Taking a deeper look at PSU’s offensive line
As Penn State attempts to crack the win column for the first time this season, it finds an opponent in which James Franklin has dominated.
That’s right, Franklin is 4-0 against Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes, the No. 1 series resume item CJF has since taking the Penn State job in 2014.
All of the games, save a 41-14 blowout in 2016, have been decided by a touchdown or less.
It’s been an interesting series, dating back to the Joe Paterno days when each won multiple times on the other guy’s field, and it’s an especially intriguing matchup today (3:30 p.m., BTN).
For this reason: Iowa’s strength has been Penn State’s weakness.
If you’re looking for the biggest reason the Lions are 0-4 this year, it’s been the disappointing play of its offensive line.
Conversely, the corn-fed Hawkeyes typically help fuel the NFL’s offensive line supply while the Nittany Lions only once did.
Penn State’s unit came around last week at Nebraska but still surrendered a brutal sack for the second straight week that Sean Clifford coughed into a game-changing scoop-and-score.
But look deeper than just the last couple of weeks: James Franklin has yet to recruit an offensive lineman who has become an NFL draft pick. Maybe that will change this year next spring with Michal Menet.
In the last six drafts, Iowa has had five players selected, including two first-rounders. Penn State’s output of O-linemen to the NFL Draft in the same period? Two — Connor McGovern (2019) and Donovan Smith in 2015, though he played under Bill O’Brien and was actually recruited by Paterno’s staff.
Thus, it was a good time for PSU offensive line coach Phil Trautwein to be the weekly assistant coach availability.
A former NFL lineman now in his first year at Penn State, Trautwein was asked what he’s seen from Iowa’s line over the years.
His first answer was instructive.
“I think they do a great job of recruiting,” Trautwein said during a Zoom call Thursday. “They get those guys who want to be developed and have chance to be developed at a high level. Watching their lineman over the last couple years, they’re athletic, they move their feet. They’re strength program gets them big and strong, and they coach to great details.
“They want to make sure they live up to expectations of their coaches and their program. Their D-line is the same way — they’re high motors, relentless. It’s going to be a big challenge for us and a hard-nosed game.”
Penn State has done a good job recruiting skill position players — just look at the NFL, where a number of ex-Nittany Lions dot rosters — but their recruiting in the trenches needs improvement.
Maybe Trautwein and his track record will help turn that around.
The line improved in the second half at Nebraska, and James Franklin hopes “that will carry over this week.” Staring at 0-5, that would be better late than never.
n Franklin managed to get through the week without confirming his starting quarterback, either Will Levis, who played well at Nebraska, or the beleaguered Clifford. Let’s put it this way: If it’s not Levis, he doesn’t have a future with the Lions, either.
n Jahan Dotson was checked to a pair of catches last week. Figure going to him early today will be a priority.
n Speaking of priorities, a fast start by the defense is long overdue.
n Franklin was talking on his radio show about the 43 false positives of COVID-19 tests and the challenge that has caused. He said some schools have testing centers close by. Penn State’s results need to be transported to Huntingdon, which Franklin said was “a hour and 45 minutes away.” It’s unclear whether he meant round trip, but if not, somebody at PSU needs to check their GPS. Mine says it’s 43 minutes from State College to Huntingdon — unless the driver transporting the Lions’ COVID tests is going through Clearfield.
Rudel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to register for the Mirror’s free “Lion Online” newsletter, an account of Saturday’s game, click bit.ly/2SAy1J4. It’s emailed at noon each Sunday.