Nits’ big-play ability major improvement

I know I wrote last week that offensive preparation was the most disappointing aspect of the 2016 season.

(Cue the scene from “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson said on the stand, “I recall what I said – I don’t have to have it read back to me.”)

OK, some levity, which seems fitting because I do think the most promising aspect of 2016 is the Nittany Lions’ big-play striking ability.

While they still are too slow at the line of scrimmage, standing around while Joe Moorhead’s “check with me” system designed to read the defense gets off fewer plays than last year, there is no debating that the offense is hitting more home runs.

Entering Saturday’s game with Maryland, Penn State isn’t in the nation’s top 20 as a team, but the Nits are making their mark in chunk plays.

Their six plays of 50-plus yards rank 10th nationally, their nine plays of 40-plus yards rank 14th, and their 16 of 30-plus yards rank 16th.

That’s not bad for a team that for many years used to play Electric Football. (Only those over 50 would remember the board game that buzzed.)

Trace McSorley is a key reason for the vertical passing game’s success. When he starts to scramble, he keeps his eyes up field, and when he sees the secondary has cheated up, he unloads.

Like Terry Bradshaw used to say, “Throw it deep! If he’s not open, throw it anyway!”

So far, it’s working.

Penn State managed just 34 plays from scrimmage of more than 30 yards last year – an average of 2.6 per game.

Through four games this season, they’ve got 16, an average of 4.0 per game.

Further, with an NFL quarterback, the Lions had just two passes of more than 50 yards last year. This season – again, in just four games – they already have five.

They had eight 40-plus receptions last year and already have that number now.

In addition to the plays that are working, Penn State has gained 15 first downs via penalty – a healthy 3.75 per game – often via pass interference.

Part of the success is coming because opponents are loading the box and ganging up on Saquon Barkley, but once the safeties move back, the big pass plays may give way to underneath routes and more running room.

McSorley, the Lions’ bevy of receivers – the strength of the team even despite DaeSean Hamilton’s brutal drop at Pitt – and Barkley’s presence are combining for an offense that doesn’t need 15 plays to score.

It’s been refreshing.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.