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B1G 2018: Penn State Nittany Lions Coaching Changes

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Exodus - How Will Coaching Departures Impact Penn State’s 2018 Season?

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Poll

Which Coach will prove the biggest loss for Penn State?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Coach Gattis - Recruiting will suffer...there’s a reason Alabama hired him away.
    (72 votes)
  • 39%
    Coach Moorhead - Are you even kidding? PSU’s offense will implode without him. Everyone knows less head is the worst.
    (92 votes)
  • 18%
    Who cares...as long as that shyster James Franklin is heading this disaster, PSU is toast.
    (43 votes)
  • 11%
    Pete Mote - Because Penn State ain’t Midwestern Enough. Now pass the Malort.
    (28 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now

Penn State’s success in 2018 will come down to an untested coaching staff. This team will have a different sideline than last year.

Which is okay, because I thought Penn State under-achieved in 2017.

Last year was a great season, don’t get me wrong. Penn State finished 11-2. We punched out Michigan 42-13 in front of an epic White Out. We blew out Maryland in a demoralizing 66-3. We had an epic brawl with Iowa that ultimately fell our way. And we ended up the Fiesta Bowl champs with a strong win over a good Washington Huskies team.

Here are some stats:

· PSU averaged 41 points per game and gave up just 16.5 points per game

· We outscored opponents 160 to 23 in the first quarter

· And 305 to 98 in the first half

· PSU gained 2,570 yards on the ground but only gave up 1,893 yards

· PSU put up 3,772 yards through the air but only gave up 2,749 yards

· We fumbled the ball 8 times and lost it 3 times

· We committed 54 penalties for 490 yards.

· Our average punt was 42.4 yards!

In all, those stats reflect a solid season. A good season. Fans can sit back and reflect on a good year.

But four points separated us from a good season and a great one.

I entered 2017 with high hopes. The team looked great. We lost a few quality players to graduation – notably wide receiver Chris Godwin and linebacker Brandon Bell.

We had a fantastic recruiting class, good enough for fifteenth in the nation.

We returned a truck load of starters on offense in quarterback Trace McSorley, wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, and DeAndre Thompkins, tight end Mike Gesicki, and running back Saquon Barkley.

The senior heavy defenses sported two outstanding linebackers in Manny Bowen (remember, this was at the beginning of the season) and Jason Cabinda. The secondary looked to be one of the fastest in the conference.

The big question marks, to me at the start of the season, were the offensive and defensive lines.

Once the season began, we found out that…of the two, offensive line was the biggest issue. And before you get your blue and white panties in a bunch, hear me out…

Saquon Barkley is an “above average” tailback. Yet 35% of his runs resulted in a stuff of 1 yard or less. He racked up lots of negative yardage. There are two reasons for that:

· Teams sold out to stop Saquon.

· On every third attempt, our offensive line failed to make a hole large enough for Saquon to get more than one yard.

That’s no Bueno.

There will be offensive line apologists who blame a lot of those losses on Trace giving him the ball late. But there is no reason…NO REASON…an athlete like Saquon Barkley should fail one attempt in three.

I would submit that result as evidence that our offensive line wasn’t great in 2017. If you want an excellent perspective on the offensive line woes over the years, read this:

And yes, we can hang at least some of that on our lack of blocking effort by our star tight end. While Gesicki did make a slew of sick catches, his blocking was less than optimal.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Gesicki brought far more to the table than his lack of blocking skills took away. But as a fan who watched him all season, he missed a lot of blocks. Sometimes he looked hesitant. Sometimes he looked confused. His misses usually resulted in blown up plays.

This year we have neither Barkley nor Gesicki...

However, we may have our best offensive line in years.

Coach Limegrover has a lot of work to do with the offensive line to improve this group. Of all the groups, Blocking, both upfront by the line and on the perimeter by Gesicki, were the weak points in this team.

That should change this year. Here’s a quote from Bscaff, one of the my favorite football analysts:

That will help us this year. And we’ll need it, because the offseason got ugly, with regard to coaches.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t begrudge any of the players or coaches who left. I’m excited for the next step in their careers. Barkley, who left with a year of eligibility, will do great things in the NFL…and get paid to do them.

However, the coaching staff took a huge hit.

We lost Joe Moorehead, the brilliant offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He stepped in as a relative unknown from a tiny school. Many folks laughed at the hire. Interviews I saw left me intrigued, but cautious. Then we saw what he could do with the players on the field. I was blown away…and so were some AD’s.

Here’s another quote from Bscaff over at Black Shoe Diaries:

Moorehead turned down head coaching jobs after his first year. But when Mississippi State came calling during this offseason, he went. He took running backs coach Charlie Huff, who had revamped PSU’s special teams from “joke” to credible.

