Lions must focus on fixing flaws down the stretch

Program development for next season and beyond is my biggest concern for the Penn State football team down the stretch.

The Nittany Lions are going to whip up on Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland and finish 10-2. But I want to see how they do it. Then I want to see how they line up up against a decent bowl opponent.

Teams have figured out what the Lions are doing in their running game. Decent teams can slow it down. Good teams can make PSU one-dimensional, not to mention dominate the line of scrimmage physically.

The offense doesn’t need to be reinvented, but I want to see if, during the next four games, coordinator Joe Moorhead can show that he understands what is going wrong and show signs of fixing it.

Because here’s my worry: Moorhead might be so married to his run-pass option system and handing the ball off to a flat-footed running back that he refuses to acknowledge the flaws and stubbornly remains committed to continue doing it next year. When Saquon Barkley is gone.

That’s if Moorhead is even still at Penn State, which is another concern. Because even though we can nitpick Moorhead’s system, by and large he has done a terrific job at PSU.

Still, it feels like these coaches are wasting Barkley as a running back this season, and that’s just unacceptable. He’s been held under 100 yards rushing six times in nine games, which seems almost impossible.

So, for the rest of the season, I want to see Moorhead calling many more plays where Barkley takes pitches to the edge or is actually running forward when he gets handoffs. That would be a sign of progress.

I don’t want to see Trace McSorley throw the ball 47 times, and certainly not in the rain. Penn State can’t try to become Texas Tech or Washington State and throw the ball 40 times every game, no matter how much defenses are loading up to stop Barkley.

Have the coaches learned lessons the past two weeks? Certainly. Are they capable of fixing the run game problems? You’d like to think so, because these are smart guys who have been in the game a long time and should know how to make adjustments.

So, that’s what I’ll be watching for the next four games.

I don’t care if the Lions beat Rutgers 40-0. And I don’t think the score is what PSU fans should be focused on if it does happen. Against Nebraska or Maryland, either.

Focus on what changes the coaches make — on defense, too — because that will be a key indicator for what to expect from the team in the coming years.

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