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2019 Penn State Football: Cocktail Party Preview

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Meeting a Penn State fan? Here are the dos and don’ts for the Nittany Lions’ 2019 season: Talking “Portalled”, White Outs, and a stand-out defense.

NCAA Football: Penn State Blue-White Game
Yep, /checks notes...this is our new QB
Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Penn State week, baby!

That means its time to sober up the Wisconsin fans.

It’s time to talk football. Let’s all take a deep dive into the heart and soul of Keystone State football.

It’s a heavy heart. We thought the loss of Saquon Barkley was tough…but damn. This year’s departures cut deep. We’ll get to that and more in a minute. But first, let’s talk about Trace McSorley’s HeismanAll AmericanChampionshipFirst Round Draft Pick…ahem final year.

2018 – Hey…What Happened?

The preface to this season begins at the end of 2017. Saquon Barkley goes to the Giants. Mike Gesicki, our outstanding tight end, goes to Miami. DaeSean Hamilton goes to Denver...

Six players drafted, thirteen on rosters. A lot of talent gone.

And our coaches left, too…

The magic man, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, became head coach at Mississippi State and took running backs coach Charlie Huff with him. And then co-OC, WR coach, and recruiting specialist Josh Gattis headed for Alabama.

That put a huge hole in our offensive capabilities…or so we thought.

You would never know it from the start of the 2018 season. It was a hell of a start, anyway: Penn State opened the season by scoring 222 points in the first four games. Yes, that IS an average of 55.5 points per game.

And yes, dropping 51 points on Pitts is awesome, no matter how shitty Nardouchebag’s team is.

That start set all of our expectations fairly high. The fifth game, against Ohio State, started off with a bang.

I can rewatch KJ Hamler’s huge catch and run to go up two touchdowns on repeat. It seemed like everything was working…except we just couldn’t keep the Buckeyes out of the endzone at the end. Hat tip to Dobbins and Haskins. Those last two touchdowns by Ohio State fall firmly on PSU’s defense.

Then came the problems: Dropped balls by normally sure-handed receivers…over and over and over. Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins were supposed to be the next Allen Robinson and DaeSean Hamilton.

But they weren’t. And the more balls they dropped, the fewer balls went their way. Then McSorley got dinged up against Iowa. That was the start of real trouble.

The next game he went 5 of 13 for 83 yards as Michigan simply blows us out. It was a brutal, ugly game. And Trace simply wasn’t himself for the rest of the season, which sucked.

Worse yet, we lost to Kentucky in the bowl game.

Overall, it ended up a good season. We went 9-4 with losses to the 3 B1G East powers – Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State (pre-injury-riddled relic). The loss to Kentucky in the bowl game just goes to show that even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes (you SEC boot lickers).

Here’s what you can expect this year.

2019 – Offense: Portalled as a Verb

No more of this guy…

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

...he transferred to Oregon.

And no more of this guy…

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Kentucky vs Penn State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

...because Trace McSorley is now a Raven.

And no more of his backup either…

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

...because Touchdown Tommy Stevens is now a Missississippippi State football player.

And no more of this guy…

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Kentucky vs Penn State Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

…because Miles Sanders is now an Eagle.

That leaves [/checks depth chart]…no one with more than garbage time experience at quarterback.

In short, you haven’t seen this PSU offense before, because neither have we.

Going into 2019, we expected senior starters at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver. We saw three critical transfers in Stephens, Johnson, and Polk. More senior leadership in running back Mark Allen and tight end Danny Dalton bailed for other schools.

That means our offense heading into the season looks nothing like what we expected it to after the bowl game. Our four quarterbacks are Sean Clifford (Rs So), Will Levis (Rs Fr), Taquon Roberson (Fr.) and Michael Johnson (Fr.).

We can’t afford any injuries. None. At. All.

Running back looks equally young. Ricky Slade (So), Journey Brown (Rs So), Noah Cain (Fr), and Devyn Ford (Fr). Youth at running back isn’t bad when they get the ball. However, teaching them to pass block usually takes a while. Let’s hope this group learns quickly…

Wide Receiver looks the same, with projected 2-deep Justin Shorter (Rs Fr), Daniel George (Rs Fr), Jahan Dotson (So), KJ Hamler (Rs So), and Mac Hippenhammer (Rs So).

