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Penn State’s Red Zone Offense Among The Best In College Football

No. 9 Penn State football is undefeated entering its White Out clash with No. 4 Ohio State, in no small part thanks to the team’s offense.

The Nittany Lions currently lead the FBS with an average of 55.5 points per game to start the season. First-year offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has his players firing on all cylinders, especially in the red zone.

Penn State hasn’t been kept off the board in 22 trips inside its opposition’s 20-yard line so far this season. Of those 22 possessions, only one didn’t result in a touchdown. Fourteen other teams have a perfect success rate in the red zone, but none have scored more touchdowns inside the 20-yard line than the Nittany Lions have.

Trace McSorley’s dual-threat abilities have reached another level this season thanks to Ricky Rahne’s play-calling.

Sixteen of the Nittany Lions’ 21 touchdowns scored in the red zone have come on the ground so far this season. The team’s stronger-than-ever offensive line, the emergence of Miles Sanders, and the zone read concept are three of the biggest factors that have helped Penn State dominate.

Penn State’s current starters on the offensive line are Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Michal Menet, Connor McGovern, and Will Fries. This is a group that’s grown together over the past few seasons. Its growth has culminated in a breakout start to the 2018 season. Penn State has averaged nearly 275 yards per game on the ground; only nine other programs have ran for more yards through four games.

The offensive line has had its shaky moments, but has impressed overall and is a big reason why players like Miles Sanders and Trace McSorley have so much room to use their skill and make plays.

Speaking of Sanders, he’s emerged as a serious threat with the ball in his hands. The Pittsburgh native is sixth in the country with 495 rushing yards through four games and has answered any questions others may have had about his ability to fill Saquon Barkley’s shoes.

Miles Sanders has averaged 6.97 yards per carry so far this season.

Coach James Franklin praised Sanders for his maturity and willingness to put his head down and take short gains instead of trying too hard to make a big play following Penn State’s 63-24 victory over Illinois.

“I think [Sanders] is doing a better job of sometimes taking an ugly three-yard run,” Franklin said. “As a running back, you want to bounce everything, so getting a running back to lower his shoulder and fight for two or three yards is important. Miles is doing a really, really good job of consistently getting us positive yards.”

As good as Miles Sanders has been this season, Trace McSorley is Penn State’s leader in rushing touchdowns. All six of his rushing scores have come from within 20 yards of the goal line.

McSorley is one of the most talented dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, and he’s been able to use his legs to consistently find the back of the end zone. His first rushing touchdown of the season mostly happened because of his toughness and ability to read downfield blocking, but others have been some of the easiest scores of his career.

Rahne has made plenty of zone read play calls in the red zone this season, some of which have resulted in McSorley walking into the end zone untouched. It’s hard enough to stop one player with the talent of a Sanders or McSorley, but containing two is almost impossible.

Ohio State has an extremely strong defensive front, but it will be without one of the best linemen in the country on Saturday night. Nick Bosa, the younger brother of NFL star Joey Bosa, won’t play in the White Out game after undergoing abdominal surgery last week.

The offensive line, Miles Sanders, Trace McSorley, and Ricky Rahne will face their toughest test yet when they face off against the Buckeyes, but the Nittany Lions have the talent to overcome Ohio State’s strong defense and continue their hot streak in the red zone.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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