Rahne, Clifford and Co. have done their part
In answering this week’s question, first ask yourself: How much better did you expect this Penn State offense to be?
That’s why there’s been too much consternation about the offense.
Yes, it has built some big leads, against Purdue and Michigan, that it hasn’t turned into 48-3 routs.
James Franklin made a comment Tuesday that I completely agree with (and said so on the NitWits): “Everybody’s on scholarship.”
Michigan saw its own blood and responded. Just like Penn State did a couple years ago after falling behind 28-7 at Pitt. Penn State wasn’t ready to play that day as Franklin underestimated the rivalry, and Jim Harbaugh probably underestimated the incredible whiteout atmosphere and energy that fueled the Nittany Lions early.
To Penn State’s credit in 2016 — and Michigan’s on Saturday night — the Lions showed who they were in battling back at Pitt and almost winning.
That was a good PSU team capable of great things, just as Michigan still might be. We’ll see.
Let’s consider Ricky Rahne’s performance against the Wolverines.
He recognized and orchestrated one-on-one matchups with KJ Hamler (two touchdowns) and Pat Freiermuth (one TD, albeit with Freiermuth’s excused pushoff).
He also freed Jahan Dotson for a 37-yard reception — great pass by Sean Clifford, by the way — and sprung Clifford on a third-down quarterback draw for 10 yards that set up the Lions’ second score.
The Lions were excellent on first down — hitting Freiermuth for a touchdown, going up top on Hamler’s 53-yard TD that ended up being the game-winner, and busting Ricky Slade for 44 yards in the first half.
And with the game on the line, for the second straight week, the Lions’ offense ended the game on its terms — rather than turn it over to their defense — and what did Rahne call? He got the ball to Hamler, the offense’s best player, whose 4-yard game-clinching first down was one toughest, most determined efforts you’ll ever see.
That added up to 28 points against Michigan, which has got to be enough.
Penn State’s defense, the team’s more experienced unit, allowed the Wolverines to keep the ball for 37 minutes and 82 plays. That’s not a ringing endorsement.
For a team that found out on April 18 that its starting quarterback was in the transfer portal, basically meaning Clifford won the job by acclimation, this offense is doing its share.
Clifford has far exceeded expectations. He’s hit the deep ball not every time but enough, he’s been an effective runner, and he hasn’t turned the ball over. Most of all, he’s been a terrific leader, particularly for a redshirt sophomore with two more seasons left.
Did he miss Freiermuth the other night over the middle? Yes. Did Dotson drop a key ball that would have made it easier at Iowa? He did. Do they need more receiving options? They do.
Has the tailback committee been a source of question? Obviously.
But it has added up to 7-0 with an offense that has proven it can win in different ways and has gutted out some tough victories against quality teams – Pitt, Iowa and Michigan.
Granted, though the Lions have climbed to No. 6 in the polls, there’s still a gap between them and the teams ranked above them.
But in a season that’s unfolding a year of ahead of schedule, the offense has not been a problem.
Remember, “Everybody’s on scholarship,” and the other guy is trying to win, too.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.