Three keys for Penn State in 2015
Gone are the sanctions and the hangover from the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky fallout. Now, James Franklin and the Nittany Lions can just worry about football, an area they made an important stride in last year. Expectations are high once again in Happy Valley. Here’s what needs to happen to see those expectations met.
Block, block, block
Much was made about the offensive line struggles Penn State had last year. A young, inexperienced group was exposed by the bevy of physical front fours the Big Ten slate brought. As a result, no team in the conference surrendered more sacks. That’s expected to be a different story this year. Four Lions starters return on the line while junior college transfer Paris Palmer should be a steady option to protect Christian Hackenberg’s blind side. Many felt last year’s group was an offensive line away from being one of the conference’s best. The same is true in 2015, only this year’s unit will have a better chance to plug that missing hole.
Establish some ground attack
Hackenberg and All-Big Ten receiver DaeSean Hamilton will be at the top of every scouting report. A consistent rushing attack would alleviate some of that pressure on Penn State’s 1-2 punch. The Big Ten’s last-ranked ground game could use a boost. That’ll be on the shoulders of Canadian tailback Akeel Lynch, who led the team with 678 yards. Penn State’s anticipated improvement up front should pay off for Lynch and fellow backs Mark Allen, Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas, all of whom will enter their second year in the system. Franklin’s offense will still be pass-reliant, but it’d be surprising to see it approach the nearly 2:1 throw-to-run ratio it finished at last year.
More of the same
The Penn State defense kept the offense alive in a handful of games it probably shouldn’t have been in. Remember that the Lions pushed the eventual-national champion Buckeyes to the brink in a two-overtime thriller. A simple repeat of last year’s dominance could be enough to move them into the upper half of the mighty Big Ten East Division. All-everything defensive tackle Anthony Zettel is back to anchor a group that could be the league’s best. After an offseason diet, he might even be at his best. Austin Johnson is also returns for a defense that finished third in the country against the run. The road slate won’t be kind to the Lions (at Ohio State, at Michigan State), but if the defense takes another step in 2015, nobody will be looking forward to them coming to town.