The Penn State Offense Has Lost Its Swagger
Penn State was the most exciting team to watch in college football in 2016. Part of that had to do with the feeling of a program comeback, but the offensive style of play kept fans at the edge of their seats.
Watch the highlights of the 2016 Big Ten Championship if you need proof. McSorley hit Gesicki for a 34-yard bomb to open the scoring for the Nittany Lions. Before the half, No. 9 found Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown to bring Penn State back into the game. To open the third quarter, McSorley found Blacknall again, this time for 70 yards. Saquon Barkley’s catch on a wheel route — frying the linebacker than was in coverage on him — was simply fun to watch.
On Saturday against Michigan State, the offense played an entirely different game. McSorley’s longest pass of the day was only 25 yards. Nine of his 19 completed passes went for six yards or fewer.
Ricky Rahne’s offense has been more conservative than that of Joe Moorhead. Downfield shots have lost favor for quick completions that pick up a handful of yards. You can make a strong argument that it’s better to play that way, except Penn State’s offense isn’t very good on third down. The Nittany Lions converted just three of 14 third-down opportunities against the Spartans.
In the fourth quarter, Penn State marched 55 yards on 11 plays on a drive that lasted 5:15. The Nittany Lions had to settle for a field goal, giving them a 17-14 lead with just over nine minutes to play. Not every drive is going to be perfect, but that was one of Penn State’s most effective of the game.
Still, it was boring and ended in a red-zone field goal. You wouldn’t have expected a drive of 55 yards to have lasted so long in 2016 because the offense was so incredibly explosive.
Trace McSorley gained some haters who claimed that he just threw the ball up and hoped for the best, but his downfield passes have been incredibly accurate throughout his career. The offense played to the quarterback’s strength and his receivers were talented enough to come through time and again.
That magic is gone. Even if Penn State had come through with a victory in front of the Stripe Out crowd, it would’ve been a boring one. The most exciting part about Penn State over the past two seasons has been the electrifying brand of football we’ve seen in Beaver Stadium.
On Saturday, the 106,685 fans in Beaver Stadium didn’t have a whole lot to get excited about.
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