Comparing This Year’s Penn State Team To The 2008 Big Ten Champion Nittany Lions
The last time the Nittany Lions began a football season 5-0, the very first iPhone was barely three months old. You’d have to go back to 2008 to find a Penn State team that started as well as this group of Nittany Lions has.
Instead of watching Trace McSorley’s patented home run swing celebration and Saquon Barkley make defenders dive at thin air every Saturday, fans watched Daryll Clark and Evan Royster rip apart the Big Ten on a weekly basis. Clark and Royster combined to lead Penn State to its second Big Ten title in four seasons under coach Joe Paterno.
So how exactly does James Franklin’s reigning Big Ten champion team stack up against Paterno’s 2008 squad five weeks into the season?
On the offensive side of the ball, the 2008 team somewhat surprisingly has the scoring edge over this current crop of Nittany Lions. Through the first five games, the Daryll Clark-led offense posted an impressive 249 points, McSorley and Co. so far this season have only put up 207 points. That’s an average 8.4 point difference per game.
The 2008 team also gained more total yardage through the first five weeks of the season, averaging 515.2 yards per game. Even with the human highlight reel Saquon Barkley in the backfield, this season’s Nittany Lions have only managed 471.6 yards per game.
The defensive side of the ball is a different story. Brent Pry’s unit has held opposing offenses to only 47 points combined, 9.4 points per game, over the first five games, including two shutouts over Akron and Georgia State. The 2008 team’s defense was a little bit less stingy, allowing 64 points, 12.8 points per game, through their first five games.
As far as total yardage, the 2008 team holds a slim advantage over the current Nittany Lion defense. So far this season the Penn State defense has allowed 289.2 yards per game, while the NaVorro Bowman-led 2008 squad only gave up 252.2 yards per game.
Even so, this year’s defense has been a bit more opportunistic, forcing 14 turnovers. The 2008 team only took the ball away from the opposing offense 10 times through five games.
So far this season, the kicking unit has struggled to find the same consistency it had last year. Due to a number of different issues including poor snaps, bad holds, and miss-kicks by Tyler Davis, Penn State has only made five out of 11 field goal attempts this season. Penn State kicker Kevin Kelly’s unit was much more consistent in 2008, nailing five out of six attempts by this point in the season.
Saquon Barkley’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was a huge reason why he earned Big Ten Special Team player of the week this week. The 2008 team, on the other hand, did not have a return brought back for a touchdown through five games.
Overall both teams made very impressive starts to their respective seasons. In 2008, Penn State was able to beat Michigan and Ohio State in back to back weeks to propel itself to a Big Ten title. This year’s Nittany Lions will have to achieve the very same feat in order to keep their chances of a Big Ten title game appearance, and more importantly, a College Football Playoff appearance, alive.