Some neeeded changes have begun for Lions
BY BRAD HURLEY
Negativity has filled the brisk autumn air throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after yet another “big game” loss for the Penn State football program.
The Nittany Lions are now 3-17 against top 10 teams during the James Franklin era and 4-16 against Ohio State and Michigan. It’s obvious that those results are not good enough and that changes within the program need to be made.
Some of those changes have already been set in motion with the firing of offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich - who had to fall on the sword for an offense that has looked anemic at best in Penn State’s biggest games of the year.
For the Nittany Lions’ faithful who are hoping for coach Franklin to be relieved of his duties after this season, I can almost guarantee you that is not going to happen. If it takes care of business, PSU is in line for another 10-plus win season, and I believe it’s the stability that Franklin has delivered for the program that has earned him a lot of clout with the Penn State administration.
Who will be the next offensive coordinator is anyone’s guess, but a long list of candidates has already been spread around by media and fans alike. Names like, Joe Brady (Buffalo Bills interim offensive coordinator), Joe Moorhead (past PSU offensive coordinator, current Akron head coach), Kliff Kingsbury (past Texas Tech and Arizona Cardinals head coach), Sean Lewis (Colorado offensive assistant), Will Stein (Oregon offensive coordinator) and many more have been prophesied.
With a lot of offensive talent returning next season, to say this next OC hire might be the most important hire of coach Franklin’s career would be a definite understatement. As for who will call the offense now, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and tight end coach Ty Howle will pair up to call the plays.
Simply put, the plan moving forward with the offense I believe will be to simplify. Get the ball to your playmakers in space as much as you possibly can. Establish the run and don’t abandon the run and like Franklin has reiterated frequently over the past week. Also, Penn State needs to get Drew Allar going early with some easy throws and completions in order for him to establish a rhythm. Also, like I say every week, utilize the terrific tight ends and get Nicholas Singleton the ball in the passing game or on the edge in the run game. Singleton is a home-run hitter, and I don’t believe he has been put in the best positions to succeed this season.
But enough of the negativity. Let’s talk about something positive and that is the performance of the Penn State defense this season.
The Nittany Lions’ defense has proven that it is indeed a championship-caliber unit, and the numbers back that up. The defense gave PSU a chance to win against both Ohio State and Michigan, giving up 20 points to the Buckeyes and 24 points to the Wolverines. The Nittany Lions rank second in the country in total defense (239.7 yards per game), fourth in scoring offense (13.1 points per game), second in rushing defense (77.2 yards per game), second in sacks per game (3.8) and first in turnover margin (+15). Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has yet again done a great job with this unit and week in and week out the defense has done its part.
No. 12 Penn State (8-2) and its elite defense will take on a Rutgers’ offense this afternoon (Noon, FS1) that has had its fair share of struggles this season and is coming off a 22-0 shutout loss to Iowa last week.
The Scarlet Knights (6-4) average just 24.1 points per game and rank 11th in the Big Ten in total offense (310.5 ypg) and 12th in passing offense (140.9). Rutgers has been able to run the ball well at times with Kyle Monangai (942 rushing yards, 7 TDs), but the PSU defense has been very stingy against the run this season. Rutgers also has been able to protect the passer as it is allowing less than a sack per game. However, the Scarlet Knights don’t look to throw the ball much, so that stat is pretty skewed, and as noted the Penn State pass rush has been very good.
Las Vegas has Penn State as a 20.5-point favorite.
While the Rutgers defense has been solid this season, ranking in the top 20 in both scoring defense and total defense, its offense has been too one-dimensional. If the Nittany Lions can keep the Scarlet Knights run game in check and force them to throw the ball, Penn State should come away with a few turnovers and some short fields.
I do think the offensive coordinator change will invigorate the offense and you will see them move the ball.
My pick is Penn State 34, Rutgers 10.