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Closing Arguments 2021: Penn State Nittany Lions

Better Than Last Year...Better than Auburn?

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

I. Case History and Opening Statement

Gentle reader, I would posit that the 2020 Penn State Nittany Lions football season was an aberration…a one-off…a never to be repeated experiment in ineptitude.

Instead of focusing on the disastrous 0-5 start of the season, instead consider the 4-0 finish. Mistakes were made in 2020, that’s true. But don’t set 2021 expectations solely on a Covid-infested dick trip of a season.

It was Penn State’s first losing season since 2004. They won’t repeat in 2021.

A. Case History

Penn State had lofty expectations for the 2020 season. In 2019, the squad finished second in the Big Ten and lost a heartbreaker to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.

But when Covid hit, the NCAA allowed players to sit out the season. Micah Parsons, who many expected to have an All-American caliber season in 2020, took that route. And that had a significant impact on Penn State’s defense.

In addition, everyone expected the running back room to be the strength of the team. Instead, health issues took down the first three starters. Journey Brown retired due to heart problems. Noah Cain got hurt on the first series of the season. And Devyn Ford got dinged up early on as well.

That left two true freshmen as the featured backs…hilarity ensued.

And that complicated an already shaky offense, thanks to a big coaching change. Penn State brought in Kirk “Fade to the Corner of the Endzone” Ciarrocca as new offensive coordinator tried to install a new offense via Zoom.

Apparently, quarterback Sean Clifford missed the meeting, because he took a major step back from his 2019 performance.

Maryland v Penn State
Clifford struggled with turnovers in 2020
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Worst of all, PSU barely fielded a defense in the first part of 2020. The defensive coordinator tried to put a common human into a scheme designed for all everything LB Micah Parsons.

That…didn’t work out.

Penn State bumbled to a disastrous 0-5 early record, before Head Coach Jimmy Franks took a more hands on approach. They lost to Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska, and Iowa.

No team scored fewer than 30 points against Penn State in the first five games. And Iowa put up 41 points in a total curb stomping at Beaver Stadium.

It was embarrassing.

Then they went into the Big House and handed Harbaugh a hilarious beat down.


The Long Con continues at Michigan...

Penn State then went on to win back-to-back to back-to-back games. It was a good stretch against mediocre competition. But that brought the final record to a disappointing 4-5 on the season.

It’s understandable that you, gentle reader, believe they won’t do much better this year.

The team needs to replace a lot of starters. Six players went on to the NFL, including linebacker Micah Parsons as the #12 pick overall.

The defense more than just Parsons. A pair of starting defensive ends in Odafe (Jason) Oweh and Shaka Toney moved on. And three legit stars are gone from the offense. The interior offensive line lost two stalwarts. Center Mike Menet and first string guard Will Fries are gone now. And they lost one of their quarterback’s top targets in tight end in Pat Friermuth.

However, I submit that the 2021 team will be much improved and back to its 2019 form.

B. Opening Statement

We need to embrace change in 2021. That started with the coaching staff.

On January 8th, the headline read:


Ciarrocca wasn’t a good fit...pandemic, turnovers, and injuries not-withstanding. Penn State’s offense ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten in the red zone efficiency and touchdowns.

Yurcich brings a “point scoring” mindset to Penn State’s offense. Penn State hasn’t ever brought in a

Sadly, Urban Meyer and the NFL lured tight end coach and recruiting savant Tyler Bowen to Jacksonville. So, Jimmy promoted Ty Howle. He was a former offensive analyst in 2020.

Finally, co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks moved on to be the DC of Tennessee. Penn State went out and poached Anthony Poindexter from Purdue to fill that gap.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Minnesota at Purdue Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Poindexter was a two-time consensus All American at Virginia and a 2020 College Football Hall of Fame inductee. He’s now the co-DC and safeties coach.

II. Discovery: What We’ve Written About Penn State This Off-Season

Some folks wrote some things. Our PSU writers couldn’t really muster a wet fart of content for it though. Thanks to MNW, BRT, Thump and Green Akers for contributing this content.