There isn’t a kid with more than sophomore eligibility in the two-deep at any skill position on offense. The only experienced players I can see are on the offensive line. And that terrifies me. Thankfully, guard Steven Gonzalez (Sr), tackle Will Fries (Rs Jr), and center Michal Menet (Rs Jr) can anchor the offensive line. Long Penn State’s achilles heel, this year’s team looks more than serviceable.

And we’ll need it to keep our young quarterback alive.

What do we expect?

2019 – Defense: Aha! There’s the Can of Whoopass...

If the offense is a cipher, the defense is a known commodity. And it looks damn good. Brent Pry took the reins of this defense in 2016 (I see ya Bob Shoop…) and never looked back. He produced a 7th-ranked defense in 2017. His crew led the nation in sacks per game and finished fourth for tackles for loss last year.

Get ready for 2019. Pry and DL coach Sean Spencer have got a particularly nasty-good bunch this year.

We look so good on paper that some fool at Bleacher Report put us at #2 in the country. But Micah Parsons and Yetur Gross-Matos inspire that kind of hyperbole.

The truth is, your offensive line better be stout and quick…or we’re going to kill your quarterback. Our front seven will be as good as anybody in the country.

This truly is a fantastic defense. Some names to watch: Robert Windsor and Antonio Shelton. When your running back gets stuffed up the middle, expect one or both of those names to be called. Indiana fans probably remember Shaka Toney, who sacked their quarterback four times last year.

In the defensive backfield, I’m looking for senior John Reid to have his best season ever.

What do we expect?

2019 – Punting/Special Teams

To summarize 2018, Penn State’s special teams...

We lost onside kicks. Fell for fakes. Botched fake punts. Missed extra points. Allowed kickoff return touchdowns.

Not great indeed.

In the loss to Michigan State, special teams gave up a first down on a fake punt. And they nearly gave up a first down on a fake field goal.

In the Citrus Bowl alone, special teams botched a fake punt (one of several on the season), missed two field goals, and gave up a punt return for a touchdown.

So we went out and got a rock star. Joe Lorig was the special teams coordinator at Memphis in 2016 and 2017. He’s a 22 year veteran who has produced some All-Americans and award winners on special teams. Memphis’ Tony Pollard was the special teams player of the year in 2016 and 2017. Kicker Jake Elliott was a Lou Groza Award semi-finalist as well.

Prior to Joe Lorig coming to Memphis, the Tigers hadn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1997. Under Lorig, returner Tony Pollard had seven, to tie the NCAA record. That Memphis team didn’t allow a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown while Lorig was there. And they ranked second in net punting.

Yeah, we got a rock star.

And he’s got talent to work with…starting with our punter, Blake Gilliken (Sr). Gilliken punted 64 times for 2,813 yards and a 43.95 yard per punt average. He’s the best punter in PSU history by career average (43.3 ypp). He’s dropped 37 punts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, including 12 last year. And he’s the only Nittany Lion punter to ever have six punts of 65+ yards. The Citrus Bowl was his masterclass. He averaged 51.2 yards per punt and had one go 71 yards. That last broke Bob Campbell’s record from 1967 for his 68-yard punt.

So I’m stoked about our punter and our special teams in general. Lorig has a strong resume, he has talented kids to work with…I expect a much better showing out of that segment this season.

Do Mention:

White Out! Playing Nails at tailgates, Ali Krieger and Alyssa Naeher, Arts Fest, Café 210, Meyer Dairy, Zeno’s, Men’s lacrosse, Saquon’s Espy, Yetur Gross Matos, Blake Gilliken, the defense, Micah Parsons!, Wild Dogs, Brent Pry and the defense.

Don’t Effing Mention:

Michigan. Ye Olde College Diner, new skyscrapers, Beta Theta Pi hazing, Tommy Stephens, quarterbacks in general, the fucking transfer portal, and SEC douchebags.

Your Friend,

Townie