A Glimpse at the Penn State Offense
Last week I explored where the Penn State defense stands and what to expect on the defensive side of the ball this season. Another blow to the defensive line with the retirement of Torrence Brown will put even more pressure on a Nittany Lion offense that lost many key play makers to the NFL. Senior leadership from quarterback Trace McSorley headlines a group that has a lot to prove. Let’s take a glimpse at the Penn State offense for 2018.
The senior starting quarterback has garnered national attention entering the 2018 season. He has been named to several Heisman watch lists. Further, Kirk Herbstreit announced his college football favorites this past week and McSorley and the Nittany Lions were in nearly every category.
In addition, Herbstreit stated for his Heisman Trophy pick, “Trace McSorley. How about it? He’s the Baker Mayfield of this year as far as intangibles, what he means to this team, attitude, how he plays with a chip on his shoulder.” Comparing McSorley to last season’s Heisman winner and eventual first overall NFL draft pick puts a lot of pressure on the senior to perform without Saquon Barkley, DaeSean Hamilton, and Mike Gesicki. If anyone is up for the job it is the quarterback that was told by everyone, except James Franklin, that he would never play quarterback in college.
Who will McSorley throw to and who will line up next to him in the backfield? These are all questions that Penn State fans have been pondering all throughout winter, spring, and summer.
The Pittsburgh, PA native has a lot to live up to playing behind Barkley for the past two seasons. The junior is ready to show the Penn State faithful and the country that he is his own running back. While he may have learned a lot from Barkley, he is not him. Head coach James Franklin boasted about the maturity of Sanders. Franklin stated, “I think he’s going to have a big year. I think we’re going to have a lot of production out of our running back position.”
Sanders comes into the 2018 season with 375 rushing yards and three touchdowns over the last two seasons. What a lot of fans remember most about Sanders though is his affinity to drop the ball. Specifically, when he fumbled the opening kickoff against Rutgers two seasons ago. This is not 2016 and Sanders is not a freshman.
He is now the leader of the running backs. This is a role that he has embraced according to offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne. He praised the junior back stating, “He’s a guy who has always been a little bit in the background for obvious reasons, but I think he’s stepped out and really gone into a leadership role.” Sanders himself stated that he has grown, not only physically, but mentally. He believes that he is ready to take on a bigger role.
Sanders will not be alone in the backfield. He will be joined by redshirt senior Mark Allen, redshirt freshman Journey Brown, and true freshman speedster Ricky Slade.
Johnson made headlines when he caught a walk-off touchdown pass from Trace McSorley against Iowa a season ago. The redshirt junior broke out of his shell that game and became a legitimate target for McSorley. A role that he will look to expand on this season without DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki.
Juwan Johnson comes into the 2018 season with 771 receiving yards and one touchdown in his career. The confident receiver came in second on the team last season with 54 receptions. He is another player, like Sanders, biding his time behind playmakers for the last few seasons. He also had to wait for his opportunity to shine.
Offensive coordinator Rahne stated, “He’s a great player. I think he’s the guy that wants the ball in critical situations.” The receiver that nobody knew until Kinnick Stadium has big hands, great feet, and size that play to his strengths. Johnson is the receiver that McSorley needs to make contested catches and turn up the field to make a big play.
There has been a lot of speculation as to who will take over for Mike Gesicki, the standout tight end that will now play for the Miami Dolphins on Sundays. Redshirt junior Jonathan Holland looks to be the guy to try to fill Gesicki’s very large shoes. He missed the Blue-White game due to injury. But Franklin has stated that Holland has been the best blocker throughout camp this summer.
Holland comes into 2018 having caught passes against Georgia State, Iowa, and Michigan State in 2017, for a combined 16 yards. Without seeing him play very much, the first real look that fans will get is in the opener against Appalachian State on September 1st.
Other potential playmakers
Justin Shorter: True freshman receiver
KJ Hamler: Redshirt freshman receiver
Mac Hippenhammer: Redshirt freshman receiver
Nick Bowers: Redshirt junior tight end
Penn State and college football fans alike will get their first glimpse at the Nittany Lions offense without Barkley, Hamilton, and Gesicki against Appalachian State on September 1st in Beaver Stadium.