After a rather disappointing season for the Nittany Lions, many questions still remain in the air for many fans. Finishing the season with a record of 9-4, Penn State heads into the offseason trying to put the pieces back together of what they once had.
First of all, let’s not be too dramatic. A 9-4 season after losing players such as Marcus Allen, Mike Gesicki, Dasean Hamilton and oh a guy you may have heard of Saquon Barkley, means the season wasn’t a total failure. What the Lions failed to do is really pick up any momentum in the season. They finished only having one ranked win versus Iowa around mid-season. Ohio State and Michigan State once again spoiled the season, giving them back to back losses for the second straight year. Throw in a blowout loss to Michigan and a loss in the Citrus Bowl to Kentucky and that equated to a 5-4 finish to the season. So let’s see what needs to be addressed this offseason.
With one of the most remarkable careers in Penn State history in the books, Trace McSorley took off the blue and white for the last time. That leaves the QB position to fan favorite Tommy Stevens. This season Stevens was used mainly as a wideout, usually on a screen to add some trickery to James Franklin’s playbook. But now it’s time for him to step into the spotlight. The question is how good is Tommy Stevens? It’s hard to say. We’ve seen flashes of greatness and we’ve seen less than stellar play. However, the kid always seems to find a way to get the crowd into the game and he’s easy to cheer for. Listed as a 6’4″ dual threat QB, Stevens is going to have an above decent season. Franklin’s system fits perfectly for a QB like Stevens. Now, the pressure is on. He’s only thrown for 304 yards in his Penn State career. And right behind him will be sophomore Sean Clifford, a 4-star recruit out of Ohio who has shined in limited playing time. So while the position is limited in experience, there is potential at the quarterback position.
Honestly, this is a very hot subject. Some people believe Franklin is a great coach that brought a program back from the trenches of hell. Others see him as a coach the treats the game like he is playing Madden. Whether it was the running play on 4th and 5 at the end of the always classic Penn State vs Ohio State game, or the fake punt in your own territory in the Citrus Bowl. The play calling is a concern, but the recruiting is thriving under him. And that train isn’t stopping as the 2019 and 2020 classes are highly ranked, too.
Franklin deserves a break. Yes, sometimes he’s very frustrating. However, let’s not forget what he has done for the program. He’s trying to establish a true identity and taking risks to become that “Elite” team he loves to talk about. Fans should take a deep breath and realize the man lost some of the best players in the country, had a gap year (this year), and now it’s time to put his recruits to the test.
The defense was young, and they got better as the year went on. I’ll be the first to admit watching the Lions go to overtime with App State the first game of the year was as concerning as it gets. Especially considering they were coming off of a Fiesta Bowl season the previous season. However, you have to remember that they lost a lot of players to graduation and the draft. Yes, players such as Shareef Miller & Kevin Givens are leaving for the draft this year. But other than that the defense is returning almost all its players. The young players, such as Jayson Oweh, will benefit greatly from the experience they gained playing on the big stage. And apparently Micah Parsons is good at football. Who knew? The freshman was outstanding this year. He will be an even greater force next and a leader on defense. As the year went on and the younger players gained more experience, they played much more man coverage rather than zone coverage. Expect that trend to continue.
Goodbye, Miles Sanders, and hello Ricky Slade. The Slade era is upon us. Sanders was the next RB up after Barkley, and decided that all he needed was one year as a starter, before heading off to the NFL draft. And to be fair, that is a smart decision on his part
Listen to this: in the four games the Lions lost, Slade had five touches. Through all four games. Five. Coincidence? Maybe not. The game he shined most was against Illinois, a 63-24 drubbing of the Illini. He had 10 touches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. That was a glimpse of what is to come. This year he got adjusted to the big stage and is now ready to put up big numbers for State. With such an explosive acceleration, when he hits his top speed not many people in the country can catch him. Behind him is sophomore Journey Brown, who also had some touches this season. He was originally seen as above Slade in the depth chart, so the talent is there. He’s hands down one of the fastest players on the team. Also, Noah Cain, a 4-star RB from IMG Academy, just committed to State. So look out Georgia. You’ve got some competition for Running Back “U”.
Who is going to step up?
Let’s cut to the chase. Every school needs an impact player. The Lions have found that player in KJ Hamler. In the moments of doubt, Hamler found a way to give the Lions life again. In the game, the crowd, and the heart of the valley, he’d give you a reason to be on the edge of your seat every time he touched the ball. He ended the season with 754 yards and six touchdowns. However, it’s its not the numbers. It’s the excitement factor that gets Lions’ fans hopeful about him. He has the potential to be their top offensive playmaker going into next season. Slade will obviously have a larger work load. But KJ can be that home run threat.
Someone else that the Lions need to find a way to get back in the groove is Juwan Johnson. He battled injuries on and off all year, so health is paramount. But he is a great second or even first option receiver, when you are running short or mid routes. Finally Stevens will have to become a leader and try to fill the shoes McSorley left behind.
With Urban Meyer gone, Harbaugh being Harbaugh, and Wisconsin on a little bit of downfall, you will see the Lions in the Big 10 championship. And to take it a step further, don’t be surprised if they’re playing in a New Year’s 6 bowl. You heard it hear first.