Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Penn State Nittany Lions, Part 2, Offense

David Fidler Correspondent IJune 19, 2012

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Quarterback Matt McGloin #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks to pass against the Florida Gators January 1, 2011 in the 25th Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Last week, I got my feet wet with Penn State, looking at the program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Nits will do this season.

This week, I'll look at the 2012 Penn State offense.

Offensive Overview

2011 scoring offense: 19.3 PPG (11th in the conference), total offense: 342.4 YPG (10th), rushing YPC: 4.17 (sixth), passing efficiency: 101.95 (12th)

Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 6.2

Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: first (2008)

Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 11th (2011)

Returning starters: QB Matt McGloin, QB Rob Bolden, RB Silas Redd, WR Justin Brown, WR Devon Smith, C Matt Stankiewitch

Open positions: WR, TE, OL

Offensive formation: Multiple

Offensive philosophy: Probably possession

Passing scheme: Probably possession

Rushing scheme: Probably pro

Offensive Breakdown

According to Comcast Sportsnet New England, Bill O'Brien "wants no part of watching tape of last year's PSU offense. The team will study film of the 2011 New England Patriots' offense and after spring drills the offense will study tape of spring practices."

Most Penn State fans would view that as a good thing, as recent Penn State offenses under Joe Paterno have been anywhere from superb in 2008, when the offense was loaded with upperclassmen, to embarrassing last year.

The problem is Bill O'Brien's offense at New England was far more complex than most college athletes have the time or ability to grasp, and was predicated on the talents of a future Hall of Fame quarterback.

In effect, do not expect Penn State 2012 to look like 2011 New England, but it will look more like 2011 New England than 2011 Penn State.

First of all, according to quarterback Matt McGloin via CBS Sports, there will be, "A lot more audibles, a faster pace." Incidentally, according to McGloin, he audibled fewer than ten times last season.

Second, the Pats are, and have been, known for the no-huddle offense. Expect to see that out of Penn State.

Third, PSU will make use of its play-makers. According to O'Brien via, "we’ll spread the ball to the tight ends, the receivers, the backs. Hopefully, it will be very balanced."

In short, more scheming, more of an attempt to create mismatches and more taking advantage of those mismatches.


As anybody that has watched the New England Patriots at any point over the last decade knows, it all starts with the quarterback. And, if last year is any indication, that is not good for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State's issues with its two quarterbacks have been well-documented.

In 135 passing attempts last season, Rob Bolden completed less than 40 percent of his passes.

Matt McGloin was the better of the two, completing 54 percent and finishing 2011 with a 118.34 passer efficiency rating. However, McGloin was still the third-worst passer in the Big Ten, with a true freshman and a converted receiver as the only worse passers.

Given that both McGloin and Bolden regressed from their 2010 performances, it is evident that the problem was the system and not the individuals.

Unlike Paterno, who refused to name a true starting quarterback for the better part of the last two seasons, O'Brien has already named Matt McGloin his starter.

Along with McGloin and Bolden, sophomore Paul Jones is also in the mix.

The question is will a new coach and new system fix what ails the Penn State signal-callers?

If not, it's going to be a long season in Happy Valley.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 12

Running Backs

Penn State returns arguably the second-best individual running back in the Big Ten in Silas Redd.

Despite all of PSU's troubles last season—offensive and otherwise—Redd managed 1,241 yards rushing for 5.09 YPC and seven touchdowns. Imagine what he could do if opposing defenses had to fear PSU's passing game.

As the only established playmaker on Penn State's offense, look for O'Brien to do everything in his power to get the ball into Redd's hands.

According to the  Penn State's depth chart, released June 5, sophomore Bill Belton is No. 2 behind Redd. No. 3 is senior Derek Day. Belton and Day combined for 20 carries last season, with most of Day's opportunities coming in early season garbage time. Belton, on the other hand, grabbed meaningful late-season carries against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Houston.

Finally, sophomore Zach Zwinak is No. 4 and, at 6'1", 226 pounds, he could see carries in short-yardage situations.

The fullback will be senior Michael Zordich, whose father was a standout Penn State linebacker in the mid-1980s. Zordich has gained a good amount of experience despite having yet to start a game.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Five

Pass Catchers

The good news is that Penn State returns three of its top four pass catchers. The bad news is that the top pass catcher for the last three seasons—Derek Moye—has exhausted his eligibility.

6'3", 210-pound senior Justin Brown will be McGloin's top target, and will look to improve upon his 35-reception, 517-yard junior year performance.

Despite a recent brush with the law, 5'7", 150-pound speedster Devon Smith is still listed as a starting wide receiver, and O'Brien has repeatedly expressed faith in Smith. In 2011, Smith had 25 receptions for 402 yards.

Finally, sophomore Allen Robinson—three receptions, 29 yards in 2011—was listed in the third starting receiver spot over the more experienced senior, Shawney Kersey.

No other receiver on the depth chart has more than three career catches to his name.

Meanwhile, Penn State fans' most hotly discussed position, outside of quarterback, is tight end. The reason for this is due to the success New England's tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, had under O'Brien.

PSU has not fielded a tight end of significance since Andrew Quarless graduated following a 41-reception performance in 2009.

The Nits most experienced tight ends heading into 2012 are senior Garry Gilliam—one career reception—and junior Kevin Haplea—six career receptions.

Nonetheless, the biggest surprise following spring practices was the emergence of redshirt freshman Kyle Carter, who was listed as a first-team tight end over Haplea. According to O'Brien via, "One guy that no one ever asked me about is Kyle Carter. This guy had a really good spring. He’s an athletic guy that goes up and catches the ball. We’ve got to find a role for this guy on the team.”

The Nits have talent at the pass catcher positions. Now, it will be a matter of bringing that talent to the field.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Three

Offensive Line

With only 17 returning starts, PSU's offensive line ranks as one of the least experienced in the country.

The majority of those starts belong to returning center, senior Matt Stankiewitch. The only other Penn State offensive linemen that boast anything resembling experience are junior guard John Urschel and senior tackle Mike Farrell.

The aforementioned depth chart listed the starting line (from left to right) as: sophomore Donovan Smith, sophomore Miles Dieffenbach or junior Mark Arcidiacono, Stankiewitch, Urschel and junior Adam Gress.

Farrell is currently listed as the second-team right tackle.

It would help the young offensive line if PSU had an established passing game, but that is not the case.

Having to learn a new offensive system won't make it any easier.

The good news is that new offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has tons of experience. Hopefully for Penn State fans, that experience pays immediate dividends.

Also, new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald will be key for the offensive line. According to the Altoona Mirror, "the offensive line stands to benefit and improve perhaps more than any other unit from Penn State's new strength and conditioning program."

The problem is strength and conditioning takes time, and probably won't be enough to propel the inexperienced PSU line to immediate respectability.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 11

Offensive Outlook

If Penn State had a proven quarterback, if the Nits had an experienced offensive line, if PSU had established playmakers at wide receiver and tight end, if the Lions weren't breaking in a new, and presumably more complex offensive system, if Penn State's offense hadn't been laughable last season.

There are so many "ifs" heading into 2012, it's hard to believe Bill O'Brien will get half of those "ifs" straightened out by September.

I expect Matt McGloin to perform better than at any point in his collegiate career. Anything would be an improvement over erstwhile quarterback coach Jay Paterno's tutelage and play calling. However, the offensive line will struggle mightily, which will cut into what McGloin and Silas Redd can and can't do.

The passing game will improve from last season, but the rushing game will struggle.

In the end, 2012 will be a transition year for the Penn State offense. It might be slightly more productive than the 2011 offense, but only slightly.

Coming next Tuesday, an overview and breakdown of Penn State's defense.


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