Mgmt note: Would you like to write about Penn State football and/or basketball for Off Tackle Empire? Write a Fanpost and/or drop MNW a line at minnesotawildcat at gmail dot com. Thanks to Townie for carrying the torch during retirement!

They know fuck-all about Penn State Football, but they did put pen to paper or something:

In all, it ain’t much Gentle Reader. Certainly not enough to gauge a stalwart program’s re-emergence in 2021.

III. Schedule of Events

Holy Jumping’ Moses, that’s a tough row to hoe.

IV. Emotional Plea

Gentle reader, I submit that the 2020 season was a disaster in many ways. And a glass half empty view of 2021 will linger on the flaws potentially uncorrected, the loss of vital players (and coaches), and the general ennui of Penn State existence.

However, I urge you to take the glass half full side of the equation.

Penn State returns 9 of 11 starters on offense, including senior quarterback Sean Clifford.

Michigan v Penn State
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

It has a strong running back room with John Lovett (transfer from Baylor), Noah Cain, and Keyvone Lee all named to the Doak Walker Award watch list. And it features one of the Big Ten’s leading receivers in Jahan Dotson. He’s on the Maxwell Award and Biletnikoff Award watch lists.

Illinois v Penn State
Keyvone Lee will be outstanding in 2021
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

More important, we should see Phil Trautwein’s influence on the offensive line. After an interminable stint under Matt Limegrover, we should see a marked improvement this year (glass half full…glass half full…).

Tight ends will be sneaky good this year. Brenton Strange is on the Mackey Award watch list. But 6’6” Theo Johnson is a beast with excellent hands.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Penn State at Rutgers
No arm tackling our giant tight ends
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The team returns 7 of its 11 starters on defense. And it will have one of the most talented secondaries in the Big Ten. Five (5!) cornerbacks have playing experience. Tariq Castro Fields leads a deep and talented group. Watch out for Joey Porter Jr., this will be his breakout year.

At safety, standout Jaquan Brisker is on the Jim Thorpe Award, Bronko Nagurski Award, and Bednarik Award watch lists.

The defensive line is inexperienced, but talented. Only PJ Mustipher is back from last season. But he’s a beast.

Curtis Jacobs played linebacker as a true freshman last year. Expect him to be an improved starter as a sophomore. Junior Brandon Smith looks to build on a solid season last year, opposite Jacobs.

But the truly B1Ggest player on the 2021 roster is #99 on the field but #1 in our hearts…punter Gabe Nwosu. This freshman punter is 6’6” and tips the scales at 302 pounds.

If you can’t get excited by a man-mountain of a punter, are you even a B1G fan?

V. Verdict

Well Gentle Reader, this is it. The illustrious (ahem) “riters” of OTE expressed their checkered opinions of our beloved Nittany Lions below:

Now it’s your turn.


What will Penn State’s 2021 Record be?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    12-0 and get bent Buckeyes
    (38 votes)
  • 13%
    11-1 and get bent Auburn
    (35 votes)
  • 44%
    IDK 9 or 10 wins, but a solid season
    (111 votes)
  • 21%
    6 to 8 wins with a lot of drama
    (54 votes)
  • 3%
    Another losing season! Get Bent Jimmy Franks
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    No wins, Pete Mote, I root for rutger
    (4 votes)
252 votes total Vote Now


How many ranked teams will PSU beat this year?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    None. Suck it PSU
    (18 votes)
  • 14%
    1 (probably Indiana)
    (29 votes)
  • 6%
    1 (probably Iowa)
    (12 votes)
  • 27%
    2 but not Ohio State
    (54 votes)
  • 24%
    3 but not Ohio State
    (48 votes)
  • 19%
    4 (Penn State HOMER)
    (38 votes)
199 votes total Vote Now


Who Ya Got? PSU vs Auburn

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    War Damn Eagle!
    (39 votes)
  • 80%
    Fight On State!
    (157 votes)
196 votes total Vote Now

Your Friend,