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Offense most responsible for Nittany Lions’ 0-3 start

This is truly a coin flip, which is almost what we did.

Cory had first pick this week and picked the defense.

I’m sure we both can take either side of the ball since each has been mightily disappointing.

But as unprepared as the pass defense has been, I’m comfortable saying the offense is the bigger disappointment in part because the defense lost its best player and top-five draft pick, Micah Parsons, on short notice.

Without a leader to call the defensive signals — not to mention inject a fire clearly lacking — the unit figured to endure some bumps.

And though it has, it generally played well enough at Indiana to win, did not allow a point in the second half against Maryland — I know, that’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the rest of the show — and the Nittany Lions weren’t going to beat Ohio State no matter what.

While the pass defense leaks date back to the Minnesota game year, this year’s offense has been horrendous.

With anchor Michal Menet at center, fellow three-year starter Will Fries and experienced returnees Mike Miranda, Rashard Walker and C.J. Thorpe, this was supposed to be the best offensive line in James Franklin’s seven-year tenure.

Tight end Pat Freiermuth has been compared to Rob Gronkowski, Jahan Dotson and the young wideouts have emerged, and while the loss of Journey Brown was a blow, a better line would have eased the transition of the inexperienced backs.

That includes Devyn Ford, who scored the most regrettable touchdown in Penn State history.

It really comes down to the play of the quarterback, Sean Clifford.

The junior stepped in after Tommy Stevens’ abrupt transfer in the summer of 2019 and completed 66 percent of his passes (90-of-135) through the first five games, all wins.

But as the competition has gone up, Clifford’s performance has gone down.

He has completed better than 60 percent just once in the last 10 games, and that was at Indiana in the season opener when he played well in the second half but put the Lions in a deep hole with two first-half interceptions.

Clifford has been erratic, under fire, pressing and suddenly facing the very real possibility of being replaced by Will Levis if he doesn’t get the offense moving early at Nebraska on Saturday.

To this point, that hasn’t happened.

The offense has scored 20 points in the first half this year, including a mere two touchdowns — one on the first drive at Indiana and just one in 17 possessions since.

That’s incomprehensible.

Add in how hopes were buoyed by the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, and it’s obvious the offense — its personnel, its execution and its organization — has contributed the most to the Nittany Lions’ 0-3 start.

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

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