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Penn State Nittany Lions 2017 Preview: State of the offense

Penn State’s offense went from bland to explosive in 2016. What does Joe Moorhead’s crew have in store for us in 2017?



One of the biggest complaints of the James Franklin era was that Penn State’s offense was bland, boring and hurting the chances for future success. It didn’t take too long for Franklin to also see what the fans and pundits were seeing.

So, last offseason he made a big move and hired Fordham head coach Joe Morehead as his offensive coordinator. The thinking was, if Moorehead could make the Fordham team in to an offensive juggernaut, he should be able to do the same.

Boy was Franklin right, as Penn State’s offense became one of the most explosive in the country, let alone the Big Ten. It jumped up the scoring and passing charts and the run game stayed its steady and explosive self as well.

Preview Posts: Lessons from 2016 |

But, that was last season and now is as good a time as any to look forward to the season ahead. So, let us start with the most surprising unit on this team in 2016 — the offense.

How will the Penn State offense look in the second year under Joe Morehead? Let’s take a look in to the state of the 2017 offense.

Key Players Returning: Trace McSorley, QB; Saquon Barkley, RB; Steven Gonzalez, RG; Mike Gesicki, TE; DaeSean Hamilton, WR
Key Players Gone: Chris Godwin, WR


The Good News Is…

This team is going to be absolutely loaded in 2017 on offense. Not only does star running back Saquon Barkley return, but so does star quarterback Trace McSorley. The latter finished last season third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, while also pouring on 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns to just eight interceptions.

Penn State’s offensive line is largely intact and deeper than ever before. Heck, even the wide receiver group, which lost Chris Godwin appears ready to not miss a beat. What, with names like DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Tompkins and Saeed Blacknall all back to catch passes. That doesn’t even include tight end Mike Gesicki, who was second on the team in receptions last season.

The Bad News Is…

All of that talent equals a whole heap of expectations for the Nittany Lions in 2017. How do you top last season? After all, this was a team that scored 37.6 points, rushed for 171.9 yards and passed for 260.7 yards per game en route to a Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl.

That team came out of nowhere, especially following some sputtering on both sides of the ball to start the season. It isn’t like the Nittany Lions are going to have an offense that surprises anyone in 2017 at all. A full season of tape on basically the same players means defenses have a big opportunity to get hip to Morehead’s offensive scheme.

We’ll see just how Morehead tweaks things now that he also has his players in place and a full year in the offense for players like McSorley and Barkley. Expecting a repeat at the levels that this offense hit late in the season may be a bit much, but that won’t stop fans or pundits from demanding it to happen and that’s the bad news.

The Good News Is…

Trace McSorley did all of that good work we mentioned earlier in just his first year as a starter at the collegiate level. One year of experience and all but one of his biggest weapons back in the fold and you have the makings of a really dangerous quarterback on your hands.

It is not a stretch to say that Moorhead and McSorley make a really dangerous combination. Part of it is the fact that McSorley fits exactly what Moorhead wants out of his quarterback and the other part is that McSorley is wise behind his experience level. So many times last season we saw him making the smart play, rolling out of the pocket and throwing a ball away or taking yards he could get on the ground instead of going for the spectacular play. That’s how you get to a 29-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio like McSorley did last season.

We all know expectations are going to be high, but if there is a reason to believe those levels can be met, it is because what we saw from McSorley was just a start and not the finish to his career. Big Ten defenses beware…I mean, look at what he did to the B1G’s best in Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game for starters.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

The Bad News Is…

Well, given all that good news above, it is time to nitpick a little bit. While there was a bevy of talent at wide receiver and plenty of receptions to go along, the graduation of Chris Godwin brings up a good question…where are all the touchdowns going to come from in the passing game in 2017?

Godwin took his 59 receptions, 982 yards and 11 touchdowns — all team highs — and bolted for the NFL draft. Gesicki was the next best touchdown option, recording five TD’s to his name. No other receiver recorded more than the three that Saaed Blacknall did, and in fact, all other wide receivers came up with just six touchdowns last season.

That means, explosive plays are going to have to come from someone. But, it isn’t all bad news really, because there are so many options available, and plenty of touchdowns to go around. This one is more of an intriguing situation than a “bad news” situation if you ask me.

What it All Means

It is hard to go in to the 2017 season and not look at Penn State’s offense as the best the Big Ten has to offer. It has the best running back, arguably the best overall quarterback and one of the best overall offensive lines in the league.

Saquon Barkley is likely to challenge for a rushing title in the Big Ten (at a bare minimum), Trace McSorley could be the No. 1 passing threat in the league and he has plenty of weapons around him. That’s all good news given a schedule that features tricky trips to places like Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan State (back-to-back weekends).

For the Nittany Lions to win in 2017, this offense needs to not miss a beat from where it ended the 2016 season. Things aren’t going to be as easy as they were last year for the defense and that means it is time for the offense to carry the load from the get-go.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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