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B1G 2021: Penn State Cocktail Party Preview

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The 0-5 first half or the 4-0 second half: Which is the real Penn State? And, in 2021...does it matter at all?

Illinois v Penn State
We need a goofy “coaches can’t wear masks” retrospective.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

i there everybody! I’ve got some good news and some bad news. It’s Penn State week! And because we seem to have a scheduling hiccup, I’m here to roll out the drink cart and the scrapple to get things started.

Which is the good news and which is the bad? Well, I’ll let you decide that.

Did I watch any Penn State football games last fall? Sure! I watched the 2nd half of the Indiana game, and I saw a bunch of highlights on BTN.

Am I the best person to do this? I’d be Lion if I said I was, but nobody else opened up the editor so here WE ARE! Let’s get through this together. Somehow.

Giddyup!

The 2020 Season

Holy shit, what was that? 4 wins in a row to end the season is nice, if you ignore the fact that you started 0-5 and lost to Nebraska and Maryland.

The Offense

The 2020 season was no time to break in a new offensive coordinator to put their fingerprints over a program, but that’s just what PSU did. James Franklin, smarting from the beating at the hands of Minnesota in 2019, went out and brought in Kirk Ciarrocca.

Without a spring or regular preseason to get everyone on the same page, the offense went out there and finished 3rd in PPG (29.8), 2nd in YPG (430.3), and 7th in YPP (5.46). Unfortunately, the offense also 3rd in most turnovers (17) and couldn’t figure out which QB between Sean Clifford and Will Levin was the right choice. Oh, and Journey Brown missed the season and then retired from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

So Franklin responded by firing Ciarrocca after one broken, abbreviated season to take pressure off himself. The only thing I’ll say in defense of Franklin here is that Pat Freiermuth was spectacularly underused last season, but even that deserves the caveat of EVERYONE KNOWS THAT CIARROCCA DOESN’T USE TIGHT ENDS! Bringing in a guy who doesn’t utilize your best offensive weapon feels like an act of incompetence, but that’s just me.

The Defense

Let’s see...reigning Butkus-Fitzgerald LB of the Year Micah Parsons sat out. That’s bad. You can’t easily replace a guy like that, right?

Well, PSU still finished 4th in YPP allowed (5.06, which is over 5 and is kinda bad), 6th in PPG allowed (27.7, which again...kinda bad). and 9th in turnovers forced with 9.

I’m sure there are some PSU fans who will read this and start screaming about the offense putting the defense in bad positions, and I’m sure that’s true. But that’s not good enough when you look at the talent that PSU has accumulated on defense and then see that the team allowed 35 points to Maryland, 30 to Nebraska, and 41 to Iowa.

IOWA!!!

I’m sure that Franklin responded by firing Brett Pry and/or Tm Banks as well, so everything will be just fine as long as the new coordinator can install his scheme before the season. (Note: James Franklin did not fire Brett Pry, but Tim Banks ended up at Tennessee.)

Special Teams

MNW: What up, you good-lookin’ fans of a raggedy-ass cat?

If there was one thing I trusted out of Penn State special teams in 2020, it was potential for the big play. Lamont Wade and Jahan Dotson ran back a kick and a punt, respectively, and Doston’s back for 2021 while Wade took his talents to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jordan Stout is one of the best kickoff specialists in the country (84% TB rate), and K Jake Pinegar was, in 2019, almost automatic. ST Coach Joe Lorig has weapons here.

Of course, there are cracks, too. Stout is the “long FG specialist” for Penn State but...I mean, not really accurate, while Pinegar is a career 50% shooter from 40+. Stout brings a good leg punting, but isn’t liable to bang too many over 50 yards and struggled with consistency in spring practice.

2021 Schedule

All right, so...yeah. Holy shit. That is a schedule.

There’s nothing like letting new OC Mike Yuricich ease into things by starting the year at wisconsin. And scheduling Auburn? Good grief. Why? No. Why? The other two non-conference games, Balls Tate and Villanova, should provide a good opportunity to get wins and iron out issues, but that’s one hell of a 1st 4 game stretch.

The crossover games are the previously mentioned badger game, at Iowa, and Illinois. That is some ugly stuff and y’all need to figure out which deity you’ve offended to earn that and offer some animal sacrifices to fix this. Woof. And we all know that they’re going to put that Iowa game as a 7 PM kickoff and have a blackout.

We’ll learn a lot from Indiana’s trip to Beaver Stadium, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be about Penn State. We all already know what’ll happen on the trip to Ohio State, and the revenge game at Maryland the week after that will be a pretty telling game about the state of the program. The schedule wraps up with a nice, easy Michigan-Rutgers-at MSU push that should let the coaching staff focus on the early signing day and whichever bowl game they get to, but that’s assuming that the coaching staff is still around after the season.

Once again, y’all may want to try some animal sacrifices. This one has the potential to have a few real clunkers in there.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any bright spots. WR Jahan Dotson is amazingly fun, TE Pat Freiermuth might get the ball thrown to him more than three times a game(whoops), safety Jaquan Brisker had a breakout 2020, and there’s (as always) some real potential at RB (Paging Noah Cain) and on the OL (Hello, Rasheed Walker).

But last year was very disappointing and there will be plenty of challenges to getting things back on track. Franklin needs to respond in a big way if he wants his name bandied about for big jobs like USC after this season again like it was a lifetime—2 years!—ago.

When talking to a Penn State fan...

Do mention: Uh...wrestling? Ice cream, maybe? Your appreciation of 50-year old mascot costumes? Scrapple. They definitely like scrapple. We’re pretty positive on this.

Don’t mention: Basketball—they’d just be confused. Settling for mediocrity, probably.