Penn State has reached the midway point of its season, and has a bye week before No. 2 Ohio State comes to Beaver Stadium for a Saturday night showdown Oct. 22. It’s a good time to take stock of what has transpired for the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) and what might lie ahead.
New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead brought his no-huddle spread offense to Happy Valley after a very successful run at Fordham, and the results to this point have been encouraging.
Six quarters into the season, the new-look Penn State offense had some of the same problems as the previous incarnation. The second half against Pitt provided a glimpse of the explosive plays this collection of skill players could unearth, assuming the line provided some protection and new quarterback Trace McSorley made the correct decisions.
Before the Maryland game two Saturdays ago, most of the best moments for the offense were big plays; sustaining drives to that point had been a problem in several contests. But against the Terps, the Nittany Lions dominated the clock, churning out several impressive possessions and holding the ball 10 minutes longer than Maryland.
Here is a look at Penn State’s offensive standing thus far this season:
|BY THE NUMBERS||2016||Big Ten rank||NCAA rank|
|3rd down %||27.4%||14th||123rd|
|20+ yard plays||35||2nd||T-20th|
|50+ yard plays||7||1st||T-8th|
McSorley struggled a bit with ball security early, but he nearly lead a massive comeback against Pitt, did direct a comeback against Minnesota and terrorized the Terps defense with great decisions on option plays and with his ability to scramble when the play broke down.
QUARTERBACK GRADE: B
Saquon Barkley had 5 touchdowns against Pitt and multiple highlight-reel juke moves in just about every game, but he did not really dominate a game until this past week against Maryland. Barkley did everything, from grinding out key yards and keeping the team on schedule to ripping off huge runs and helping out in pass protection. He also authored the rare “run the ball up the middle for a touchdown” two-minute drill when he went 70 yards on three plays in 26 to build a 24-14 halftime lead en route to the 38-14 win over the Terps.
The other backs behind Barkley have been used sparingly, and haven’t had much of an impact. Freshman Miles Sanders’ potential is enormous and evident, but he’s had fumbling issues. The wide receivers have just one carry this season, a departure from the previous play-callers — Penn State’s wideouts ran the ball 23 times last season. Barkley’s ability to help in pass protection gives this grade a little boost. He has become one of the most complete players in the nation at this position.
RUNNING BACKS GRADE: B-plus
As expected, Joe Moorhead’s offense is spreading the ball around through the air. Four guys have between 18 and 23 catches, and Barkley has 11. Tight end Mike Gesicki has been a reliable option and has a chance to collect the most catches at the position in a long time. Andrew Quarless had 41 receptions in 2009, and Gesicki, with 23 catches currently, is on pace to surpass that.
Saeed Blacknall has been injured and DaeSean Hamilton’s influence has been inconsistent, but DeAndre Thompkins has provided strong play behind them and No. 1 receiver Chris Godwin. Irvin Charles may have saved the season with his 80-yard touchdown against Minnesota.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT END GRADE: B
The offensive line has continued to be one of the most analyzed and scrutinized in the country. It’s also improving. Pitt and Michigan combined for 10 sacks, but the line surrendered only four total sacks in Penn State’s four wins.
The line needs to help Barkley out a little more on running plays, though teams have been designing defenses to dare the Nittany Lions to throw. When the Terps didn’t do that, Barkley and McSorley ran all over them. This group does face a significant challenge with right tackle Andrew Nelson likely out for the season after suffering a leg injury against Maryland. But at the same time, the line has also made significant progress from the past two seasons.
OFFENSIVE LINE GRADE: C
Penn State averaged 34.6 points per game in the five games that didn’t involve the nation’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense (Michigan). Ohio State has the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, so that will be a good litmus test to see how much the offense has improved in the past few weeks.
OVERALL GRADE: B-minus
Check out the grades for other aspects of Penn State’s 2016 season: