Rudel: Offensive scheming has fallen short
There have been several, of course, but I’m going with the overall coaching in general and specifically the offensive preparation.
Barring the roof falling in the form of second-straight loss to Temple, most thought it was a distinct possibility that the Nittany Lions would limp into October at 2-2.
So that’s not overly disappointing.
The way the Lions got here, though, definitely is.
A realistic gauge of their progress in this, James Franklin’s third year, was going to be answered on the road, at Pitt and Michigan, and the Nits were down a combined 56-17 at halftime in those games.
That speaks directly to game planning, pre-game preparation, motivation, inspiration and any other “tion” you can find.
You can point to other aspects, like the Mike Munchak, Brad Benson and Sean Farrelless offensive line or the wide receivers who have really underachieved in the clutch, but teams already outmanned can’t be down 28-7 and 28-0 on the road.
And that speaks to the top.
If you’re keeping tabs at home, and you are, the Lions have been outscored 147-57 in the first half of their last seven road games.
There’s more to road preparation than pumping in crowd noise at practice.
A deeper look raises questions about the staff’s ability to function when there are clutch opportunities.
On the heels of failing to call timeout at Northwestern last year, which melted the clock and wiped out the Lions’ last breath – and with it what could have been their best road win of Franklin’s tenure – came a team that was not emotionally prepared for Pitt.
To their credit, the Lions battled and could have won – we’re now seeing a Pitt defense that can’t stop anyone – but there was no coming back at Michigan, which was too powerful.
Franklin panicked twice against the Wolverines, failing to patiently punt from midfield early, which could have flipped field position, and then kicking a field goal – after burning a timeout, for crying out loud – while down 28-0.
Not even he could talk his way out of that gaffe.
Joe Moorhead was supposed to be a difference-maker, and maybe he will be. With the exception of the splattering in Ann Arbor, the offense has been better.
But it’s not been this NASCAR hybrid that was going wear defenses out and bring excitement missing since Bill O’Brien boarded a jet for Houston.
Last year, under whipping boy John Donovan, Penn State averaged 63.6 plays per game. This year? 62.7. Third-down conversions were 28 percent last year and just 24 percent now.
It needs to improve starting Saturday against Minnesota.
Until it does, none of the issues surrounding the 2016 Nittany Lions will outweigh an offensive structure that was supposed to carry the young and now banged-up defense.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.