Rather than hire from outside, Coach Franklin elevated Ricky Rahne to offensive coordinator. Rahne was Moorehead’s pupil for the last two years. He coached the bowl game and demonstrated a solid hand on the offense. Penn State put up 35 points against a good Washington team.

My big concern is the rebirth of the dreaded “wildcat” formation.

We’ll see how that goes this season, but I think he will be a good fit. As an aside, sometimes Rahne’s twitter feed is funny as hell, if you like dad jokes.

The next coaching loss was just as bad. Big Bad Alabama snapped up recruiting specialist and wide receivers coach Josh Gattis. This is a huge hit to our recruiting, as Gattis helped bring in four classes in the Top 25 in the nation. Scout.com named him Big Ten Recruiter of the Year in 2015.

We also lost recruiting coordinator EJ Barthel, who went to Albany to coach running backs. This hurts, as Barthel had a strong connection to schools in New York and New Jersey, two of PSU’s recruiting staples.

Recruiting improved dramatically over the past few years. You can see what I mean in this list. It shows total team points and average rankings from 247 Sports...

2018 - Total Points: NA; Average Player: 91.7; National Rank: 5

2017 - Total Points: 779; Average Player: 87.9; National Rank: 19

2016 - Total Points: 742; Average Player: 85.4; National Rank: 20

2015 - Total Points: 732; Average Player: 85.4; National Rank: 21

Losing two of our best recruiters hurts, particularly Coach Gattis. He coached players like Jordan Matthews at Vandy. Under his tutelage, Chris Godwin set a record for touchdowns as a junior and DaeSean Hamilton became the all-time reception leader.

He recruited guys like Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins, KJ Hamler, Cam Sullivan-Brown, and Mac Hippenhammer.

This was a big loss. To fucking Alabama. Hey Coach Gattis – I still love you man. Even after the sellout.

However, we are picking up talent to replace these guy

Ja’Juan Seider replaces Charlie Huff at running backs coach. He came from University of Florida (suck it gators). He’s a top 30 recruiter, according to 247 Sports (for whatever that’s worth). He already landed a four-star running back, Devyn Ford for 2019. However, he has impressed our existing running backs with his aggressive style. New OC Rahne appreciates coach Seider’s experience with the spread offense.

To replace Gattis at wide receiver coach, we plucked David Corley from the aerial juggernaut that is Army. Actually, last year, Army tied the school record for wins at ten. Before his stint at Army Corley coached running backs and was the special teams coordinator at UConn.

Corley made an early impact on recruiting. He helped land five star running back Ricky Slade and four-star wide receiver Daniel George for 2019.

Thanks to the massive talent departure to the NFL draft, I see 2018 as an opportunity for many underclassmen to step up. We will see a crop of redshirt freshmen (and true freshman) on the field for Penn State this year. That means coaching will be critical.

The best thing going for us is that quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stephens both stayed. That gives us a deep roster at that critical position. McSorley, for all his perceived douchiness by certain “writers” and fans, is an excellent quarterback.

Named Fiesta Bowl MVP in 2017 and Big Ten Championship MVP in 2016. He holds the most passing yards in a Big Ten Championship (384 yards) and most passing touchdowns (4). He holds Penn State records:

· Single season passing yards – 3,360

· Single season total yards – 3,979

· Single season passing touchdowns – 29

· Single season 300-yard passing games – 5

· Consecutive games with a touchdown pass – 27

More importantly, he’s the guy I want on the field at the end of a close game. Which is a huge switch for me. For years, I chafed at the idea of needing the offense to win us a game. I ALWAYS wanted guys like Sean Lee, Mike Mauti, and Dan Connor on the field at the end of the game. It probably goes back to watching Pete Giftopoulis stop Miami cold at the goal line.

Penn State fans suffered through some bad quarterbacking over the years (Anthony Morelli, Rob Bolden, and even Christian Hackenberg). I hated needing our offense to win a game. And then, we got Trace McSorley.

He wants to win so badly, he damn near wills the team into winning. He nearly pulled out a win at the Gator Bowl Game against Georgia. He’s as cool under pressure as any player I’ve ever watched. I yell. I scream. I groan with agony. He doesn’t even flinch. The kid is the best two minute, it’s all on the line, college quarterback I’ve ever seen. Period.

That means fledgling OC Ricky Rahne has something to rely on in his first year. That fact alone gives me some faith coming in to the 2018 season.

Obviously, with a new Offensive Coordinator and a big shakeup in offensive position coaches, there will be changes in 2018. And with the departure of a boatload of talent on the offensive side of the ball, much more weight will fall on these new coaches.

Under normal circumstances, I’d label this a rebuilding year for the Lions and set low expectations.

However, I’m impressed by the caliber of the new hires. Ricky Rahne was an internal hire, so he won’t make sweeping changes to the offense. And he has what appears to be the best offensive line in years along with a strong 2-deep at quarterback.

To me, that signals at least 9 wins in 2018.

Your Friend,

Townie