Three keys for Penn State in 2016
Leading up to the start of the 2016 season, we’ll preview three key factors for every B1G team to have success.
Here are Penn State’s:
1. Just be average up front
The Christian Hackenberg era is in the past. No longer will the storyline be about whether or not the PSU line shows up and whether or not Hackenberg survives 60 minutes. It’s a new era, and inevitably, PSU won’t allow three sacks per game. Joe Moorhead’s system, at the very least, will decrease that number.
Still, the line HAS has better.
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Matt Limegrover’s presence will help. The former Minnesota assistant inherited a line that should have some continuity to it. Brian Gaia and Andrew Nelson have to be the anchors of a line in need of a new identity. Four of Penn State’s starters have game experience, which is something the Lions haven’t had in years past.
Penn State has more talent at the skill positions than it’s had in a long time. The Lions are loaded with All-B1G candidates at receiver and tailback, and it appears they have a stud in Trace McSorley. Nobody is saying Penn State needs to start churning out All-Americans up front. But if PSU can just be average, it’ll pay major dividends.
2. Develop play-makers on defensive line
It’s easy to forget that Penn State was sixth in the country in tackles for loss. If not for Carl Nassib going down, the Lions could’ve been even better. Well, defensive linemen Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel are off to the NFL. Those guys accounted for a whopping 43 percent of PSU’s tackles for loss.
Garrett Sickels is the only returning starter back. He’ll obviously have to do more than he was asked to last year. He and Evan Schwan have to consistently hurry quarterbacks to take some pressure off PSU’s secondary on deeper routes.
You’ve heard all offseason about the competitions at defensive tackle. Now, Parker Cothren and freakish sophomore Antoine White have some big shoes to fill. White could develop into an All-B1G talent, but he’s still only a sophomore.
It’s natural for inexperienced defensive linemen to struggle getting off blocks. Penn State can’t afford to have that happen.
3. Don’t put it all on Saquon Barkley
Ok, I know we’re all high on the sophomore. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him on an All-American team before he leaves State College.
But PSU doesn’t want to get caught being spectators to the Saquon Barkley show. In other words, the Lions can’t turn to their tailback to save them when they’re down 14 points in the fourth quarter. He also can’t be expected to carry the ball 30 times per game.
I mention this because I think that’s what led to LSU’s downfall last year. Leonard Fournette was the first and only option on that team and when the Tigers finally met a defense that could contain him, nobody knew what to do. LSU went from a national title contender with a Heisman Trophy candidate to a three-loss team that nearly fired its coach.
Moorhead asks a lot of his feature tailback. There are going to be stretches when Barkley simply can’t find running room. PSU can’t be one-player dependent. McSorley doesn’t seem like the type of guy that would let that happen.
Barkley wants to touch the ball as much as possible. He even said that he wants to play on special teams. There’s nothing wrong with having a superstar who wants to put the team on his back. But PSU won’t break into the upper echelon of the B1G East by putting all of its stock in a second-year tailback.