Analyzing Post-Regular Season Reactions For Penn State Football
Penn State football’s 2023 regular season has come to a close, folks. There have been ups, there have been downs, and there have been things that were just OK.
With the 2023 season coming to an end, our football writers took a look at some of the hottest takes that we saw from this year.
The Season Was A Bust
Joe Lister: There are going to be people who really hate this take, but the 2023 season was absolutely a bust. Penn State’s floor for this year was 10-2, and it went 10-2. There were folks who expected this team to win the Big Ten, reach the College Football Playoff, and even contend for a title. Instead, the Nittany Lions will once again be watching in the Lasch Building as two other teams compete in the last game of the season.
I understand that 10-2 as a floor is a very high floor, and it’s a sign of a damn good football team. But the standards are high for this group, and underperforming during one of the team’s best chances to make history is disappointing.
CJ Doebler: 2023 was indeed a bust. However, it’s not a bust purely because of the two losses, but instead because of the snoozefest the Nittany Lion offense delivered in the two most important games of the season. If the Nittany Lions could’ve kept the games against Ohio State and Michigan closer, it might not be so hard to look back at the 2023 team. Instead, we saw a consolation touchdown against Ohio State that kept the game close only on the box score and pointless two-point conversions against Michigan. If James Franklin would’ve just kicked the extra point, Allar and co. might’ve gotten the ball back with a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Instead, they were sent out down nine with too little time left. But points were at a premium, I guess.
I don’t like calling a two-loss season a bust, but that’s just the landscape of the Big Ten right now. Next year, a two-loss season could be good enough. This year, it wasn’t. Penn State had a first-year starter at quarterback and a wide receiver room that wasn’t expected to be strong, yet still underperformed. The signs were there, we just missed them.
Nolan Wick: Absolutely. This team had every reason to make a big run and take the leap they’ve implied was imminent for so long. Instead, the program went 10-2 and didn’t make the College Football Playoff once again. Talk about overpromising and underdelivering.
There are a few moments that stand out to me as points where the season unraveled, such as going for it on 4th-and-3 from your own 43-yard line against Ohio State down a touchdown with seven minutes left or the two-point conversion attempts against Michigan. Franklin overthought these situations, and it left points on the board despite points “being at a premium.” They were just baffling, honestly.
It’s also worth wondering whether the team would’ve been better off without Mike Yurcich earlier on. The offense played its best game against Michigan State, but it had shown promising flashes on occasion. Could firing him before Ohio State or Michigan, the latter of which Franklin allegedly told a recruit was happening beforehand, have changed things?
Now, Penn State has the most wins in college football without a conference championship since 2017. Not a good look.
Drew Allar Underperformed
Joe Lister: Not quite. When Penn State needed him most, yes, Drew Allar wasn’t exactly a star. He played poorly against Ohio State and Michigan, but that doesn’t mean his season was a bust. Personally, I think Mike Yurcich was just a bad quarterback coach who held Allar back. But as we saw against West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan State, and others, the kid’s got talent.
CJ Doebler: Even though Allar saw game action this year, it’s a completely different animal to be the guy everyone is counting on to be the face of the team. Allar had huge expectations coming into this year, and the season-best 325-yard performance he led against West Virginia didn’t exactly temper expectations. He never returned to that level of passing production in a game but showed improvement toward the end of the season. The improvement coincided with the firing of Mike Yurcich and showed just how much of a drain he was on not only Allar’s production but that of the offense as a whole.
Nolan Wick: Drew Allar threw for 2,336 yards, 23 touchdowns, and one interception while maintaining a 61.3% completion rate this season. Those are modest numbers for a first-year starting quarterback.
I think this was a great starting point, but there were too many shaky moments, such as against Ohio State and Michigan, that made me doubt how ready he truly was. He often overthrew receivers or simply appeared rattled in the pocket in those games. Speaking of that, his receivers definitely didn’t help him much, nor did the running backs given the way they were utilized for the majority of the schedule.
I expected him to struggle at times, although most of you thought he’d take the sport by storm. While he didn’t live up to the expectations most people placed on him, like I said, I think this year was a good starting point. If he gets help in the receiving game and a better offensive coordinator, he’ll be a Heisman contender 365 days from now.
This Year Showed How Fraudulent James Franklin Really Is
Joe Lister: I don’t know that we learned anything we already knew about James Franklin this season. He won the games he always wins and lost the games he always loses. As I said up top though, I think that it’s disappointing that Franklin couldn’t get over the hump with this team. Although at this point, I’m not sure that Franklin can beat Ohio State even with a 2019 LSU team. That’s just how it seems to go for him and Penn State.
