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Penn State Football: The Nittany Lion Offense Will Still Be Explosive, But Will It Still Be Crazy?

on May 18, 2017 1:45 PM

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.

Of the many big picture questions that orbit around the Penn State football program this offseason, none gently tug on the narrative quiet as strongly as the most obvious.

Can Penn State do it again?

In truth that's probably a question that the Nittany Lion coaching staff is asking itself, if for no other reason than sustaining success is inherently difficult. All things being equal, one has to like Penn State's chances of having at least a comparatively similar season in 2017. The schedule is manageable, the roster is largely unchanged and Penn State's staff avoided any major postseason shifting.

So the question becomes less if Penn State can win, and more how does Penn State goes about doing it.

It stands to reason the comeback routine is unlikely to work well again, if for no other reason than sooner or later Penn State will run into more teams like USC, teams that show signs of life when the third and fourth quarters are taking place. Penn State winning the Big Ten was in the very least a semi-plasuable best-case prediction, how Penn State went about doing it was something else all together. It seems unlikely that lightning will strike twice in that fashion.

And those comebacks, they were largely predicated (at least in part) on incredible seemingly unbelievable plays. Think about the most impressive play you saw last season, chances are that it wasn't high probability. Take Chris Godwin's first touchdown in the Rose Bowl for example. Trace McSorley ran backwards, scrambled around the pocket and threw a pass that gave Godwin just enough room to navigate the sideline and catch the ball after breaking through coverage.

Or think of Godwin's second touchdown, a bobbled ball that he managed to hang on to, stay in play with, and score untouched.

Maybe it's Saquon Barkley doing any number of the incredible things he did.

Or Grant Haley picking up a blocked field goal that just so happens to bounce perfectly off of a fantastic block from Marcus Allen.

To be sure, Penn State had plenty of success on offense that was far less unbelievable. The Nittany Lions have been a big play threat under Joe Moorhead, and big plays are inherently impressive to watch. That being said, there is a difference between big plays, and some of the jaw-dropping-can't-believe-that-worked plays that Penn State had last season.

So when people ask "Can Penn State do it again?" what they're really asking, can they do it like that again.

The answer is that they probably won't have to.

"I think it's a combination of factors that allow it to happen, and a lot of those factors, we still have," Franklin said of those big plays while on the final stop of the Coaches Caravan last week. "An improved offensive line, which is what we had last year and we're going to have, I think, this year, allows us to hold onto the ball longer, an improved running game, which allows you to suck people up and create one-on-ones with guys like Saquon Barkley in the backfield, Mike [Gesicki's] kind of a unique tight end; I've been doing this 23 years, and I'm not sure I've ever been around a guy like Mike."

"He's got wide receiver athleticism in a big body, so it has to do with a lot of factors; a quarterback that has mobility and can buy time; you look at the play that Trace made against Minnesota to Irv, it's all those factors that I think allowed us. What Joe's [Moorhead] doing offensively, and then a combination of those other factors."

And Franklin is right, Penn State looks to be a better team in the areas that lend itself to a more familiar brand of explosive football. McSorley won't -- in theory --  have to run around the pocket as much because the protection will be better. Barkley won't have to dance in the backfield as much because the blocking will improve as well. Penn State's receivers will benefit from both of those things and are still plenty talented (although somewhat unproven) without Godwin.

On defense there are questions but also plenty of answers and much more experience.

If anything this is a good sign for Penn State, those comeback victories and incredible broken plays are impressive, but it's no way to go about living life. And if they can be just as good and do it with far less dramatic flare, Penn State might just be on to something in 2017.

"If you take one of those ingredients out of it, then it's going to be difficult to replicate in the future, but I think because we're still explosive at the wide receiver position," Franklin added.  "We have a running back that's going to going to cause problems for people, [and] now you put our receivers and tight ends to be one-on-one, so I think we have a pretty good chance to be explosive this year because of all those factors are still returning."

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