If you’ve been following along this week, you already know the story.
Penn State started the season strong, rising as high as No. 4 in the country by mid-October. The defense was the highlight to that point, but the offense, even with massive warts, looked to be well past the debacle that was the 2020 season.
Before the fateful injury, Clifford was on his way to having one of the most efficient seasons in the country. But of course, after that, everything came down crashing. Clifford’s efficiency was able to mask the inability to run the ball, but, after getting hit like a punching bag and no longer being able to make up for the lack of running game, teams figured out what they needed to do and, well, did that.
As you saw from the coaching preview, Mike Yurcich actually wants to run the ball about as much as he throws it, even if that “close to 50/50” ratio is well above what Penn State fans are used to seeing (at least if you fell asleep in 2011 and hadn’t woken up till now). So not being able to run the ball actually skews what the offense should look like this season, and one assumes that is going to be the focus of summer camp once it comes around.
The Nittany Lions lost two offensive linemen in Rasheed Walker and Mike Miranda, the former of which went to the Packers in the 7th round, and first rounder Jahan Dotson. They brought some transfers to address the vacancies in the lines and receiver, both of which are on campus and in the thick of the competition.
Scheme-wise, I don’t expect much to change in the coming season, outside of actually focusing on the success of the running game. Can the retooled line prove to be the thing they need to be successful? That will remain to be seen.
Quarterback: Sean Clifford
Some people insist, maybe even hope, that one of the younger guys will see time as the season goes on. After all, Clifford has been serviceable, but not elite! The reality of the matter is simple, however: Unless Clifford is injured, he’s not going to get benched.
Besides, prior to being injured last season he was doing an admirable job commandeering an offense that had no running game, in any sense of the imaginable concept. Factor in the inherent benefit of coaching continuity, and we may see more improvement out of the veteran quarterback still.
All that said, were the wishes of some come to realize, expect Christian Veilleux to be the guy, as Franklin won’t likely risk the future for the present.
Others to watch: Christian Veilleux, Drew Allar, Beau Pribula
Running Back: Keyvone Lee, Nick Singleton
Like quarterback above, a lot of what may ail the running game may very well be consistency from the offensive line. But, the inability to muster 100 yards rushing in a game in all of 2021 left a lot to be desired out of a group that was expected to be a strength last season.
The most consistent of them all, Lee, returns in an expected “starting role until the five-star guy takes over” capacity, unless he is able to keep Singleton at bay this season. If the spring game is any indication, Lee is ready to fall forward instead of dancing around in the backfield.
Singleton was not the only back with a ton of hype coming out of high school. Kaytron Allen held his own in spring practice as well, and Caziah Holmes, who redshirted last season, is also ready to contribute. Can 2022 be the year where the massive depth at running back pays dividends?
Others to watch: Kaytron Allen, Caziah Holmes, Devyn Ford
Wide Receiver: Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, KeAndre Lambert-Smith
Penn State lost Jahan Dotson to the NFL, so the staff got busy in the portal and brought in Mitchell Tinsley and his 1400 receiving yards from a season ago. He and Parker Washington should have the bulk of the receiving yards in 2022, with Lambert-Smith too far behind.
Malick Meiga showed flashes of what he can do last season, so expect an increased role in 2022. And, I’d be remiss if I wrote this and didn’t mention the possibility of Big Brother Clifford throwing to Little Clifford as one of the storylines to watch in 2022.
Others to watch: Malick Meiga, Kaden Saunders, Liam Clifford (yes relation)
Tight End: Theo Johnson
Depending on who you ask, either Theo Johnson or Brenton Strange has the position locked up. What’s certain is that both of them, along with Tyler Warren, are sure to see their fair share of snaps at tight end. And who knows, maybe when they line up Warren at quarterback again he might even throw the ball!
Others to watch: Brenton Strange, Tyler Warren, Jerry Cross
Offensive Line: Work In Progress
For what seems to be an eternity now, Penn State needs to figure out its offensive line before any and all progress on offense can be made. Will continuity in coaching make a difference?
Penn State brought in Hunter Nourzad from Cornell to add depth to the position, but this won’t be decided until late into summer camp. And, with how Penn State likes to keep flexibility on the line, it’s possible that some people see more time as backups than they do as starters.
Regardless of what combination ultimately sticks, Penn State needs production from the line, or all the struggles we saw from a year ago will rear their ugly heads yet again in 2022.
Probable starters: Olu Fashanu, Landon Tengwall, Juice Scruggs, Saleem Wormley, Caedan Wallace
Gonna see playing time: Bryce Effner, Nick Dawkins, Hunter Nourzad, JB Nelson