CJ Doebler: Franklin can’t win big games. That’s been the sentiment in Happy Valley for a while now — it’s nothing new. A new five-star quarterback plus the return of what was the best rushing duo in the country a year ago heightened the expectations for this year’s team, and Franklin couldn’t win again. As I discussed in the first take, though, I’m not sure the hype was warranted.
Everyone knows that Franklin needs a wide receiver from the portal this offseason. If that happens, next year could be the difference maker in how Franklin’s time in State College is looked back on.
Nolan Wick: With arguably his best team yet on paper, the expectations were as high as they’ve ever been for James Franklin. However, he still didn’t get over his big game woes.
I’ve thought for a long time that Franklin is a good coach but not a great one. He recruits, wins the games he should, and everything else besides the ones that mean the most. After this season, I’ll believe he can win the big games when I see it happen. Is it fraudulent? Yeah, I’d say so, but it isn’t anything new.
However, he’s gotten close to winning the big ones enough times that I think it’s possible his program can get over the hump. I think it would be helpful if he were to stay out of his own way and act like a CEO-style head coach by delegating play-calling duties to his coordinators, particularly on offense. He’s the common denominator, as there are numerous examples of bad decisions he’s made over the years against Ohio State and Michigan. It’s possible, but again, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Manny Diaz Deserves All The Money In Penn State’s Vault
Joe Lister: You always have to factor in budgets into this sort of thing, but Manny Diaz has put on a defensive coordinator clinic this season. Diaz put together one of the best college football defenses of not just this year but of the last decade (yes, I’m going there). This was just such a good unit, and you can tell that from the way players talk about him, Diaz deserves a world of credit. Whatever it takes to keep him in Happy Valley for another year or two, Penn State should pull the trigger.
CJ Doebler: Manny Diaz is going to leave Penn State for a head coaching position eventually. That can’t be avoided. This year, however, I don’t think there will be any positions that interest Diaz enough to leave, but with his money from Miami running out this year, he’s going to want a raise.
This was one of the best defenses in the nation this year, and three shutouts, two of which were of Big Ten teams, is nothing to overlook. Diaz knows what he’s doing, and he should be compensated justly. Pat Kraft, give Diaz a blank check.
Nolan Wick: I’d give Manny Diaz whatever he wants to keep him in Happy Valley. He’s simply been a home run hire for the program, especially this season. He oversaw a unit that was the first-ranked overall defense in the country and coached potential first-round selections in Chop Robinson and Kalen King.
However, Diaz is going to become a head coach again eventually. Both he and Franklin probably understand that. In the meantime, though, the university needs to do all it can to delay that from happening as much as realistically possible.
Penn State’s Wide Receivers Killed The Season
Joe Lister: If you want to point fingers at any one position group, look at the wide receivers. Penn State came into the season quietly noting that it didn’t really know what was going on with that room, but we all just seemed to look the other way. That was difficult to do once Trey Wallace became injury-prone and KeAndre Lambert-Smith just couldn’t establish himself.
Personally, I think that Penn State could’ve rotated its group better. I don’t know if that decision falls on Yurcich, Franklin, or wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, but Omari Evans only getting his chance in the final game of the season was an abomination.
CJ Doebler: For the majority of the season, Penn State stuck with KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Trey Wallace as its top two wide receivers and rotated the third receiver spot. When Wallace went down the first time, the receivers looked lost. When Wallace went down the second time, though, players started to step up.
There are so many receivers that never really got a chance this season. Franklin was often asked about the rotation at the wide receiver spot and said that running wrong routes and not getting open was the reason some players weren’t staples on the Penn State offense. However, after the firing, players started to get more opportunities. Receivers like Omari Evans and Dante Cephas started to get open and make plays when given the chance. A receiver has to be the target this offseason, but I think there was a plethora of untapped potential in the room this year.
Nolan Wick: The wide receivers were by far Penn State’s biggest Achilles heel. Enough passes were dropped or the wideouts couldn’t get enough separation to make big plays. It’s odd that separation was such an issue at times because Kaden Saunders said the group was able to do just that against the Nittany Lions’ secondary in practice.
Ultimately, it came down to execution. That’s what doomed this group when it mattered most.
2023 Was Always The Warm Up To 2024 Anyway
Joe Lister: I’m not so sure. There’s certainly some logic to this idea. Next year, Allar will be a junior who’s ideally coming into his prime. The same can be said for Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton, which is where I think this mentality comes from. But Penn State is also going to be filling a lot of gaps. Hunter Nourzad, Olu Fashanu, Caedan Wallace, and Sal Wormley will leave the offensive line with lots of gaps to fill. Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac are likely both heading for the draft. The same goes for Kalen King, Theo Johnson, Tyler Warren, and a good few other players.
