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Penn State Football Preview: McSorley-Led Offense Searches To Replace Major Production Losses

With the release of Penn State football’s opening weekend depth chart on Tuesday, James Franklin and his coaching staff have made it fairly clear who fans can expect to see on the field at Beaver Stadium this weekend when the Nittany Lions square off against Appalachian State.

After a handful of positions were open for the taking this offseason, the offense in Happy Valley will look distinctly different than it has in recent years. Given what’s been indicated on the depth chart and what’s been talked about in press conferences, here’s how the offense is likely to shape up in 2018.

Returning Starters

Luckily for the coaching staff, there’s plenty of returning talent for the Nittany Lions. Perhaps most obviously, Heisman candidate Trace McSorley and one of his favorite targets in Juwan Johnson will anchor the offense.

Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso both picked McSorley to win the Heisman, so it’s probably safe to expect big things from the gunslinger this fall.

Tommy Stevens decided to stick around at Penn State over the summer and, although not the starting quarterback, he has a new spot as the “Lion.” Stevens technically isn’t a returning starter, but we think he’s played enough to be included here.

Out wide, DeAndre Thompkins is another starter returning to the corps of receivers that lost DaeSean Hamilton to the Denver Broncos. Thompkins hauled in 28 receptions for 443 yards and three touchdowns last season.

The offensive line has remained the same from last year except for one subtle change coming at center, with Michal Menet starting and Connor McGovern sliding over one spot to right guard.

The offensive line has taken strides forward in recent years, although there is still room for improvement. Barkley ran for just 44 yards on 21 carries against Ohio State as the group struggled to contain the Buckeyes’ defensive line. The Nittany Lions seem to have improved enough to the point where they at least won’t tip off defenses to upcoming plays anymore.

Fresh Faces

The bulk of new starters on offense come at “skill” positions, which is simply the result of veteran talent leaving for the NFL Draft or graduating.

Jonathan Holland is poised to be one of McSorley’s security blankets as he takes over the tight end spot once held by new Miami Dolphin Mike Gesicki. Gesicki’s downfield ability is unlikely to be replicated at tight end this season, but expect Holland to play an important part in the running game.

Lining up outside of Jonathan Holland comes new slot receiver KJ Hamler. The redshirt freshman aims to be a threat on the receiving end as well, as he showed flashes of his electric play in the 2018 Blue-White scrimmage.

As mentioned before, Michal Menet will start at center this year instead of Connor McGovern. The highly-touted high school recruit is another piece to the offensive puzzle that could potentially take the group to new heights.

To the shock of absolutely nobody, Miles Sanders is the heir apparent to Saquon Barkley’s throne in the Nittany Lions’ backfield. Kirk Herbstreit believes Sanders has the biggest shoes to fill in college football.

The No. 1 running back in the 2016 recruiting class has gained plenty of experience in a backup role, but it seems he’s ready to finally show the country what he brings to the table.

Notable Freshmen

James Franklin has brought in elite recruiting classes to Penn State in recent years. Not every true freshman in the talented class of 2018 will see the playing field this season, but a handful will — including Ricky Slade.

Slade should see time alongside Sanders and Mark Allen in the backfield, providing a lightning-quick option in either the running game or passing game.

Jahan Dotson and Daniel George could also see some reps at wide receiver for Ricky Rahne’s group. After all, Dotson was the team’s “Touchdown King” during preseason camp.

At tight end, Pat Freiermuth has the size, ability, and potential to step on the field and make an impact in his first year. Rasheed Walker, Bryce Effner, and Juice Scruggs may be called upon to step in along the offensive line throughout the season as well.

James Franklin has put together quite a talented group and the world will get to see how they perform this Saturday, September 1, when Appalachian State comes to Happy Valley. The first game of the season kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Hayden Christ

Hayden is a junior majoring in Public Relations. He is a lover of sports and is open to challenges in a tennis match. Email Hayden at [email protected]

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