Point-counterpoint: Offense relies too much on chunk plays to score
Penn State is tied for 10th in the country in scoring at 40 points per game.
Which brings me to the old saying about “lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Take away the meaningless 79 points in a scrimmage against woeful FCS opponent Idaho and 45 against a bad Buffalo team, and the Nittany Lions’ scoring average drops to 31.2. Maryland completely quit during the 59-0 drubbing and has been awful ever since, so that score should be taken with a grain of salt.
Against Pitt (17 points), Purdue (35), Iowa (17) and Michigan (28), Penn State has scored 97 points, for an average of 24.3 per game. That, more than the overinflated 40 per game total, is really what you can expect to get from the Lions’ offense.
Twenty-four points per game.
Do you know what PSU averaged over its final nine contests last year?
Twenty-four points per game.
That’s not a bad number by any stretch. Nor is it great by any stretch.
In this modern age of football, 24 points per game is about average. If you have a terrific defense, as PSU does, you absolutely can win a bunch of games by scoring 24 points.
But what Neil and I are debating today is how concerned we should be about Penn State’s offense. In my view, the unit has some glaring issues that very well could come back to bite the team, even if that hasn’t happened so far during the 7-0 start and rise to No. 6 in the polls.
This will sound harsh, but I think this offense is too much of a one-trick pony. The Lions rely very heavily on big chunk plays, and if they get them, they can score in a hurry from just about anywhere on the field.
As I’ve said many times, I love offense. I love big plays. So let’s give offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne credit for having a variety of chunk plays in the arsenal and making frequent playcalls that give the offense a chance for big plays.
The issue is that this offense often fizzles very quickly when the big plays aren’t there. The Lions are not good at sustaining drives when the situation calls for a strong running game complemented by a good short-yardage passing game.
As James Franklin pointed out this week, the offense doesn’t have to score on every drive. A few first downs can be huge when it comes to field position, and punter Blake Gillikin is awesome at pinning teams deep.
When you can do that and you have a great defense, again, you’re going to win a lot of games.
It is troubling, though, when the Lions go into prolonged lulls on offense. It didn’t matter against Purdue because it was already 28-0. But PSU let Iowa hang around for the entire game because the offense had issues, and Michigan nearly came all the way back from 21-0 down because the offense fell flat.
The Noah Cain issue has been the talk of Nittany Nation for two weeks. I have no idea what the coaches are thinking by keeping Cain on the bench for prolonged stretches. He gives the offense a big boost with his strong running style, and that’s exactly what’s needed when you’re trying to sustain drives.
KJ Hamler (32 catches) is having a terrific year, but no other wide receiver has more than 15 catches. Sean Clifford does a good job finding the electric Hamler, and the coaches want the ball in his hands a lot, but it is a concern that Clifford hasn’t been able to involve the other wideouts as much.
At some point, the defense is going to have a tough night and the offense will have to win a shootout. Let’s presume that will have to be the case at Ohio State.
Based on what we’ve seen from this offense so far, I don’t believe the Lions can do that.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.