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Reasons For Optimism Following Penn State Football’s 2020 Season

Following an 0-5 start, Penn State football had a disappointing 2020 season, to say the least.

In fact, it was the worst start in program history. However, after the poor start, head coach James Franklin’s squad was able to rattle off four straight wins to end the season.

Heading into the offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Penn State football.

Sean Clifford Played Better In The Second Half Of The Season

A lot of Penn State’s offensive struggles at the start of the season fell on the shoulders of Sean Clifford. After an impressive 2019 season, No. 14 struggled out of the gate, turning the ball over 10 times during the Nittany Lions’ five-game losing streak. Additionally, Clifford completed just 57% of his passes throughout that stretch.

During Penn State game’s four-game winning streak, though, we saw a completely different Clifford. The signal-caller completed 66% of his throws, scored six total touchdowns (four throwing, two rushing), and turned the ball over just twice.

Clifford’s improved play is an important development heading into the offseason, giving the quarterback position some more clarity.

Several Young Players Have Untapped Potential

One of the positives of Penn State’s 2020 season was the emergence of some younger players. True freshman Parker Washington filled a huge need at wideout and totaled 36 receptions for 489 yards and six touchdowns. Washington stepped up as a reliable target for both Sean Clifford and Will Levis.

Fellow true freshman Keyvone Lee, who began the season buried on Penn State’s depth chart, finished the season as Penn State’s leading rusher following multiple injuries at the running back position. Lee posted 438 yards on 89 carries (4.9 yards per carry) while also scoring four touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Porter Jr. earned the starting cornerback job after appearing in only four games as a true freshman. Porter finished second on the team with four passes defended and made his fair share of highlight-reel plays.

Redshirt freshman Brenton Strange took over the starting tight end role after Pat Freiermuth’s season-ending injury. He played solidly, catching 17 passes and two touchdowns in the role.

Three other true freshmen — wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith, running back Caziah Holmes, and tight end Theo Johnson — impressed with the opportunities they had and are certainly primed for larger roles moving forward.

Kirk Ciarrocca’s Got His Feet Wet Already

Penn State struggled offensively at times this season under new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. However, it’s unfair to ignore the circumstances Ciarrocca and the offense dealt with.

With such an unusual offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic, Penn State football wasn’t able to operate how it usually would. Season-ending injuries to Pat Freiermuth, Journey Brown, and Noah Cain certainly didn’t help either. Plus, there was no spring ball, which puts a new offensive coordinator in a tough position when trying to install a new offense.

Despite the struggles, the offense improved toward the end of the season. With a year of Ciarrocca’s offense under their belt, the Nittany Lions should be able to improve in 2021.

A Potential Return To ‘Normalcy’

The coronavirus pandemic not only impacted Penn State but all programs across the country. After battling through a brutal and unprecedented season, there’s hope moving forward for a return to normalcy.

With recent developments with the coronavirus vaccine, it’s possible that the Nittany Lions will have a more normal offseason that includes spring ball, Blue-White, and a regular offseason program. Additionally, there is hope that fans (in some capacity) will be allowed to attend games next season, bringing an important element back to Penn State’s home-field advantage.

A return to normalcy won’t fix all of Penn State’s problems, but it would certainly help following a bizarre season.

Penn State Won Its Last Four Games

Well, duh!

Ending the season with a winning streak is always a positive heading into the offseason, especially winning in convincing fashion. Penn State had a +76 point differential during its winning streak as opposed to a -57 differential throughout the losing streak. Being able to salvage the season like that can give a team confidence and can create some optimism within the program.

Yes, the Nittany Lions had a disappointing season. However, the strong finish can potentially be a sign of things to come in 2021.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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