Countdown to Blue-White: A Deeper Look Into Last Season By The Numbers

April approaching means one thing to the (for now) #107kStrong faithful — the Blue-White game is just around the corner.

With the Nittany Lions’ spring game set to kick-off at 3 p.m. on April 22, we decided to dive into some of the important stats from last season that may have been overlooked originally — both the basic and obvious numbers mixed in with some of the more unheard-of advanced metrics.


Penn State’s adjusted offensive rating was No. 18 nationally in the S&P+ rankings.


Penn State owned the third best red-zone offense on the road this year, scoring on 97 percent of red-zone attempts compared to just 75 percent within the confines of Beaver Stadium.


Trace McSorley’s magical performance against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game actually earned him the second best adjusted Total QBR number out of all quarterbacks in the postseason with a 96.6 — trailing only Baker Mayfield’s 98.6 in Oklahoma’s 35-19 Sugar Bowl win over Auburn. The adjusted passing offense ranking for Penn State came in at No. 2 in 2016, again trailing just the Sooners according to the S&P+ analytics. McSorley managed to lead the country in yards per completion (16.13), as well as finishing 13th in passing yards (3,614).

Up front, the offensive line gave up 15 less sacks (39 down to 24) last season, grading out as the 25th best unit against sacks according to the Football Outsiders adjusted sack rate category. Also, Saquon Barkley tallied the fourth most yards per catch among qualified running backs, trailing stars such as Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.


What stats about him can you not have possibly seen by now? Barkley scored the seventh most points in the FBS last year (132 on 22 total touchdowns), while ranking fourteenth in the country in rushing yards.

Overall, the Nittany Lions return six different players that ran for over 100 yards, at least one touchdown, and received at least 20 carries from last year’s team in 2017. Led by Barkley, the four-pronged running back attack saw Miles Sanders finish 35th nationally in yards per carry (7.4 YPC) for players with at least 20 carries.

In the same category, back-up quarterback Tommy Stevens placed 10th (9.4 YPC) while being used as a slot-reverse player. McSorley had the best rushing season for a PSU quarterback since Michael Robinson in 2005, as ole No. 9 tallied 365 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 2016. Simultaneously, McSorley tied for third nationally in fumbles, coughing it up ten times last year after struggling early in the season and throughout with the snap exchange from the shotgun formation (Brian Gaia had a number of misfires).

Meanwhile, the offensive line graded out as the 120th best run-blocking team overall on downs that weren’t obvious running plays (i.e. 3rd and inches, etc.), according to the Football Outsiders’ analytics. In the four separate categories, Penn State ranked lower than 115th in three of them.


Penn State’s adjusted defense rating was No. 14 nationally in the S&P+ rankings.


Penn State as a team committed just 4.8 penalties per game, third among teams in the New Year’s Six bowl games in 2016, as only Wisconsin and Auburn had fewer flags thrown against them.


The Nittany Lions gave up 15.9 points per game in the first half, compared to just 9.3 in the second. The difference in rankings is massive – Brent Pry’s unit jumped from 74th to 12th in the country in points allowed after the break in 2016.

Pass Rush

At home, the Nittany Lion’s sported the seventh best home sack percentage in the FBS, sacking quarterbacks on 11.36 percent of drop backs. However, their overall ranking sits at just 23rd, thanks to their sub-par 4.03 percent sack percentage on the road – 102nd in the nation, according to Football Outsiders.


Marcus Allen was 36th in the country with 110 total tackles, but ranks 20th among those players that are returning in 2017. He ranked seventh among defensive backs last year, and is fourth among those players who come back this year.

What’s important to know about the “adjusted” term that pops up, is that means that the publisher of the analytics data went back through all of the basic statistics and factored in anything from strength of opponent, to the location of the game (home/away/neutral), to countless other broken-down demographics that are simply laid out on their respective websites for fans of all backgrounds.

At the end of the day, these numbers are really interesting to look at when trying to understand the past and improve in the future as expectations skyrocket for James Franklin’s bunch. But at the end of the day, the only digits most Penn Staters think of when 2016 is brought to mind are 38-31, 24-21, and 11-3… well and of course, if you hang around some questionable folks around Pennsylvania, you may still hear a quiet “42-39” every now and then.

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his role with Onward State, Mitch talks about all the #sprots on Penn State's CommRadio. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him as he yells on Twitter about Penn State basketball @mitchystew.

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