The Penn State Nittany Lions’ offense will look completely different for the James Franklin-led squad in 2016.
Gone is record-setting quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Gone is offensive coordinator John Donovan.
Gone is offensive line coach Herb Hand.
Trace McSorley will inherit the Penn State offense left behind by Hackenberg, this after Franklin named McSorley the starter Wednesday. For the first time in the three years Franklin has been the head coach, he’ll be able to play a quarterback who is designed for his system, a quarterback who is a dual-threat type of player.
Replacing Donovan will be former Fordham University head coach Joe Moorhead, who was hired prior to the TaxSlayer Bowl on January 2nd. Moorhead will provide Nittany Lion fans with an up-tempo offense very similar to what Bill O’Brien ran in his NASCAR package during his tenure at Penn State. Moorhead will be tasked with getting the most out of an offense that has severely underachieved in the Franklin era.
With Hand gone, Matt Limegrover has stepped in to fill the void leading the offensive line. The offensive line has struggled in recent years as a result of NCAA sanctions, however, at Minnesota, Limegrover’s lines always performed in the top half of the country statistically.
Let’s take a look at the tools Moorhead and company will be working with this fall:
Hackenberg is now in the NFL with the New York Jets, leaving behind big shoes to fill for the next quarterback of the Nittany Lions. McSorley played a significant amount of time in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia when Hackenberg left the game due to injury.
The beauty in this year’s Penn State quarterback depth chart is the guys on the chart — Jake Zembiec, Tommy Stevens, Michael Shuster, Billy Fessler and McSorley — are all quarterbacks who should fit into Moorhead and Franklin’s system better than Hackenberg could.
It’s now McSorley’s team and his time to shine in the offense Moorhead has installed. His performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl gave a glimpse of what to expect from the redshirt sophomore; he completed 14 of 27 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Irvine Paye is the “most experienced” running back on the roster based on eligibility (he’s a junior); the rest of the running backs are all underclassmen. While Paye has been on the team the longest, he finds himself buried behind a plethora of quality running backs.
Saquon Barkley took Nittany Nation and the country by storm in 2015 as a true freshman and has continued to marvel since.
— Josh Gattis (@Coach_Gattis) August 9, 2016
The now sophomore is primed to continue his successes after a freshman campaign that saw him run for 1,076 yards. Joining Barkley in a loaded backfield this season will be Mark Allen, Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson. Of those three, Allen has the most experience as a redshirt sophomore, however, Sanders and Robinson could compete for playing time as freshmen.
The depth of the backfield behind an improved line could provide big dividends for the Nittany Lions during Big Ten play.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The wide receiver/tight end corp for Penn State boasts two 1,000-yard receivers in DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin — they hit the mark in the last two seasons, respectively. With McSorely throwing the ball to them, they’ll be sure to spread out the field, opening lanes for the running backs and, potentially, their quarterback.
Quality depth at the receiver position is something the Nittany Lions have lacked since NFL standout Allen Robinson was torching Big Ten defenses in 2012 and 2013. Saeed Blacknall and Chris Polk look to be the beneficiaries of the spread-out field Godwin and Hamilton could create this fall.
At tight end, Mike Gesicki is the lone player to get extensive time on the field in an actual game. As the elder statesman of the group, Gesicki will be responsible for setting the tone of the tight ends play this season, a position which has been lacking in recent years due to injury.
Led by Limegrover, the offensive line will look to improve on a season that saw them allow 10 sacks in a single game against Temple.
At tackle, the Nittany Lions have the most experience with Andrew Nelson, who has been a starting tackle in the past, as well as tackle project Paris Palmer, who played there some last season. Sophomore Chance Sorrell looks to see an improvement in his playing time for a unit that struggled last season.
Wendy Laurent, who projects to be the starting center for the Nittany Lions, looks to anchor the guards this fall. Laurent could potentially be flanked by Brian Gaia and Brendan Mahon, both upperclassmen who saw a quality amount of playing time last season. Hot on their tails will be freshmen Ryan Bates and Michael Menet, two linemen who have impressed coaches throughout spring ball and training camp.
The offensive line has the most improvement to make for Penn State this fall and with the addition of Limegrover and some experienced cogs in the interior, it should do just that.
Stay tuned for a preview of Penn State’s defensive position groups.
Image credit: Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports