The numbers do not lie — Joe Moorhead has been a revelation. Luckily for fans, we may see this year’s numbers duplicated — or even improved upon — next season, as the entire two deep of offensive skill position players is expected to return.