Penn State’s Offensive Line Suffers Through ‘Hiccups’ Against High-Pressure Hoosier Defense
No. 4 Penn State did not have an issue cruising past Indiana Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium, but quarterback Trace McSorley never looked settled in the pocket going up against the tenacious Hoosier defense.
Indiana pressured the Ashburn, Va., native on a number of occasions and sacked him five times — a season high for the Nittany Lions, who gave up just six sacks in the previous four games this season.
“A lot of times they brought people we couldn’t account for,” said Ryan Bates, Penn State’s starting right tackle. “We have our roles, we have our assignments, and a lot of times, they brought a safety we couldn’t account for or an outside linebacker we couldn’t account for.”
McSorley, who is a pretty mobile quarterback, faced similar pressures against the Hawkeyes last weekend, but this year’s offensive line had three solid outings to begin the season after a chaotic, injury-filled 2016.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Bates said. “There’s hiccups here and there today.”
The Hoosiers bring similar pressure to opponents’ offenses each week, but only tallied five sacks through the first three games of their season.
“They probably blitzed every play,” Bates said. “We just got to be better about picking up blitzes.”
McSorley still managed to throw for 315 yards, which is a season high, and scored a total of three touchdowns in the game. The increased pressure opened up some space for the Nittany Lions to pass, but did not do much for the run game.
With the pressure coming from the Hoosiers, the Nittany Lions took advantage of the openings in the secondary compared to the packed box that the run game faced.
“It does affect play calling,” Bates said. “Where they are bringing the blitz from, who’s blitzing. It affects everything.”
Saquon Barkley had two touchdowns in the game, but neither were on runs. For the second consecutive year, the Hoosiers held the starting running back — who finished the day with 56 yards off 20 attempts — to just a few yards per carry.
“We ran some runs into different blitzes and different fronts that didn’t work out great,” Bates said.
Heading forward, Penn State has more consistency on the offensive line than it’s had in previous seasons, especially last year. But with different injuries, several other players do appear along that offensive front.
“I think you’d always like to settle on one group or one guy,” head coach James Franklin said. “But football doesn’t work like that. You’re going to have bumps; you’re going to have bruises. It’s the next man in mentality.”
With an injury last weekend to Chasz Wright and the reemergence of Andrew Nelson, the Nittany Lions will continue to swap along that line.
“Long term it is going to help us. You’d love to go all season with the same five starters on the offensive line. I have heard of some teams that have done that. I’ve never been a part of it in my 23 years where you have the same five offensive lineman playing all year long.”