Sure, it’ll be cool to see Allar play as a junior, but what happens when Drew Shelton and Nick Dawkins are expected to be the root of the offensive line? This isn’t a diss on either of those guys, but an inexperienced offensive line is going to have some growing pains.
CJ Doebler: This was in the back of my mind the whole season. If this year didn’t end up being the year, Allar and other offensive weapons would return again next year. Joe brings up a good point, though, Penn State could lose a lot of important personnel for next season. This happens every season, and I have faith that Franklin will have the gaps filled for next year. The offensive line is losing the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in Olu Fashanu, but I think everyone waiting in the wings will be able to fill the spot — not to the level of Fashanu but still adequate. Allar has also started to become more mobile in the last few games of 2023, something that might prove very important for the 2024 campaign.
If Diaz stays, I have no worries about the defense. Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac will leave big shoes to fill but once again, this is the normal in college football. As with Fashanu, even if production fell a little bit, the defense should be just fine.
Nolan Wick: There are reasons for optimism in 2024. Drew Allar returns with a year under his belt, the offensive line should still be productive despite losing Olu Fashanu, and I’d imagine there are serious upgrades at wide receiver. Additionally, if Manny Diaz stays, the defense should also be very good even though it’ll be without Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, and Kalen King.
I also don’t think Penn State’s schedule is as daunting as people seem to think it is. USC doesn’t have a defense, Washington’s star-studded offense won’t be nearly the same, and with Ohio State playing at Beaver Stadium, who knows what could happen? There are trap games against the likes of Wisconsin, for example, but James Franklin has proven he can win the games he should.
Beau Pribula Is Gone After This Season, As Is Either Kaytron Allen Or Nick Singleton
Joe Lister: None of those guys are leaving. Pribula got enough reps at the end of this season that he’s probably convinced he’s a valuable aspect of this offense. Singleton already said that he’s coming back, and it’s clear he and Allen have a really special bond. It’s hard to imagine that either running back leaves after that Michigan State performance. Penn State isn’t going to have to worry about transfers out of the program, it just needs to worry about getting the right guys into the program.
CJ Doebler: I’ll be very surprised if any of those three players leave. Beau Pribula was finally used along with Allar later in the season instead of collecting garbage-time reps and showed against Rutgers that he can take control of the offense successfully. I was concerned about the running back room, but Nick Singleton said that he was staying, and I don’t see Allen going anywhere with the way he was used this season.
Nolan Wick: I don’t think any of them are leaving. If they were, I think we’d know by now. Both running backs have seen enough, especially now with Mike Yurcich out of the picture, that they can still thrive here. Kaytron Allen frequently referring to Nick Singleton as his “brother from another mother” speaks volumes to how good their relationship seems to be.
Meanwhile, Beau Pribula has probably seen enough, at least for now, to stay for another year. His production toward the end of the season in the system and usage by the coaching staff may be a good enough reason to convince him of this, especially because the program’s aspirations are so high right now.
Penn State Was Overrated From The Start
Joe Lister: I don’t think Penn State was overrated, I just think it underperformed. This is a damn good football team (I have deja vu) that had the misfortune of playing two of the country’s best teams. Penn State absolutely should have beaten at least one of those teams, but the value of this Penn State roster does not change with those losses. It took two teams that would’ve made the playoff most years to the fourth quarter. There’s something to be said for that.
Still, 10-2 is disappointing.
CJ Doebler: Looking back, I think it was. Penn State lost the two games that it came into as the underdog. When looked at that way, it’s hard to be terribly upset with the result. However, when the seventh-ranked team in the country plays the third-ranked team in the country, the seventh-ranked team should probably do better than 1-16 on third down. I don’t think the issue was with the players, though. We’ve only seen two games without Yurcich and they weren’t against teams that were even close to the caliber of Ohio State and Michigan, but things looked better. Everything changes next year, though, and I think the Nittany Lions will be better off because of it.
Nolan Wick: Penn State underperformed. That team was fully capable of beating Ohio State, and, at least making it very close against Michigan at Beaver Stadium. As we covered earlier, the defense was championship-caliber this season. There were too many offensive weapons that weren’t utilized properly, and if they had been, it’s hard to imagine the Nittany Lions being anything worse than 11-1. While 10-2 is still a great accomplishment, Penn State was capable of more this season.
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